Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Dead Don't Count

The dead don't count.

That’s right. In this war, a pre-emptive war, launched by our government, civilians killed through our government’s actions do not count. The Bush administration will tell you all about the civilians and soldiers killed by the insurgents, the “terrorists”, the “evildoers”. But the US military “…do not count civilian deaths.”

We know we count that which is important to us. We quantify incessantly. How many days have I been going to the gym? How much stock did I sell? How many people have I recruited to attend this event or that campaign? How much money have I made? We count with great efficiency. We figure out how to count those things that seem uncountable -- the stars in the sky, the number of ants in a hill – and present those figures as triumphs of our ingenuity. ‘

The Bush administration’s life blood before the war was the quantifiable chronology of Saddam Hussein’s iniquity. They seemed to know how many of his own people he had gassed, shot, imprisoned, sent into exile. They seemed to know how his behavior affected the lives of all the countries at Iraq’s border. So it seems odd the US military can’t count those who have been killed through the action of our government. Civilians, going about their own lives, caught in the crossfire or by a errant, falling bomb.

Government policy causes suffering and death all the time: through direct neglect, environmental degradation, denial of access to services, and, of course, through misguided military adventures. The victims are almost always the poor, people of color or those we consider the ultimate outsider, the civilian residents of some country with resources we want or whose government we want to subdue.

If you’re curious about the Iraqi civilian body count you can go to

US citizens are rarely touched by war. We can’t imagine, even after Sept. 11, a bomb falling on our house, armed men bursting into our house and taking away all the men, perhaps and in the process causing the death of our elderly grandfather, gunfire in the streets. The counter on reports a range, this morning it projects the minimum number of civilian deaths at 13, 278 and a maximum of 15,357. Let’s put that in terms we can imagine. That’s about half of all the undergraduates attending Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. That’s about one-third (according to the 2000 census) of Boston’s Asian population. That’s only 4,000 less than the number of children in Boston Public Schools.

Can you imagine it now? Can you see the moms and kids, the toddlers and serious middle schoolers? Grandmas and uncles and earnest young adults? Can you see them? So why don’t we insist that our government at least count them?

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