American media and politicians claim to present the reality and debate the merits of the war in Iraq yet ignore the war's most important effects. While gory pictures are occasionally presented to the public, the totality of Iraq's wounds is hidden. Claims that the war has cost too many American lives are commonplace, but mention of the much larger toll on Iraqi life is not to be found.
In a nation of 28 million, the war has caused 4.7 million to flee their homes, with 2 million leaving the country entirely. These numbers come from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and are not controversial. This one is: 1.03 million Iraqi deaths through August 2007 as a result of the war. This is the latest estimate from the Opinion Research Business, a British polling agency. Of course this has gone almost completely unreported domestically. Granted, this number is on the high end of estimates, with the Lancet and the Iraqi Health Ministry estimating 655,000 and 400,000 deaths, respectively, due to the war through June 2006. These are total 'excess deaths;' it must be remembered that, for instance, deaths due to the war's disruption of hospital care are just as much casualties of war as those counted as a 'violent deaths.'
Even on those rare occasions when Iraqi death statistics are mentioned by mainstream American media, sources such as the above are disregarded in favor of those that give far lower estimates. But what if it was the case that only, say, 50,000 Iraqis have died so far as a result of the war? Would not each of those 50,000 merit just as much cataloging and reporting by the media as each American death receives, just as much consideration by politicians debating the costs of war? It is as if a dead Iraqi does not leave behind a grieving family, has not been deprived of the remainder of his natural life, has not been terrorized by war, at least not nearly as much as a dead American.
Yes, we are Americans. Yes, we should be concerned with American deaths. But when Iraqis die because of American military action, ordered by American politicians, in the name of the American people, financed with American tax dollars, those deaths are just as deserving of American attention as the deaths of United States citizens. Even more so because of the enormous disparity in number between American and Iraqi deaths, enormous regardless of whose estimates you accept. And then there are the millions of displaced Iraqis. And the wounded. And all the other categories of suffering people, suffering that was caused by an invasion allegedly carried out to protect human life.
Yet the issue does not even enter into the national discussion. Anti-war activists may consider such things, but newscasters and presidential candidates do not. Those who allege to report the facts on the ground make no attempt to give even a rough accounting of the costs of war in terms of total dead or wounded or displaced Iraqis, although they assiduously update and publicize American death totals. Those who claim opposition to the war merely argue that it is too costly to us in lives and money and military readiness.
Due to such massive national myopia, I feel I must conclude bluntly in order to be understood. So, to those who claim to be guided by a loving God, or to value life, to believe in human rights, or simply to care about the suffering of others: Hell has been unleashed upon a nation - how could you possibly care so little?
Ben Bronner is a philosophy major at Oberlin College. When not in school, he lives at home in Lake Oswego.
Editor's note: Ben Bronner, who wrote a citizen's view in last week's Lake Oswego Review titled 'A plea to end human suffering,' has clarified 'one factual mistake and one matter in need of clarification.'
He writes: 'While the Iraqi Health Ministry gathered information for the World Health Organization study, the citation should have been the WHO. The figure of 400,000 is based upon both the violent mortality rate reported by the WHO in the New England Journal of Medicine and the post-invasion increase in non-violent mortality rate reported in the WHO's Iraqi Family Health Survey Mortality Study Q and A, available on the WHO's Web site. Additionally, the figure of 4.7 million Iraqi refugees includes refugees predating the 2003 invasion of Iraq, although the majority have become displaced since 2003.
'The author apologizes for this mistake and any confusion resulting from the Iraqi Health Ministry citation.'