Monday, January 10, 2005

Food for Thought

The most inappropriate title ever, but I'm tired. Consider our reactions to the tsunami disaster. Then consider our reactions to the deaths in Iraq:

Bush quoted all the numbers for the tsunami in speeches this week: 150,000 lives lost, including 90,000 in Indonesia; perhaps 5 million homeless; millions vulnerable to disease. That stands in hypocritical contrast to the refusal to count the Iraqi civilians killed in his invasion over false claims of weapons of mass destruction and the crime-ridden chaos of an occupation that did not plan on an "insurgency."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Iraqi commander Tommy Franks both said, "We don't do body counts." Then, right in our faces, Powell said civilian casualty figures were "relatively low." Central Command spokesman Pete Mitchell hailed the invasion for its "unbelievably low amount of collateral damage and needless civilian death." Paul Bremer, Bush's former civilian reconstruction envoy, said, "We have freed people with one of the great military battles of all time, in a period of three weeks, with almost no collateral damage, very few civilian deaths, and they are now free."
The White House left the counting to journalists, doctors, think tanks, and human rights groups. The numbers range from conservative guesses of 3,200 in the first few weeks of the war and occupation estimates ranging from 15,000 to 100,000. No matter if the number was 3,200 or 32,000, this atrocity of silence makes the torture in Abu Ghraib pale in comparison.

Collateral damage is a way of framing the deaths into oblivion. Strictly speaking, of course, all the tsunami dead were collateral damage also: the nature didn't start an earthquake in order to kill a lot of us. But the media made one kind of death important to know about, the other kind of death into something inadvertent, regrettable, but necessary. Then there is the whole thorny issue of guilt.