Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Concerning the Death of Others

AP Poll
WASHINGTON — Americans are keenly aware of how many U.S. forces have lost their lives in Iraq, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll. But they woefully underestimate the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed.

When the poll was conducted earlier this month, a little more than 3,100 U.S. troops had been killed. The midpoint estimate among those polled was right on target, at about 3,000.

Far from a vague statistic, the death toll is painfully real for many Americans. Seventeen percent in the poll know someone who has been killed or wounded in Iraq. And among adults under 35, those closest to the ages of those deployed, 27 percent know someone who has been killed or wounded.

For Daniel Herman, a lawyer in New Castle, Pa., a co-worker's nephew is the human face of the dead.

The number of Iraqis killed, however, is much harder to pin down, and that uncertainty is perhaps reflected in Americans' tendency to lowball the Iraqi death toll by tens of thousands.

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.

Christopher Gelpi, a Duke University political scientist who tracks public opinion on war casualties, said a better understanding of the Iraqi death toll probably wouldn't change already negative public attitudes toward the war much. People in democracies generally don't shy away from inflicting civilian casualties, he said, and they may be even more tolerant of them in situations such as Iraq, where many of the civilian deaths are caused by other Iraqis.

"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."

Gelpi said that while Americans may not view Iraqi deaths through the same prism as American losses, they may use the Iraqi death toll to gauge progress, or lack thereof, on the U.S. effort to promote a stable, secure democracy in Iraq.

To many, he said, "the fact that so many are being killed is an indication that we're not succeeding."
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
But therein lies the rub - that in Iraq today, insecurity has made it almost inhumanly difficult to conduct proper research on the harms and benefits of war. Indeed, what both media and pundits seem to never highlight as a deeply troubling anomaly is that, were it not for the work of a few courageous researchers such as the Hopkins/Mustansiriya University team, or the painstaking work of concerned members of the citizenry such as the Iraqi Body Count project, quantifying the effects of the U.S.-led intervention on human health would largely be a matter of divination.

Twenty-four hours later, the Lancet study is fast disappearing off the news headlines. Dismissing and, worse, ignoring this and other alarming findings simply because "they sound wrong" is no way to move forward - if they can't be proven wrong (or partly wrong) on scientific grounds, they must certainly stand, until better evidence emerges.

....

Indeed, coalition powers should, in the interest of public accountability and the very success of their mission in Iraq, promote and facilitate more accurate and transparent monitoring of all humanitarian law violations, and of the true effects of violence on Iraqi civilian health.
"The Lancet study estimated deaths of Iraqi civilians to be over 100,000....This is much lower [higher] than Iraq Body Count, but then, they are basing their numbers on reports, not on the kind of data gathering that the Lancet study was able to perform."

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with hurricanes of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

Mark Twain, The War Prayer

Besides considerations as to the possible transfers and promotions likely to result from Ivan Ilych's death, the mere fact of the death of a near acquaintance aroused, as usual, in all who heard of it the complacent feeling that, "it is he who is dead and not I."

Each one thought or felt, "Well, he's dead but I'm alive!"
Tolstoy, "The Death of Ivan Ilyich"

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