Friday, March 23, 2007

Counting the dead in Iraq; A case for shock tactics

Presenting figures of the dead in wars and conflicts, is a mugs game. The exact numbers are never going to be known and there will always be arguments about who is right and who is wrong. In humanitarian terms, even 100 dead is a horrific number. That does not prevent politicians and media from picking and choosing their numbers according to how they want to portray the situation. IBC figures are often chosen simply because the numbers are lower and can be used to counter findings such as those of the Lancet. It becomes a pure numbers game because the public are definitely not going to want to know about the ins and outs of how the numbers are arrived at. Bush did not attack Lancet 2 for any other reason than the fact that it was politically damaging to his own PR message. However, it was a political own goal in the sense that the study would never have had the exposure that it got if it wasn't for that attack.

What is the purpose of the estimates or counts? Is it to shock the public or simply to record our crimes? To be honest, I don't think anything will really penetrate the public conciousness whether it be 20000 or 2 million particularly because it involves foreigners and also because pure numbers do not affect the public going on with life or force it to think about the reality. I reckon the only thing that might do the trick would be to give the public a real in-depth gory blow by blow account of the casualties every day. Live coverage of bomb scenes, body parts, mortuaries, dead kids or whatever the hell it takes to get the message across. That might make a few more people cry out and question why the hell are we doing this? It might make enough people uncomfortable that the pressure to end the occupation would become irresistible. Of course, it would never be allowed for reasons of 'taste'.

Just think of the exposure that ~3000 dead of 9/11 got. It was virtually like a blockbuster movie on TV. People screaming, jumping out of buildings, fires, collapsing buildings, crashing planes and the media circus running full pelt. Even now the ~3000 dead of New York are held up as some kind of excuse for the disaster that is Iraq. It is not uncommon to hear it said 'well they started it with 9/11'. Can there ever be a comparison of ~3000 against the much larger number in Iraq? Why does it seem so much more important when it is white skinned westerners and western cities suffering damage? The death and damage in Iraq is orders of magnitude higher. Surely, the exposure and shock should be a magnitude greater too?

Is it ethical to pretend that 50000-1 million dead Iraqi's is not a monumental disaster? At least both Lancet and IBC are publicising the Iraqi dead. At least there will be some kind of record of the crimes that are being perpetrated in our name. But it is not just the numbers of dead people that needs exposure. The damage to infrastructure, the psychological damage to children and adults, the daily bombings, the torture, the millions of refugees, the rapes committed by US and Iraqi security forces, the lack of doctors and the lack of basic medicine, need exposure too. What about the grotesque contrast between the plush facilities in the green zone complete with McDonalds restaurants and Shopping Malls with the corridors of filthy Baghdad hospitals full of injuries and death? How much of this do you see on the BBC, ITV or Sky? Even blogs of this kind rarely get exposed to the general public:

Take the presidential palace: it used to house Saddam Hussein but is now home to the US Embassy. The mess hall is a hodge-podge of the cuisine of 50 American states. God knows how much it cost the American taxpayer to ship in the Kiwi(s) I ate. I had lunch, courtesy of my American hosts, by the pool. Troops played table-tennis. Country music whined. A bare-chested man sun-bathed conspicuously. One man sat, lonesome, a la Hank Williams, as the tunes droned on. Girls chatted. Men played pool. The Salsa night was advertised. Somebody even smoked. It reminded me of a resort in Antigua I went to in 2000.

It's possible to forget the carnage around you here. The language is a mix of Spanish and American-English; the food is like that of the US pizzeria chain Uno; the climate resembles Lanzarote in July. Only the occasional low-flying helicopter and flak jacket spoils the Caribbean illusion.

Before lunch, we'd watched the US Ambassador, Zalmay Khalizaid, conduct a ceremony celebrating the Iraqi boy scout movement. The event was dressed up with the requisite good intentions: the scout movement being something repressed in the past and how showing that the best intentions of the unemployed youth can helped to build a better Iraq and put to good harmonious use.....

The PX store (a Toys R Us for the US military and the only shop in town you can safely go to) sits opposite the embassy. Inside lurked six Georgians. I recognised the thick eyebrows and Caucasian features - the distinctive look of the Former Soviet Union's best cooks, friendliest hosts, and, perhaps, least likely soldiers. They are part of the Coalition of the Still-Willing and were perusing a long shelf of wide-screen TVs. In the car park outside, you could - through a firm in America - buy a car. I suppose you're lucky if all you bring back from Iraq is a large credit card debt....

Today's press conference at the press centre - our daily access to the American military - assured me $22 billion has been spent on reconstruction so far (adding the worrying caveat that there are other costs to it that they won't mention and that up to 12 per cent of it was spent on additional security). A spokesman also added that the bombing that was reported last night to have killed 18 young Sunni boys in Ramadi as they played football, simply hadn't happened like that. He may well have been right, but the day had already seemed removed enough from the outside world for this latest twist to have struck an odd note.

All the things I have mentioned deserve quantification AND exposure. Surely, some means should be found to have at least the same impact on the public that the events of 9/11 had? I am sure millions of people across the world relived those 9/11 moments in their nightmares as well as their waking moments. Why should the events in Iraq, without qualification vastly greater in all respects, remain sanitised? Why should our politicians be allowed to get away with the consequences of their criminal actions?


Anonymous Mike Clark said...

Your blog is much better than lenin's tomb.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Kebz said...

Very kind of you to say so, Mike. I certainly don't have the vast readership of the tomb but that doesn't bother me at all. I am happy to bore/entertain/rant at regular intervals for no particular benefit to either myself or anybody else.

6:04 AM  

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