Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Other Body Count

Dec 28, 2008
This story I’m presenting isn’t exactly news. That is, it’s not new information at all—though it may be very new to you. This information has been available to anyone curious enough to google it. And it has been out there for a number for years. This news is merely the answer to an obvious question: how many Iraqis have died as a direct result of the U.S. invasion, and occupation of Iraq that began in 2003? What’s the body count?
It’s a very straight forward metric, one that is measured in nearly every war, and yet it has failed get any serious attention from the supposedly “liberal” broadcast media. (And what a ridiculous notion that is, by the way, to ascribe the word “liberal” to an industry that practically played the roll of drummer boy in the US’s march to war in Iraq.)
Much attention is given to the sacrifices that American soldiers and their families have made in this war. And rightfully so. The most recent estimates put the U.S. death toll in the war over 4,000. That’s a lot of young men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice when their country called on them. But what of the Iraqis? What of the people who live in this country turned battleground? After all, if you remember the reasons the Bush administration gave the public for going to war in Iraq, one of the central justifications was that we should help the people of Iraq by freeing them from the clutches of a tyrant.
So how do we decide whether or not to go to war? The decision to go to war needs to be weighed thoughtfully, in the same manner any major action should be—projected costs versus benefits, attempting to factor in the elusive unknown. The death, carnage, and chaos that are inherent in a war would need to be factored in the “costs” column. And let us not forget that these things are exactly what war means- death, carnage, and chaos. By the thousands. So there better be a damned good little item in the “benefits” column to offset those ‘unpleasantries.’ Now, we are fortunate enough to have progressed to an era where territory and resource grabbing for the state are not viewed as justifiable reasons for waging a war, so the modern model goes more like this: costs of fighting a war vs. costs of not fighting a war.
So, since we are still a democracy, it stands to reason that all our citizens have not only a right, but a responsibility to be apprised of all the information about the current war that’s being financed with their tax dollars. Americans should know exactly what our war in Iraq has meant for the people who live there. The people we were supposed to be “helping”, if anyone believes that any more. So I’ll quit dancing here and just give it to you straight:

While different estimates vary, we can be certain that the number of Iraqis who have died in the Iraq War numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

That’s it. Plain and simple.

The lower estimates come in at over 100,000. High end estimates are over a million, with most median estimates hovering near 600,000. By now, reliable polling bodies confirm a number of around 1 million Iraqis dead as result of the invasion. Of course if I stuck to this number, reliable as it is, all the adorable pro-war advocates would quibble about margins of error and conflicting figures from different sources. So be it— the death toll is so absurdly high now I can make the same point with the low end estimates. The organization Iraq Body Count only tabulates confirmed noncombatant kills, and their figure for civilian deaths stands between 90,000 and 98,000 today.

90,000 dead civilians.

How’s that for collateral damage? Why don’t I see those “liberal” reporters on CNN discussing this incomprehensible figure? This is the sort of thing that happens when you stir up a hornets nest in a country you don’t understand. I’m having trouble seeing any outcome from this war that will justify the deaths of 90,000 noncombatants, or the likely 600,000 people altogether who have been banished from this earth by way of bullet, bomb, or mortar.
90,000 dead civilians and all our most respected news sources can manage to discuss is the number of American soldiers who have died. And Americans wonder why people call us insulated and self-centered.
When you censor out the true negative impacts of a war you are taking away people’s ability to do an adequate cost/benefit analysis of that war. When wars are always fought in some far away land, by some other people, and average citizens never have to see or hear anything unpleasant about it, then suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad. Suddenly war seems less like a last resort, and more like just another political tool. And when it doesn’t show up on their doorstep, then the American public loses sight of the true essence of war: the horror. The terror. The perversity, absurdity, and absolute injustice of thousands of human beings ripped to shreds in a war they didn’t want any part in.
That’s why these figures are important. Because when you sit around and really take some time to let the nature of this sink in, you realize the only possible justification for this brand of horror is to prevent more of the same.
Some people are starting to talk about this more in the blogosphere, but unfortunately most people haven’t yet been convinced of the value of independent reporting and commentary—they feel that if they watch CNN for 20 minutes a day they’ve fulfilled their obligation to stay informed. If the news doesn’t pop up in the mainstream broadcast media, most Americans will never know about it, and right now, for whatever reason, the major networks are giving the Iraqi death toll the silent treatment (by the way, when we start seeing pictures of dead bodies, and numbers of civilian deaths on CNN, then you can call them liberal).
I realize that in posting sentiments like those above, I run the risk of preaching to the choir. After all, if you believed that we went to Iraq to keep America safer, then you might find these numbers to be sad, but acceptable. Afterall, a number like 600,000 is kind of hard to comprehend. I can imagine many people neutralizing a figure like this with a toss-away phrase like, “well that’s war.”

If so, my question to you would be this:
Consider that Iraq had no WMD, and no part in the attacks of 9/11. What do we stand to gain from this war that would be worth the human sacrifice?
When would the death toll reach a number that would be unacceptable? When do the losses offset the gains? In essence, how many people have to die before it’s not worth it anymore?

1 million?
2 million?
The magic number must lie somewhere between 600,000 and 6 billion, since any war would cease to be worthwhile once we’ve killed everyone on the planet.
But still, many will find any Iraqi death toll to be acceptable for reasons that, I suspect, are all rooted in simple, age-old tribalism.
90,000 civilian deaths are tolerable as long as it’s happening to them, and not us.

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