« Three Deaths and a Presumption | Main | It's Poetry Month! »

April 03, 2005


That is good news, of a rather bitter kind. Any upturn in that heartbreaking story is welcome. Let's hope it lasts, and stabilizes.

Three million, eight hundred thousand people. Think about it. It's hard to remind oneself of this too often, especially since most news organizations hardly remind us of it at all.

One of the greatest lies is the lie of distortion. When something small happens to you, it is the end of the world. So despite the infamies of genocide in the twentieth century, that sad parade never slowed down its parade into this one. We say 9/11 changed everthing.

Nice work.

No, only our awareness of what the world is like changed. Because what happens to the rest of the world every day finally happened to us. As we look at our wounded face of pride in the mirror, we never notice the dead behind us from other parts of the world. Is there hope for the American Narcissus?

The Heretik believes always there is hope. One must find the will to endure, to endure all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to see that glimmer of light that is the prevailing dawn.

One of the greatest lies is the lie of distortion. When something small happens to you, it is the end of the world.

You're also missing the single greatest problem in this regard: the human inability to comprehend events beyond a certain magnitude. [And this coming from a mathematician whose job consists of trying to comprehend the infinite!] See, as the example par excellence, "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."

Anarch, I too think of that famous Stalin quote. However, I suggest that the advent of nuclear weapons has given us a way to consider, though perhaps not truly comprehend, death on a large scale.

Approximate prompt deaths at Hiroshima: 130,000. Approximate force of the bomb: 13 kilotons. A similar bomb ignited in Manhattan on a work day might kill as many as 1,000,000.

you call it a bug, I call it a feature. If we could really comprehend the death (and suffering) of that many people, we'd probably end it all right there.

Of course, this is different than wilful blindness, but I suspect that those whose arguments are oblivious are actually more sensitive and therefore create these sorts of defenses. Or at least hope that's true.

"Hutu rebels"


Now the South African BC may simply be guilty of imprecise phrasing here, but the massacres in 1994 were not carried out by "Hutu rebels," but by the government of Rwanda, the established "Hutu Power" government, in purported retaliation for the assasination of President Juvenal Habyarimana (probably a palace coup, but surely not a rebellion). Government forces participated in the slaughter, and the government issued explicit proclamations instructing the Hutu population to slaughter their Tutsi neighbors; government pronouncements even gave explicit instructions on how to swing the machetes most effectively, and warned the killers not to dispose of bodies in sources of fresh water. The genocide was finally stopped when the RPF, a Tutsi insurgent force, invaded from neighboring Zaire and Uganda and eventually defeated the Hutu army (while the UN troops stood by and shrugged at the carnage). The Hutu government and army fled largely intact across the border to the Congo, where the UN was waiting to set up vast refugee camps and abet the Hutu strategy of rewriting history with the Hutus as the victims. The RPF has cooperated in this victimology experiment by perpetrating several massacres of their own, notably at Kibeho, where they "closed" a refugee camp by machine-gunning everyone in it. Nothing the RPF did aproached the scale or type of the government-sponsored attepted extinctions perpetrated by the Hutus, but they were enough to allow the narrative to shift somewhat to a story of mutual retaliation. Thus the statement "the genocide committed against Rwanda" - if you scratch that, I'll warrant that you will find the FDLR is talking about much more than the Tutsi extermination.

But what the hell, maybe that's what is necessary, for history to be rewritten just a little bit, to loosen the strictures of the facts and let everyone move on. Of course it's good news. Sigh.

And this coming from a mathematician whose job consists of trying to comprehend the infinite!

What's your schedule for completing that, I wonder?

Approximate prompt deaths at Hiroshima: 130,000.

Odd. I've seen basis for 130k total casualties, but not deaths. There's an interesting treatment of this subject here. There's also an extensive background discussion that uses the same data over at the Avalon Project.

st: It's conceivable that someone started out using the term 'Hutu rebels' to describe them now (since it's accurate now), and either kept on using the term during the historical part of the piece, or else considered using 'Hutus' plain and simple, but thought, that would make it unclear that it's these same Hutus we're talking about, not Hutus in general. (Personally, I would have rewritten the whole thing, but if for some reason I couldn't, I would have gone with something like: 'The FDLR fighters were chased out of Rwanda ...' -- it's completely anachronistic, since the persons in question were not FDLR fighters at the time, but at leat the anachronism is more obvious, and thus less likely to mislead.)

At any rate, I'd rather think of it as an editing glitch than as an attempt to rewrite history.

I believe that 'prompt' means within a year of the bombing. I also think that estimate is based on the rice ration records for the city to determine the number of people. This record doesn't count Korean slave laborers, military personnel, and POWs, concerning whom no notification was made until 1983. (obviously, the 20 listed are not going to make up all the difference, but just to note the another source of problems) This is not to say which is wrong or right, just to note that there are other factors that would suggest a higher death toll.


Source for the 1,000,000 estimate on Manhattan: Garwin, Nuclear and Biological Megaterrorism.

130,000 may be high, perhaps 100,000 is right. No one has an exact count of course.

Of course not. I read "prompt" as right away, which was rather at odds with the 70k or so immediate deaths estimated elsewhere. I'm not all that much bothered by the slave-labor discrepancy, mostly because no one really has any idea. I've seen some estimates that use pre-evacuation population as a basis, which seems flawed.

I didn't have any issue with the 1 million number. I don't necessarily buy their analysis (in truth I haven't thought about it long enough to form any sort of thoughtful opinion), but I'd believe that at minimum 100k people would die, which is far, far too many.

What's your schedule for completing that, I wonder?

Effectively infinite.


I'm not trying to quibble about numbers. Rather, I'm trying to offer an approach for appreciating a huge tragedy as something other than just a statistic.

An alternative, one that moved me profoundly, is to visit the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is a powerful example of the number 58,245, or approximately 1/2 of Hiroshima (please be kind to me regarding the comparison and the rounding).

The comments to this entry are closed.