Don’t ask me how the new Osama Bin Laden tape is going to affect the Bush and Kerry campaigns. I haven’t a clue.
I do know how it ought to affect the rest of us. OBL’s non-chalant manner of justifying and vowing more mass death ought to chill us.
Equally chilling is the report coming today from the Johns Hopkins researchers who extrapolate as many as 100,000 civilian deaths so far caused by the war in Iraq.
A word about the reliability of such figures in a moment…
But my work as a reporter who has covered social conflict for the past three decades makes these sort of numbers anything but abstract to me. I know what 100,000 dead in Guatemala or 75,000 in El Salvador look like.
A hundred thousand dead in Iraq is an awesome, horrifying number. And numbers mean a lot in war. Until now, the operative figure of civilian dead in Iraq has floated around 17,000. Sorry to be so clinical, but that was a relatively low figure as modern war goes (unless of course you are a relative of one of the casualties).
A hundred thousand dead would be “collateral damage” of a whole different magnitude.
Problem is, the Johns Hopkins report seems anything but convincing. Writing in Slate magazine, Fred Kaplan convincingly deconstructs the methodology employed and reveals the figure of 100,000 to be quite shaky – fortunately.
The variables built in to the study, Kaplan explains, would actually indicate additional deaths of somewhere between 8,000 and 198,000 – 100,000 being simply the arbitrary mid-point:
"So, let's call it 15,000 or—allowing for deaths that the press didn't report—20,000 or 25,000, maybe 30,000 Iraqi civilians killed in a pre-emptive war waged (according to the latest rationale) on their behalf. That's a number more solidly rooted in reality than the Hopkins figure—and, given that fact, no less shocking."
Exactly. Horror is horror. No need to exaggerate. I thoroughly reported the 1989 invasion of Panama and know to a moral certainty that a total of about 500 people died in that pointless “war.” And yet, thanks to a lot of endlessly recycled hyperbole the completely unsubstantiated figure of 4,000 has become accepted “fact” by many critics of the war.
Likewise, those of us who resisted and opposed the Pinochet regime in Chile absolutely swore for an entire decade that he had killed upward of 25,000 people. More careful accounting in the mid-80’s determined the real figure was about 3200 – macabre enough in a nation of 11 million people.
Let’s hope that opponents of the current war in Iraq take no comfort from such a bloody figure as 100,000 dead. Our most sincere hope must be that the figure is considerably lower.
The Pentagon and the Bush administration only feed the paranoia and possible exaggeration by refusing to keep any public tally of the civilian dead. This is, of course, inexcusable. Civilian victims are exactly that and their deaths should be respected and honored. How can we as nation claim, with a straight face, that we are willing to pay any price to bring democracy to the Iraqi people but we can't be bothered to keep track of how many innocents might perish in the process?
Those of us who oppose the war must maintain the moral high road. The more recklessly the administration handles its rationales, justifications and accounting of the war, the more precise and exact we must be.