Saturday, February 24, 2007

Most Americans Have No Idea How Many Iraqis Have Died

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Americans know exactly how many Americans have been killed, but are wildly off the mark when asked to estimate Iraqi deaths in the war:

Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone.

Among those polled for the AP survey, however, the median estimate of Iraqi deaths was 9,890. The median is the point at which half the estimates were higher and half lower.

Then there's the kind of respondent I like to call "Mr./Ms. Dictionary":

“You have to look at who’s doing the killing,” said Neal Crawford, a restaurant manager in Suttons Bay, Mich., who guessed that about 10,000 Iraqis had been killed. “If these people are dying because a roadside bomb goes off or if there’s an insurgent attack in a marketplace, it’s an unfortunate circumstance of war — people die.”

As if war were somehow separate from the killing; as if war were some larger, benign enterprise in which people, as an unfortunate side effect, die. Can you imagine treating the deaths of 3,000 people on 9/11 this way? "You have to understand why all those people were jumping out of windows. Planes were being crashed into buildings. It was a terrorist attack. People die in terrorist attacks -- it's unfortunate, but that's what happens in terrorist attacks."

Can you hear the howls? "But that's not the same! Terrorism is a bad thing! Terrorism is about killing people! Killing people is the whole point of terrorism!" Uh ... yeah. And war is about garlands of roses and adorable newborn babies and sipping tea with friends at the Plaza Hotel.


Joan said...

Hey kathy!

I think there is a difference between war and a terrorist attack. War generally has some objective. There are just wars and unjust wars and there are wars where it is hard to tell if they are just or not. Suppose we think a war is just. Civilians will still be bound to be killed in the crossfire. Their deaths are seen as unfortunate, but necessary to achieve a greater objective. Indeed the dead civilians themselves may agree. A terrorist attack, such as the one on 9/11 has no real purpose other than attempting to intimidate people. They are often aimed at people who have nothing to do with the complaint the terrorists have.

People may disagree about the wisdom or morality of this war or that one. I notice that people are unsure of what to say about the Afghani war, unlike the Iraqi one. But these are still clearly distinct from a terrorist attack.

Take Care

Kathy said...

Of course there is a difference between a war and a terrorist attack. A war is usually conducted by armies, belonging to nation-states. Terrorist attacks are usually conducted by non-state actors who do not have armies, and they choose to fight that way because they have no hope of prevailing by using the tactics of conventional warfare.

There are no just wars. War is always the worst possible choice; sometimes it's the only choice because warring countries have failed to take advantage of all the nonviolent opportunities for conflict resolution that came before. Wars are almost always fought for natural resources, money, or power. War is the total failure of the human spirit, always.

"Civilians will still be bound to be killed in the crossfire."

In the crossfire from hundreds of multi-ton bombs dropped from airplanes 20,000 feet in the air? How does that work?

"Their deaths are seen as unfortunate, but necessary to achieve a greater objective."

Their deaths are seen as "unfortunate" by the side that killed them. "Unfortunate" in this context is a synonym for "Who gives a damn?" By the other side -- the civilian side -- the deaths are not seen as "unfortunate." They cause grief and despair and quite often a strong desire for revenge.

"Indeed, the dead civilians themselves may agree."

You have left me speechless with this one. It takes a lot to do that.

"A terrorist attack, such as the one on 9/11 has no real purpose other than attempting to intimidate people. They are often aimed at people who have nothing to do with the complaint the terrorists have."

If 9/11 had no real purpose it would not have happened. A purpose does not have to be admirable or comprehensible to others, to be real. There was a purpose, beyond "intimidation." And actually, I think the word "intimidation" falls a little short. I agree that terrorist attacks are often aimed at people who have nothing obvious, at least, to do with the complaint the terrorists have. But when you look deeper, there is a connection. In the case of 9/11, the WTC symbolized America's global economic hegemony; the Pentagon's relevance is obvious. You don't have to agree with it, Joan. That does not mean there was no purpose.

Also, killing civilians who have no apparent connection to the grievances behind the larger conflict is a widely recognized and acknowledged part of 20th century warfare. The firebombings of German and Japanese cities, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were all deliberate, intentional targetings of civilian populations. I trust you would agree that these were terrorist attacks, regardless of how you feel about the larger Allied objectives in WWII.

It's hard to discuss the Afghan war, because the U.S. abandoned it to invade Iraq, so whatever good might have come out of it is irrelevant now. The U.S. war against Iraq, however, is not different in any meaningful way from terrorism, except that it's bigger than one discrete violent event. I feel confident that the Iraqi citizens of Baghdad who were subjected to days of Shock and Awe, and thousands of cruise missiles raining onto their homes and neighborhoods felt as you or I would in a terrorist attack. And the civil war that is raging in Iraq now, with dozens of terrorist suicide bombings every day, is a direct result of the U.S. invasion and occupation, so to draw a distinction between the "war" in Iraq and the "terrorism" in Iraq is really meaningless.

I think that your analysis -- as usual, Joan -- is very shallow and literal. You look only at the surface of things. You rarely attempt to see things from a non-Western point of view, or try to probe below the surface.

It makes discussion with you very frustrating.

Chief said...

Terrorism, like beauty, is in the eye of the perpetrator or beholder. Take the case of the natives on the North American continent around 200 years ago. The invader (European stock) was stealing their land and their way of life. The Native American was just trying to protect and maintain the only way of life they knew. Who was the terrorist in this case?

What is typically called “terrorism” is normally practiced by the side that is the under whelming minority. Guerrilla tactics, hit and run, are successful against a much larger opponent. Think Castro in the late ‘50s in Cuba.

In my opinion, wars, all wars, and by extension, all human events (wars being a subset) are caused be (fought for) money. Natural resources and power are synonyms for money.

A lot of armed conflicts are caused b/c the party that perceives them selves as the most powerful and most likely to prevail refuses to negotiate with a perceive inferior. Think Vietnam. Think communists in 1940s China.

Jeanne said...

War is war. Families are ripped apart. Mothers die. Children die. Some are left homeless. Hell is a paradise compared to war. How many Iraqis have died? The answer is too many of course. I believe when all is said and done the numbers will be astronomical, about a million. Many have died simple waiting for treatment for chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes, heart disease. Do they count? Maybe not to the bush administration but they do to me.

Kathy said...

Well said, Chief and Jeanne. And Jeanne, welcome to Liberty Street. I hope you make your presence known more often.

Scott said...

Well said, Kathy. I agree that there are no just wars. I have trouble seeing what the objective we are trying to achieve in Iraq is, and while I in no way sympathize with the 9/11 attacks, I'm sure there are many ordinary people elsewhere that view those events in entirely the opposite way that Joan does. This is stubborn ego and ethno-centrism.

I know I shouldn't be, but I'm actually surprised that people put the number of Iraqi deaths around 10,000. George Bush himself reported the number at around 30,000 several months ago. I guess people only hear what they want to.

Joan said...

Hey Kathy, Chief & Jeanne!

Chief is correct of course that terrorism is in the eye of the beholder, I spoke a little too hastily there. What I meant was the 9/11 attack did not make a lot of sense to me. But there is still a difference between a war and a terrorist attack. There are the obvious differences, such as two nations, or two factions in one nation squaring off, with identifiable uniforms and so on. I am not speaking of these differences. I also agree with you Kathy, that most wars are a failure of people to resolve differences in a reasonable matter and there are not too many wars worth fighting.

Let us imagine that prior to 9/11 the Afghanis had enough of the repressive taliban and decided to throw them out. Most people would consider that aim a justifiable one. A civil war ensues. That is a stituation where people might be willing to die for an important objective, it is a situation where the families would mourn their dead and yet at the same time be proud of the sacrifice. These people are fighting for their freedom and dignity and I can understand that.

I once met a young Israeli man who told me his parents were overcome with happiness and pride the day each of his brothers and then he went into the Israeli army. I don't think I would want my kids to go into the army. But his parents were holocuast survivors. They immigrated to Israel after the war and it was a great sense of pride to them that their children were going to help protect the country they had helped to bring about. I imagine if one of their sons were killed during a military action, they would mourn him, but they would also see his death as having a great purpose. So the idea that people are willing to give up their lives for a greater purpose is not a unusual one. Suicide bombers are another example of people willing to give up their lives to bring about something they believe in.

I also agree that in the midst of a war atrocities can be carried out that amount to war crimes. Carpet bombing of civilian populations during WW2 are a perfect example of these. WW2 had to be fought, but that did not give either party a license to go after civilians in the manner they did.

I am not saying that the death of Iraqis is justified simply becuase there is a war on. This has been a dirty war from the start and America and Britian have no business being there. I am saying that there are wars worth fighting, and in those cases people might believe their death is worth it.

I am also not saying that terrorist actions can never be justified. However like war, there are not very many situations where they are justified. Also terrorist actions have the additional problem that they are generally aimed at people who have nothing to do with the grievance of the perpatrators. 9/11 is the case of an unjustifed terrorist action. I don't even think the terrorists themselves were entirely clear on their objectives. Also, just because someone has a grievance does not mean a terrorist action is justified. I had forgotten about the pentagon, when I think of 9/11 I think of NYC. The pentagon attack did make more sense.

If you look at Central and South America you see a situation where the people have a better grasp on what they are fighting. They are fighting repressive governments that are propped up by the Americans. The people fight against them, they do not seem distracted by side issues such as who has the correct religion.

The Afghani war is very similar to the Iraqi one. The American coalition was trying to take out a government they did not like by force. The Afghani people ended up being punnished for the actions of their government. The average Afghani had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, and had no say in whether their government should shelter bin Laden or not.

There is no doubt that the American coaliton does not have nation building on its mind with repsect to Afghanistan, regardless of whether they went into Iraq or not. That leaves the Afghani people worse than ever, whatever small infrastructure they had was destroyed. Once again invaders are coming in from Uzbekistan and Afghani people are caught in the middle.

Atrocities were carried out against the Afghani people. Over 200 Sufis celebrating a religious holdiay were killed when the Americans mistook them for Al Qaeda. A wedding was bombed with over 60 people killed and the list goes on. These are just some of the ones I remember.

The bottom line remains that invading a country does not bring about political change. It brings about chaos. I don't see how the Afghanis are better off with the invasion. I don't see how the Iraqis are better off with the invasion. The middle east is going to be in upheaval for a very long time. I feel very badly for the people who live there.

Take Care