Tombstones as Milestones: Do Body Counts Count? (January 22, 2007)

Another tombstone was reached recently, the current box score from the Crusade in Iraq: 3000 flag-draped coffins slipped into Dover, Delaware using the cover of darkness.  The travesty is justified by new twists on the time-dishonored and twisted “Body Count.”

A nation has a monopoly on the use of violence to advance public concerns.  Under international law, a soldier serving a nation may only take another soldier out of combat (the “hors de combat” rule).  A soldier who is “out of the fight” is one incapable of performing in a military capacity which includes the wounded, sick, disabled or detained.  According to the laws of war, they are accorded special protection including POW (prisoner of war) status. 

In Vietnam, the title to real estate changed daily depending on the time of day.  The U.S. owned the village at 1400 hours; the V.C. owned the village at 0200 hours.  It took a village in the morning and relinquished it at night.  A new benchmark of success emerged — the Body Count.  The number of dead and wounded became the “goals” and “assists” of the game.  These benchmarks of success contradicted international law, yet they became the only daily measure of success reported on the nightly news.

In Iraq, the body count has been further perverted.  Some commentators are saying that the body count of fallen Americans must be kept in perspective relative to other conflicts.

Comparisons are made to the invasion at Normandy or the battle of Antietam.

Comparisons are made to deaths in Vietnam (58,000 KIA) or to Korea (54,000 KIA).  Americans, KIA.  That does not include others killed and wounded.  

Comparisons are made to World War II.  Some note that the United States got into and out of that war in less time than it has spent invading and occupying and destroying Iraq.

Comparisons are made to the number of individuals lost in the Twin Towers.  The comparison is advanced by those who seem to suggest some connection between Iraq and the “war on terrorism.”  Should half the lives that were lost in the Twin Towers or twice as many lives that were lost be an acceptable target?

Comparisons are not made to the number of Iraqi dead and wounded.  On October 12, 2006, an updated study was published in the British medical journal “The Lancet” which found that between 393,000 and 943,000 excess deaths have occurred in the 2003 invasion and its aftermath.  The study estimates the likely figure to be 655,000.  That number seems high.  No one disputes that the actual number, whatever it is, is way too high.

The United Nations recently reported that more than 34,000 Iraqis were killed violently in 2006.  Prior estimates were much lower.

Keep it in perspective, some say, because not that many Americans have really died in Iraq.  Not to worry, they say, everything is relative.  Everything is not relative.  Particularly to those who have lost a relative.  They cannot relate.  Too many Americans have died in Iraq; too many Americans have been wounded in Iraq; too many Iraqis have died in Iraq; too many Iraqis have been wounded in Iraq.  The Body Count keeps adding up; the Body Count does not add up.

[See the e-ssay dated February 27 entitled “The Arithmetic of Futility”].

[See the count of war casualties at]

Bumper sticker of the week:

Think  It’s Patriotic

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