Tuesday, November 09, 2004

This is a great article with a good point:

Surely we have not been reduced to arguing that we are not as bad as terrorists, writes Waleed Aly.

Too many innocent people are dying in Iraq. A recent report, in the medical journal The Lancet, estimates 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the beginning of the US-led invasion. Half of them are women and children. Almost all were killed by coalition air strikes.

Take a minute to think about the enormity of this human cost. Think of it as September 11, 30 times over.

Though it wildly exceeds all previous figures, The Lancet estimate is credible, and perhaps even conservative, according to independent statisticians who analysed the data and found the report's methodologically sound.

But what if it is not? Even the lowest estimate, unsurprisingly that of the British Foreign Secretary, places the number of civilian deaths at 10,000. The popular website https://www.iraqbodycount.com puts the figure at a minimum of 14,000. We are still talking about four times the number of September 11 casualties. That's eight planes and eight towers.

Surely now, the governments that took us to this war and we, as people who are happy to re-elect them, must face up to our culpability for this carnage. We claim to hold that the lives of civilians are sacrosanct. We assert that the fabric of humanity is torn with every death of every innocent civilian. Indeed, that is why terrorism sickens us.

So why do we not think of these deaths as tragic in the same way we do those of September 11, Bali, Madrid or Beslan? For the Iraqis, we will hold no multi-faith services, no commemorative anniversary functions and we will give no human faces to them. Perhaps some innocent lives are more sacrosanct than others. We are talking about four times the number of September 11 casualties. Eight planes and eight towers.

Where's the reflection? I was listening to a show on NPR about how the media is ignoring this story. It's sick because it shows a pathological inability on the part of our government (and ultimately our nation's citizens) to take responsibility for the incredible war machine they have unleashed on these people. There is no consideration of what "war" even is other than a televised continuation of politics by other means.

What bothers me even more are these talking heads who talk about all these smart, sophisiticated technologies and tactics for minimizing what they so suavely call "collateral damage". These people talk about war as if it's a game, with rules and nice clean boundaries. This institutionalization of war and violence as an acceptable way to settle conflicts is the exact reason why war is waged with such regularity. We've almost convinced ourselves that we've got it down to a science, forgetting that the innocent people doing the dying are somehow just abstractions, pawns that were forfeited in some grand strategy. And I believe this is a flawed view of war.

War should be a last resort - it is brutal, inhumane, and proven to expand the state to bloated and intrusive proportions. It is an exhibition of the worst depravity humans can inflict upon one another - and rightly so. Because if a people's right to self-determination and existence is threatened, anything is justified in defense. In fact, it is one of the few times in life when anything is justified. There are no rules, and only complete and utter victory can satisfy a nation that has been wrongly attacked. But even in victory, the people lose - they lose part of their innocence and humanity.

That's why I hate all this talk about "rules of war" and how we can wage it "nicely". Force with respect is just police work, not war. To confuse the two concepts is dangerous because it contributes to the belief that there are acceptable ways of using force and brutality to achieve your goals. I believe that if and when war is waged, it should be waged without mercy or regard for life - and therefore, only when absolutely neccessary. It should be made to be so horrible that no people would ever bring it upon themselves ever again unless they had no other choice.

A people will only choose to send their children into combat unneccessarily if they (A) believe that war is a noble, rule-based institution, and/or (B) are lied to about the facts like motives, threats, casualties, etc. Let's not try to hide the awful truth from the people. If a war is just, the people will endure the hardships and awful brutality because they have no other choice. It is only when war becomes just one more policy in the government's bag of tricks, when war becomes an institution, a sort of ceremonial fixture in politics, only THEN is there a reason to deceive the population about what is going on.

In short, my point is that a nation that is concerned about enemy body counts, and trying to prevent innocent deaths, is not truely threatened. A country justified in using lethal force against innocent people would do it out of necessity, not out of convenience. Therefore, they would not second guess their actions. It's only when war is being waged under false and insufficient pretenses that there is reason to be humane. Are any neoconservatives reading this?

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Written on Tuesday, November 09, 2004