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March 22, 2007

Transgressions of war coverage

In the days following the fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, we've been hearing a lot of news about the noble purpose of the war, how fantastically our soldiers and Marines and airmen have performed, how the surge is beginning to work, and how glad the Iraqis are that the Americans are there.

Oh wait....that's NOT what we're hearing. We're being hammered with body counts, body counts, body counts (and graphic pictures) completely without context. Some 155,000 people die worldwide every single day, of all causes. That will come as news to reporters and editors at the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, ABC News, etc., who apparently operate under the delusion that nobody ever dies anywhere in the world, ever--except in Iraq.

Here's a bit of context: Of the 3,219 American deaths in Iraq, 2,581 are combat-related. Six hundred thirty-eight died of other causes: accidental drowning, suicide, accidents, etc. This means all those stories about how more soldlers have been killed in Iraq than on Sept. 11 are bogus. The death of every American soldier--in or out of Iraq--is a tragedy, but the fact is, nearly 400 fewer soldiers have been killed in combat deaths in Iraq than were killed by terrorists on Sept. 11 (2,973). Lumping non-combat Iraq deaths with the combat deaths is sort of like counting among the 9/11 victims New Yorkers who died that day of cancer, AIDS, car accidents, etc.

Let's also compare the combat deaths in Iraq to combat deaths in other wars. During the Vietnam War, we lost an average of 18 U.S. soldiers per day for 7 1/2 years. In World War Two, we suffered an average of 221 combat deaths every single day for four years. Compare that with the combat deaths in Iraq--on average, fewer than two per day since the war's beginning--and you will more fully realize the extent to which the mainstream media is oppressively battering the American people into thinking we are suffering huge numbers of casualties for no apparent reason.

Third, it's helpful to compare the number of Americans killed in Iraq to the numbers of Americans who die from other causes. Such as: falling out of bed. According to Time magazine, some 600 Americans die falling out of their beds every year--which means that nearly as many Americans were killed in this manner over the last four years (2,400) as were killed in Iraq. (So maybe we should stop sleeping in beds?) 36,000 Americans die of flu-related illnesses every year. 16,000 Americans will be murdered this year. Heart disease kills 700,000 of us prematurely (1,917 per day). 42,800 of us will die this year in car accidents, yet we don't see pages of the Post filled with the faces of the victims, as we regularly do with fallen soldiers. (If the Post did run pictures of car accident victims--117 every single day---we'd be too afraid to drive.)   

There is no doubt whatsoever that the reason the MSM constantly fills front pages and evening news reports with news of death, death, and more death in Iraq is political. May guilt over their transgressions cause reporters and editors to toss and turn in their beds tonight--even if they don't fall out.

(Thanks to the New York Public Library info line for help with this research.)

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Comments

jocelyn

I think you miss out a critical issue with your math on the Iraq war deaths. I agree with you that the media makes a lot out of deaths in Iraq when they could be giving some more coverage to people dying of HIV, poverty, hunger, etc, but that doesn't change the fact that ANY American deaths in Iraq are more than would have been there if the US hadn't invaded Iraq.
Yes, roughly 80% of American deaths in Iraq have been combat related (using your numbers stated here). But what was the death rate of americans in Iraq before the war? probably nil, or close to it.
On top of that, you have listed several causes of death here that can not be listed as non-combat-related, since they are specifically deaths that can be attributed to the presence of war: suicide, "accidents" (such as dying in a house collapse or fire due to fighting in the area, car bombs or other), or the decimation of the health system in Iraq (which was remarkably well-rated before the war started, according to WHO).
Your point about there being not as many American deaths in Iraq as were killed on 9/11 is a red herring: the fact is, US "combat-related" deaths in iraq as you have stated here have already reached 86% of deaths of Americans on 9/11. At the rate Americans are being killed in Iraq - in any way - is going, you will have your "tit for tat" equality of deaths by the end of this year, if not sooner. Why is that even important?

Finally, I have to point out - as a Christian myself, that it is obfuscation to pretend that we are not responsible for or unable to intervene in deaths in Iraq like many of the other (larger) causes of death in the world, as you point out in this article. Yes, more people are dying of flu in the US. Last I checked, flu isn't 100% preventable. Even cancer, TB, and falling out of bed aren't 100% preventable, and all are endemic to the population. Endemic means a background rate of incidence, a condition or cause of death or disease that exists at a steady background rate in a population.
The war in Iraq has put Americans at risk - whether combat-related, or for other reasons. It has also caused a staggering 25% rate of mental health disorders in returning US vets from Iraq (Seal, Bertenthal, et al., Arch Internal Medicine, March 2007).
Still more importantly, it has led to the devastation of a generation of Iraqis: Scientists have measured the excess deaths in Iraq since the war started at 654,965 (Burnham et al, Lancet 2006). It would take a lot of 9/11's to equal that kind of body count.

Michael Snow

Thank you, Jocelyn. And let's not forget about the 1,000,000 plus Iraqi's who have had to flee the country for safety.

Anne, if you would eliminate "coverage" from your title, it would be more fitting.

Will we ever see Christians discuss the arrogance of power that got us into this mess?

Having said that, I agree with Chuck Colson that we can not abandon Iraq for moral reasons.

The line has been crossed (and never should have been) and there is no going back. We reap what we we sow.

Gina Dalfonzo

Just FYI, I titled the post.

Jocelyn

Michael,
Despite my moral disagreement with the entire premise of the Iraq invasion and consequent war/civil war, I agree with you that now the line has been crossed, America can not afford to withdraw from Iraq until some semblance of order has returned. To withdraw now would be to endanger the vast majority of Iraqis, not to mention any shred of credibility the US has remaining in their foreign policy.

Susannah

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the costs of this war haven't been nearly as high as past conflicts we have come through, yet the grit and spirit of the American people seems to be nil compared to our unified purpose during WWII.

If we are able to strategically locate a military presence in the middle east (near an up-and-coming nuclear threat, no less) and keep the fight on the bad guys' turf, I think we're doing pretty well. War stinks, but as wars go this one is not as costly and is relatively successful. In spite of the (cowardly) terrorist tactics difficult for our troops to combat, the plain fact is that Saddam, undeniably a menace to his people, is gone for good and coalition forces continue to capture and kill terrorists, including key figures.

Frankly, I think our military is doing a heck of a job over there. I think they & their mission deserve our unqualified support. Taking the fight to the terrorists isn't the easy thing to do, but it's better than emboldening them, through inaction, to further unprovoked acts of war against non-military targets on U.S. soil. Providing for the common defense is one of the basic responsibilities of our government.

Also, consider that some have taken issue with the methodology of the study referenced above, which claims an Iraqi death toll of 654,965. Just one for instance:

http://blogcritics.org/archives/2006/10/13/054042.php

Keep in mind that withdrawing troops will not stop the bad guys from killing people. Never having gone in the first place most definitely would not have stopped the Iraqi government from torturing and killing its people, and would not have stopped the terrorists hiding under Saddam's wing from carrying out their future plans for mayhem.

Jason Taylor

"I think you miss out a critical issue with your math on the Iraq war deaths. I agree with you that the media makes a lot out of deaths in Iraq when they could be giving some more coverage to people dying of HIV, poverty, hunger, etc, but that doesn't change the fact that ANY American deaths in Iraq are more than would have been there if the US hadn't invaded Iraq."

Well, you don't know that. They could have been fighting somewhere else.
But that isn't really the point.
The point is that if we are not willing to accept casualties even at such a comparitivly small level-among people who volunteered for the job-then we are coming very close to admitting that we are incapable of defending ourselves. If our enemies are convinced that this is true we are in effect taking out a mortgage in blood and bequething it to the next generation. For if they think we are afraid of them they will fear us less.
The fact is we are a Great Power. And this is the price of being a Great Power. We cannot simply transform ourselves into Leichtenstein without leaving a vaccum that will touch off an international conflageration. So we must remain a Great Power. If we are not willing to pay the minumum price for it we will pay more eventually. And others likly will as well.

Jason Taylor

"The point is that if we are not willing to accept casualties even at such a comparitivly small level-among people who volunteered for the job-then we are coming very close to admitting that we are incapable of defending ourselves. If our enemies are convinced that this is true we are in effect taking out a mortgage in blood and bequething it to the next generation. For if they think we are afraid of them they will fear us less."

Some will reply "But we aren't really defending ourselves in Iraq." To which the reply is first, that is a matter that is in dispute. Second our enemies don't really make distinctions like that. And third, whether or not it is true, if we are going to be there we must be able to take it. Or we will regret it later. Saying we should not intervene in a given place is one thing. Saying we should not be willing to take the minimum price demanded is another, because then our enemies will be confident they can go above the minumum. Remember Somalia? It is just possible we paid for withdrawl then with 9-11.

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