Saturday, October 30, 2004

A Few Brief Thoughts About a Very Big Deal

Conflicting reports are circulating these days about the total number of dead civilians in Iraq since the United States occupied that country. Estimates range from a horrifying 100,000 (from the some would say debunked* John Hopkins study) to about 15,000, down to "only" 10 thousand with the kind Christian folks over at the National Review, no doubt, rallying around the latter figure (or a smaller one if they can find it).

Let's be super conservative and work with the smallest estimate of 10,000. A few points to consider:

>We're responsible for the death of three times as many people in Iraq as died on 9/11.

>We've instigated this situation in reaction to 9/11.

>Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

>Those people are dead because of our fear. After 9/11, we lashed out at Iraq in fear. We justified our nation's actions, we closed our eyes and ears against the facts because we were afraid. As Colin Powell finally admitted, our government even forced the facts to fit so they could

>Every time we ignore or gloss over that figure, we do so to justify our fear, to justify the horror of what we've accomplished.

I make absolutely no apology for saying the following: anyone who cannot admit to these simple facts *must* be in denial.

There are a couple of other possibilities, I suppose, but neither of them prove particularly flattering when applied to the so-called intellectuals who still support the idea that we should've gone to Iraq:

1) They are entirely ignorant of the facts, which is inexcusable if you're a politician or political pundit, but a possibility if you're a member of the public who pays little attention to current events and trusts your politicians and pays some attention to only a select group of media (FOX, Rush)--or ignores the media all together.

2) They are being intellectually dishonest. They're aware of these facts but refuse to do anything about them, being such staunch supporters of their party. In order to dismiss the deaths of so many and be in possession of the historical facts around the invasion of Iraq, this attitude seems to demand a certain amount of hatred for another people or race. That and/or an attitude of pure pragmatism. It's OK if we kill a few thousand people in another country which did not attack us and had nothing to do with 9/11 as long as it scares the terrorists away from us (the efficacy of such a plan can, of course, be hotly debated). This proves the most chilling possibility then: these individuals would understand and be aware of the facts, but don't care. I certainly know some who fit this category, and I've spoken with them. At their most radical they talk about "bombing the entire Middle East to glass" if it'll get rid of all the terrorists. These are the people who refer to Arab people are "ragheads" and "cockroaches." I have no problem calling them racists. At the other end of this nasty spectrum, you have people who will speak in more intellectual and high-falutin terms, and tell you that it doesn't matter if there are no WMD in Iraq; it doesn't matter if Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11; Afghanistan wasn't enough; it was too far away from the Middle East: the United States needed to attack a country that was uncomfortably close to the other Middle Eastern countries so that an American presence there would scare them into submission and perhaps even cause a domino affect, promoting democracy throughout the region. (I'd be willing to believe that this is the real reason we went into Iraq, though some other theories are tempting, too.) Remember now, the point of this entry is to focus on those (at least) 10,000 deaths in Iraq. How many innocent Iraqis must die in the name of an American presence in the Middle East? In the name of promoting freedom? Under the excuse of self defense in the wake of 9/11.

None of these possibilities are particularly appetizing, are they?

My impression is that many people are at least dimly aware of the facts of what has transpired over the past four years, and they suffer from a visceral desire to place their trust in their government. Therefore, I'm left with the belief that much of our country is suffering under the grip of a mass delusion, prompted by the horrific events of 9/11 and reinforced with fear conjured up by the Bush administration at every opportunity. Forged in the wake of 9/11, the flames are fanned in stump speeches, in television advertising, in sound bites and in both foreign and public policy. (This is not to say that their is *nothing* to be afraid of. Only that our current inclination towards fear has been taken advantage of.)

That so many are seemingly blind to this situation which others see with crystalline clarity leaves me feeling unspeakably sad, outraged and helpless.

I think our current national conscience will one day be best described, not be political scientists or historians, but by sociologists and psychologists. And perhaps by poets and authors.

I know all I can do is write about it. And talk about it to those who will listen. With a deep sense of futility.

Back to the point then: So we're "only" responsible for the death of three times as many innocents in Iraq as Americans who died in 9/11? Is that really a record to be proud of?

What use are all our multi-various religions and philosophies if we can't feel sympathy for these innocents? If we can only quibble over *how many* have died. Do we pretend to care about humans, but only care about Americans. How can those on religious right sleep at night and profess outrage when someone mentions the Iraqi dead. Of course, their outrage is only ever over *the mention* of the dead, not the dead themselves.

I'm not a pacifist. Although I was afraid of how we'd handle Afghanistan, I think going there was the right thing to do. But now we're making a mess in Iraq. We're apparently responsible for the deaths of far more people there than died here in 9/11.

And we're in denial about it.

Additional Information:

PDF of the Johns Hopkins article "Mortality rates before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq" from The Lancet medical journal.

*Note that many of the articles and blogs which try to debunk the 100,000 figure make no attempt to provide another figure. They have no desire to draw reasonable attention to the number of dead Iraqi civilians at all. It's hard to see this as anything other than some sort of racism or misanthropy.

I have no idea what the accurate figure is, though it seems it would have to be significantly greater than the number of U.S. civilians who died on 9/11. Yet, we're not supposed to draw attention to the death of *these* innocents.

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