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June 18, 2008

Comments

Even under the more conservative civilian death counts, the numbers are currently at or nearing 100,000.

Yes, but the two most accurate counts say that at least a million Iraqis have been killed. Those are conservative counts in the statistical sense - the method used to make these estimates tends towards an undercount.

The conservative figures you cite are conservative in the sense of right-wingers liking them better than the more accurate counts.

So the equivalent is 10 million Americans killed.

You missed one thing in your exchange rate on that bombing. Imagine if those 630 American lives had been lost in a bombing in Washington DC. This is the heart of the country, where the government should have the most control.

We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!
You're doin' fine, Okalhoma!
Okalhoma O.K.
A- l - H - O - M - A
OKALHOMA!

One thing that I find myself doing almost reflexively when I read about a bombing such as yesterday's (perhaps to counteract this tendency), is to try to imagine what such a body count would equal in American terms (something Juan Cole did some time back IIRC). That is, given that Iraq is a much smaller country population wise, what would the corollary be in a country America's size (this is relevant when trying to measure the impact on a society as a whole from such acts). The conversion rate is actually quite easy due to a certain symmetry in Iraq's pre-war population (roughly 30 million) and America's (roughly 300 million) - about ten times the size

What does this mean? I see people talk about "conversion rates" all the time, and agree that they make some sense when discussing a fiscal impact. But a conversion rate for human life? Is a bomb that kills 63 people in Iraq really equivalent in any meaningful sense to a bomb that kills 630 people in the US?

There are better ways to take into account the size of Iraq in measuring the progress (or the lack thereof) in security.

Although I understand the rhetorical reasons why you're using "death inflation" here, I don't know that it adds anything meaningful to the conversation.

? Is a bomb that kills 63 people in Iraq really equivalent in any meaningful sense to a bomb that kills 630 people in the

Let me make this clearer, lest I be misunderstood.

A bomb that kills 63 people is in no way equivalent to a bomb that kills 630 people, regardless of where each bomb goes off.

I would imagine that a mall bombing in Chicago or New York killing 63 people would elicit enough fear and outrage on its own. No need for a multiplier.

However, your statement that this war has seen few days without similar incident is a bit misleading. Certainly there have been many horrible deaths, but 63 people is a much bigger body count than most of the single-incident reports that I've heard of.

Kris,

I didn't say "similar incident" I said "similar tragedy" meaning that most days have seen similar death counts - even if not from a one off event. Pardon my sloppy wording.

Von,

I believe it is meaningful because it speaks to the degree to which Iraqi society as a whole has been ravaged.

Consider this example. Country X fights a war and loses 100,000 soldiers. Country X is big (500 million population). Tragic for Country X, but not necessarily cataclysmic.

Country Y fights a war and loses 100,000 soldiers. Country Y is small (1 million population). The result is both tragic and cataclysmic for Country Y.

10% of its population died in the war!!!

Does that help?

I sort of agree with von. At some level, a death is a death; we don't think that losing one of four children is 1/4 as traumatic as losing an only child.

At another level--the smaller the community where a given # of people died, the more likely each member is to have lost a friend, a family member, etc.

If you want to get an equivalence, Iraq's pre-war population is roughly the same size as New England plus New York state, I think.

But debating units of conversion for dead & displaced is somewhat beside the point; it's not as if we deal with the meaning of those statistic even on their own terms.

A bit skeptical? Really? I suppose the Ocean just has a wee drop of water in it as far as you are concerned.

Its long long since time claims that success is near receive the utter contempt they warrant.

A bit skeptical? Really? I suppose the Ocean just has a wee drop of water in it as far as you are concerned.

Its long long since time claims that success is near receive the utter contempt they warrant.

I believe it is meaningful because it speaks to the degree to which Iraqi society as a whole has been ravaged.

I see that's the point you're going for. But I don't agree that applying a multiplier of 10 to the death toll from an attack in Iraq in order to "exchange" the deaths to some American standard is really meaningful. All it does is provide a dramatically larger adjusted-for-US number that tells us .... what, exactly? That security in Iraq is getting worse? Better? That this or that policy is failing? That some other policy would be better?

We can measure security and progress in Iraq in any number of ways that takes into account both the size of Iraq and its circumstances. Such measures can be useful for determing policy. I don't see how this measure is useful for making a policy judgment.

As for your example:

Consider this example. Country X fights a war and loses 100,000 soldiers. Country X is big (500 million population). Tragic for Country X, but not necessarily cataclysmic.

Country Y fights a war and loses 100,000 soldiers. Country Y is small (1 million population). The result is both tragic and cataclysmic for Country

This doesn't really get to the point. I don't hear you arguing that 63 dead (or 630, under the "exchange rate") is a cataclysm for Iraq. You may have more a point when it comes to displaced persons as percentage of the population, but a more useful approach would be to try to determine the direct costs on Iraqi (and Jordanian, and Syrian) society by the displacements. I doubt that those costs are linear, as an "exchange rate" presupposes.

von, the expansion is useful for getting a sense of how likely a random individual is to be affected by the incident. I think many people had some personal connection to the 9/11 victims whereas far fewer had a personal connection to, say for example, the VA Tech victims. After all, regardless of whether the number is 63 or 630, the point is that it is extremely unlikely that a random citizen of the country will be killed directly. However, bombings are relevant to lots of people who were not killed because people's lives are connected.

...number that tells us .... what, exactly? That security in Iraq is getting worse? Better? That this or that policy is failing? That some other policy would be better?

That's kind of a narrow set of topics you're leaving me there Von. What if instead of those topics, I want to discuss how extensively Iraqi society has been traumatized by this war. And then, to help Americans conceptualize, I used conversions to help them to grasp what a large percentage of Iraqi society have been affected. Would that be an acceptable topic to discuss?

This doesn't really get to the point. I don't hear you arguing that 63 dead (or 630, under the "exchange rate") is a cataclysm for Iraq.

That's a bit pedantic, no? The cumulative death toll is certainly cataclysmic, and one way to help grasp that is to put it in terms proportional to American society so that we can appreciate the scope.

A bit skeptical? Really? I suppose the Ocean just has a wee drop of water in it as far as you are concerned.

Frank, that was a deliberate understatement. Pardon my lack of wit.

Turbulence, your point makes sense where a small community is involved. But there has to be some tipping point in size after which the statistical impact falls below a noticeable threshold. New York is quite a bit larger than Chicago, but no one would call Chicago a small town. If 63 people suddenly die in each city, a Chicagoan's statistical likelihood of knowing one of the dead may be greater than a New Yorker's, but not by much.

That's not to say, of course, that violence day after day does not have a corrosive effect or that every death is a tragedy. Quite the contrary, in fact. But a death exchange rate seems to be a poor way to account for it -- at least in the case of Iraq.

"Every death is a tragedy" should be "Every death is not a tragedy." (If you foolishly rely on double negatives to communicate a point, as I did, you must include the second negative.)

New York is quite a bit larger than Chicago, but no one would call Chicago a small town. If 63 people suddenly die in each city, a Chicagoan's statistical likelihood of knowing one of the dead may be greater than a New Yorker's, but not by much.

Two thoughts: the disparity in size between Iraq/USA and Chicago/NYC is pretty big in itself.

Also: Iraq is a tribal society in which kinship, tribal and community bonds are generally wider and stronger. Something to consider when pondering the groups/individuals affected.

That would be like 1 million American civilians. One Million!

Except not really. I approve the sentiment, but these calculations are stupid and wrong. A death is a death is a death. An American life is not worth more than an Iraqi life. And vice versa.

An American life is not worth more than an Iraqi life. And vice versa.

When measuring the impact of loss of life on a society, it is relevant to consider the number of dead as a ratio of the whole.

100,000 dead Iraqis represents a percentage of Iraq's overall population that would be akin to losing 1 million Americans.

I do not consider that stupid or beside the point. It tells of the extent to which Iraqi society has been ravaged.

Eric,

Long time ObWi reader, first time commenter. I thought this was a very powerful article and the "conversion" a useful device, even if not an airtight analogy.

Obviously, recognizing the inherent value of each life, it is fallacious to equate the death of 1 to the death of 10. With that said, it gave me a new perspective in to the impact of our war.


Thanks J.

I think many people are misinterpreting this post as somehow seeking to change the inherent value of a human life which is, of course, immutable.

What I was actually trying to do, apparently somewhat clumsily, was highlight to depths and extent to which Iraqi society has been ravaged and disrupted by putting the numbers of refugees and casualties in American terms.

Anyway, thanks.

Von. What if instead of those topics, I want to discuss how extensively Iraqi society has been traumatized by this war. And then, to help Americans conceptualize, I used conversions to help them to grasp what a large percentage of Iraqi society have been affected. Would that be an acceptable topic to discuss?

But number inflation doesn't directly address the percentage of Iraqis affected. It simply produces a large number, from which you infer, without support, a large percentage.

Look, write on any topic you want and with whatever tools you want. But saying that 630 Iraqis are killed by a bomb isn't really meaningful when 63 were actually killed.

That's a bit pedantic, no? The cumulative death toll is certainly cataclysmic, and one way to help grasp that is to put it in terms proportional to American society so that we can appreciate the scope.

I understand "cataclysmic" to mean something different from how you're using it. Moreover, most Americans appreciate that Iraq is in the midst of severe turmoil and civil war. Those that don't aren't going to be convinced by your inflation.

Turbulence, your point makes sense where a small community is involved. But there has to be some tipping point in size after which the statistical impact falls below a noticeable threshold. New York is quite a bit larger than Chicago, but no one would call Chicago a small town. If 63 people suddenly die in each city, a Chicagoan's statistical likelihood of knowing one of the dead may be greater than a New Yorker's, but not by much.

I'm afraid I don't understand your point. NYC has a population of 8.27 million people and Chicago has a population of about 3 million people. The means that there will be 2.75 people in NYC connected to a victim for every one person in Chicago that are connected to a victim. I don't think it is fair to say that a factor of 2.75 is not much. I mean, if your income was reduced by a factor of 2.75 this year, would you say that you were making less money this year than last year, but not by much?

Also: Iraq is a tribal society in which kinship, tribal and community bonds are generally wider and stronger. Something to consider when pondering the groups/individuals affected.

How is that fact, assuming true and relevant here, reflected by inflation?

Rather than drag out this disagreement, I'll conclude with this: My primary objection to "death inflation" is that it ultimately makes a substanceless point about Iraq. Look, the cry goes, 630 (inflation-adjusted) people died in Iraq today! Well, OK. Except that 630 people didn't really die. And saying that 630 (inflation-adjusted)people died doesn't tell us anything about the dynamics of the situation, the effect on day to day life, or the policies being debated.

Better, I think, to stick to the facts.

It tells of the extent to which Iraqi society has been ravaged.

That's the point -- no it doesn't. It's an oversimplified emotional appeal that is fundamentally false and therefore less than unhelpful.

And as a rhetorical device, I find the whole notion of one nationality's life being worth some multiplier of another's off-putting. It is not persuasive. There are better, less offensive ways to make the same point.

Turbulence, I don't understand 4:07 p.m. post. Perhaps you're misapplying a ratio (or something)?

It tells of the extent to which Iraqi society has been ravaged.

That's the point -- no it doesn't. It's an oversimplified emotional appeal that is fundamentally false and therefore less than unhelpful.

And as a rhetorical device, I find the whole notion of one nationality's life being worth some multiplier of another's off-putting. It is not persuasive. There are better, less offensive ways to make the same point.

Look, write on any topic you want and with whatever tools you want. But saying that 630 Iraqis are killed by a bomb isn't really meaningful when 63 were actually killed.

I didn't write that 630 Iraqis were killed!

Where did you get that? I'm...confused. What I wrote was that 63 Iraqis were killed. Maybe there is a fairly innocent misunderstanding that we can get at that explains our impasse?

I understand "cataclysmic" to mean something different from how you're using it.

What I meant by "cumulative death toll" was not the 63 but the total civilian deaths which is likely considerably greater than 100,000. For a population the size of Iraq's, that's cataclysmic.

And to help people conceptualize just how cataclysmic that is for Iraq's society, let me tell you what that number would be for a population the size of America's....

Moreover, most Americans appreciate that Iraq is in the midst of severe turmoil and civil war.

I wish this were true, but I don't think it is. Why do you believe that it is? Do you think that Americans in general are particularly well informed about the state of affairs in foreign countries? Or do you think that the federal government has undertaken a major effort convince the public that Iraq is currently in the midst of severe turmoil? I mean, severe turmoil and civil war don't seem compatible with walking into a market that's just like one in Indiana with no armor protection and I distinctly recall Senator McCain and one of his fellow Senators explaining how that was the case. If most Americans really did believe that Iraq was in severe turmoil and a civil war, wouldn't politicians be unable to talk about how peaceful Iraq is without getting laughed off the stage?

Those that don't aren't going to be convinced by your inflation.

Um, why should we believe this?

I agree entirely with Turbulence's 4:07 pm post.

As I said above, it's not as if we DON'T act in practice like Iraqi lives are worth a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of American lives; even getting people to seriously imagine a 1:1 ratio would be progress.

I understand the point Eric is trying to make here, and I think it's a valid one. It's hard for us to get our heads around the level of damage that's been done in Iraq.

Instead of messing with the numbers, try this:

Imagine that, any time you went into any public place, there was a more-than-trivial likelihood that you would be subject to violence. Blown up, abducted and tortured, shot dead (by whomever). Take your pick.

Anytime you go anywhere, any of these things could happen to you.

Would it be worth your life to go get a loaf of bread? To go to work? To school?

What if you didn't have a choice, and just had to take your chances?

Go to buy the paper, bang, you're dead.

There are probably big parts of Iraq where that isn't true, but there are also big parts of Iraq where it is.

Not too many parts like that here.

Thanks -

Eric:

I didn't write that 630 Iraqis were killed!

Where did you get that? I'm...confused. What I wrote was that 63 Iraqis were killed. Maybe there is a fairly innocent misunderstanding that we can get at that explains our impasse?

The topic of discussion is your inflation of the actual numbers to make a rhetorical point, like here:

Thus, in order to begin to empathize with Baghdadis, imagine what a bombing that took 630 Americans would feel like

Turbulence:

Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought that the polling has been pretty consistent that Iraq is not a particularly safe place at the moment.

I still don't get your 4:07 p.m. post. The point that I was getting at was that the percentage of New Yorkers who would know any one New Yorker is likely to be smaller than the percentage of Chicagoans who would know any one Chicagoan, but that the size of either would be very small. .01% is larger than .003%, but that doesn't make .01% large.

You seem to have turned this around and assumed that one's social circle gets larger depending on the size of the city .... which doesn't make sense to me at all. Or have I missed something?

Turbulence, I don't understand 4:07 p.m. post. Perhaps you're misapplying a ratio (or something)?

I got the labels backwards. There should be 2.75 affected Chicagoans for every affected New Yorker. Does that clear things up?

And saying that 630 (inflation-adjusted)people died doesn't tell us anything about the dynamics of the situation, the effect on day to day life, or the policies being debated.

That's the point -- no it doesn't. It's an oversimplified emotional appeal that is fundamentally false and therefore less than unhelpful.

And as a rhetorical device, I find the whole notion of one nationality's life being worth some multiplier of another's off-putting.

Crikey!

This is not about placing a higher value on certain nationalities. It is about describing the impact on a society.

Yes, when a smallish country like Iraq loses 100,000 civilians, that puts a bigger strain on that society (causes deeper trauma) than it would if a larger country, like America, were to lose 100,000 civilians.

That doesn't mean that Iraqis are more valued than Americans. Or vice versa. It just means that 100,000 people is a greater percentage of the overall Iraqi population than American.

And for an American used to living in such a large population, it sometimes helps CONCEPTUALLY, not normatively, to put the number in proportional terms. To get a sense of what that level of death would look like in an American setting.

But, YMMV I guess.

So Von, to support your contention that I claimed that 630 Iraqis were killed you cite my quote that said that the number would be proportional to 630 Americans being killed.

Uh huh.

Even your cited evidence makes pretty clear that I never claimed that 630 Iraqis were killed. You realize that right?

Eric, re: your 4:28 p.m. post, you're changing the subject.

The point is simple: inflating 63 people dead to 630 people dead is not helpful to understanding the situation in Iraq. One can inflation-adjust dollars to account for the number in circulation, but one cannot inflation-adjust lives.

I understand your point now, Turbulence. My point, however, is tied to percentages of the whole as opposed to comparisons of ratios.

I understand the point Eric is trying to make here, and I think it's a valid one.

Just to clarify, I understand the point Eric is trying to make here, and I think it's a valid one too. I just don't think the way he is trying to make the point is valid.

And in fairness, I have seen these equivalence arguments made in a much more ham-handed fashion so many times before that I have lost tolerance for them even when I get that it's being advanced in good faith.

This is not about placing a higher value on certain nationalities.

Well, not in the abstract but think about it. The argument only makes sense if one generic Iraqi life is more valuable to Iraq than one generic American life is to America.

Brief, OT aside:

All your internet traditions belong to me: http://www.balloon-juice.com/?p=10643#comments

I don't get the problem understanding Eric's point. I think of it like this:

Say you have tiny village, population 20, and a huge country, population 200 million. If some sort of conflict kills 10 people in each, what effect does this have on each society as a whole? Sure, those ten people in the big country meant a lot to a lot of people, but society as a whole goes on. The village just got cut in half, and very likely ceases to function. Huge effect.

I think that is the point, that what this has done to Iraq is larger than the numbers we see, from the lens of living in a much larger society.

Bah, I probably just made this argument worse.

Von,

Would you agree that if I have $100 and lose $10 on a bet, while you have $10 and lose $10 on a bet, that you will feel it more?

Note: I did NOT say I lost $100.

Well, not in the abstract but think about it. The argument only makes sense if one generic Iraqi life is more valuable to Iraq than one generic American life is to America.

I disagree. Maybe it would help me to illustrate my point if we changed the issue from "lives lost" to, say, "jobs lost."

Person A says: "In Iraq, there are 10 million unemployed people, and that's greatly disrupting Iraq's society. 10 million jobless for Iraq is causing massive societal strains."

Person B replies: "Big deal, the US has 10 million unemployed too. 10 million unemployed just isn't such a cataclysmic number. Besides, any unemployed worker is unfortunate, regardless of their nationality. Why do you, Person A, care more about Iraqi workers than American workers?

Person A replies: "10 million unemployed in a country with a population the size of Iraq's has a much greater effect on Iraqi society than 10 million unemployed in a country the size of America.

No, Iraqi workers are not more or less deserving of my sympathy, but unemployment at that high a proportion of society is accutely devastating. In order to translate the impact in American terms, consider what 100,000 million unemployed would do in terms of devastating American society. Then you can appreciate the scope."

Now feel free to switch back to lives lost and plug in the above back and forth.

Note: I did NOT say I lost $100.

Nor did you say that some dollars are worth more than other dollars, just that ten dollars are a greater proportion of ten dollars than of a hundred dollars.


Brief, OT continuation:
Wow. When I went to bed "IAAOAIT" was scoring about 5-7 Google hits. Now, 412...

von: s a bomb that kills 63 people in Iraq really equivalent in any meaningful sense to a bomb that kills 630 people in the US?

Yes, it is, Von, unless you believe that Iraqi lives are worth less than American lives.

Further, Eric explained, very clearly, what the meaningful equivalence was.

As you're a reasonably bright person, and I've no reason to suppose you don't have the mental capacity to understand Eric's explanation, I presume that on a very basic level you don't get it because you think that when an American is killed it means more than when an Iraqi is killed.

The fact that our media has deliberately chosen to keep images of the carnage from our screens and pages also contributes to the impersonal nature of the math.

To the media's credit, there's a lot of restrictions on what the Iraqi media can take pictures of after a terrorist atrocity. Last month, a Reuters stringer actually got beat up by the authorities in Anbar snapping photos of a suicide bombing. While I agree that terrorist attacks should not be glorified, threatening photographers is certainly not justified.

Moreover, most Americans appreciate that Iraq is in the midst of severe turmoil and civil war.

Then why did I hear a report on NPR about how wonderful life has become in Sadr City, how the Mahdi Army is "on the run" and how hundreds of refugees are pouring back into Bagdhad? It was pure propaganda for the "Surge". They didn't even mention al Sadr -- odd in a report about Sadr City, isn't it?

@von:

One slight oddity in your NY/Chicago example. Yes, if 63 people die in both, there will not be 2.75x NYers affected by the deaths than in Chicago. Presumably there will be about the same number of people, as you correctly note. This is the opposite of the point you want to be making. Let's say (very conservatively) that 10 people will be "affected" by every death; that's 630 in either case. In NY, a random NYer has a 0.007875% chance of being "affected" by the bombing (and a 0.0007875% chance of having been a victim). In Chicago, a random Chicagoan has a 0.021% chance of being affected, and a 0.0021% chance of being a victim.

Eric,

Where the math fails is that you are saying that a 30 million person society is equal to a 300 million person society. Even if the societies were generally equal in all aspects, this is probably not true based on any value of humanity.

Iraq, which you have taken pains to demonstrate, is not a homogenous society but in fact a group of tribes,and a loose confederation of regions. So, no, deaths in Baghdad are not felt the same in Kurdistan as those in Chicago would feel for New York. Few in the US wll celebrate deaths in NY, many in Iraq will celebrate various attacks in Baghdad.

Iraq as a society is not equal to the US, and so a ratio does not equal impact. It is a nonsensical accounting gimmick.

But jrudkis, in some ways you bolster my argument.

If we divide Iraq into communities, then the impact of such a bombing in say Baghdad, is even greater.

So, no, deaths in Baghdad are not felt the same in Kurdistan as those in Chicago would feel for New York.

It's not necessarily about "feeling" as it is about impact on society. The number of widows/orphans created, the lasting psychological trauma, the loss of men of a certain age group, etc.

Also: You're being too reductive. Most Shiites have been horrified at the levels of civilian casualties created by each siege of Fallujah. Many Kurds too.

As for "nonsensical accounting gimmick" you'll have to elaborate on that as it is more of a statement than an argument.

Do you really think that losing 100,000 civilians would have the same impact on a country the size of Iraq as a country the size of America?

Please explain.

@von:

Eep! Missed your 4:34. H'm. Well. How about we eliminate national proportions altogether then? As I believe was pointed out upthread, the rhetorical device is unnecessary.

New York is ~8m, Baghdad is ~7m. We'd freak out, have a national day of mourning, and impose new draconian security measures if a car bomb killed 63 New Yorkers.

Or for a cleaner still comparison, London, which is also ~7m. The 7/7/05 bombings killed 52, and were very widely felt.

Hmm. Okay, I seem to be back from arguing against the rhetorical device to arguing for it, I think. We shouldn't need it. We appear to.

The impact is not greater, because the society itself is not greater. At some point your reductionist argument you get to talking about the impact on a nieghborhood, or the local Eagles Club. Wiping out the Iowa City Eagles club is not the same as wiping out the US, no matter what numbers you use.

Iraq is not equal to the US because it is at best a concept, but never a nation(and to preempt the responses, I would say that India and China are greater societies than the US because they do in fact support greater populations).

There are various measures you can use to determine the impact on the society. One of which I would think is whether the society can utilize the population, or is the population a burden. I do not think that 3rd world countries like Iraq can utilize its typically excess workers as well as first world countries, so I think that economically the loss of individuals is not of similar impact to a nation like Sweden.

Iraq is not equal to the US because it is at best a concept, but never a nation

This is also too reductive. Iraq has existed in something like the form we see it today for many centuries. Too much is made of the supposed divisions - as if separate and distinct sectarian regions were the pre colonial norm.

You should check out Reidar Visser's piece entitled, "Historical Myths of a Divided Iraq."

I found it very informative. You can try to find a free version on the web. I think they charge you here:

http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a791673796~db=all~tab=content~order=page

Or email me and I'll send it to you if you like.

{Sigh.}

An absolute minimum of a hundred thousand civilians have been violently killed. Two million more, mostly Sunnis, have been driven from their homes inside the country (whose infrastructure and non-oil economy are in ruins). Another two million -- again, more Sunnis than not -- have been forced into exile (and live under constant threat of being forced back into a country where they have no jobs, cannot return to their original homes, and have precarious physical safety).

This state of affairs is one about which the bulk of the people in the country most responsible for the situation are in denial.

The response to Eric's effort, made in good faith, to help break through the distance and abstraction of these facts only makes the fact of denial more obvious.

Not touching this except OT:

Eric – so, how was that vaca?

Lt Nixon: Welcome home! Glad you made it safe and sound.

I would love to read it, thanks. After a cursory look, I failed to see an email address...I will check again, though I suspect between your two sites you should know mine.

But I find it hard to imagine we are discussing anything but sophistry. I have worked with Kurds in Baghdad. They were interesting in that they were reliable, well trained, good soldiers, and frankly I liked working with them, but generally they were ignorant of Arabic and proudly responded to Arabic with "we are Kurds." The Karadah Peninsula south of the Green zone is a Kurdish sector, and as well or better protected than the Green Zone. Yet, no one in Baghdad will think of Kurds as Iraqis, let alone as Baghdadis.

Baghdad has significant historic precedence as a city state. I don't think the current borders do, nor do I don't think that the Sunni/Shiite split is recent, or unprecedented in the region.

"This is also too reductive. Iraq has existed in something like the form we see it today for many centuries. Too much is made of the supposed divisions - as if separate and distinct sectarian regions were the pre colonial norm."

This seems a rather odd point to make about sects in Iraq that are, as you discuss above, killing each other on a large scale when looked at as a percentage of the society. Perhaps 'too much' is made of these supposed divisions. But they apparently involve lots killing each other.

von: Would you accept a comparison of proportional death rates? E.g. would you accept as a valid comparison, say, 12 violent deaths per 1000 people in Iraq as opposed to 3 violent deaths per 1000 people in the US -- NB: these statistics very much extracted from my ass for illustration's sake -- and thus concluding that Iraq is four times more violent than the US?

If that's the case, what is your objection to clearing the denominators in the above statistic, i.e. translating "12 deaths per 1000" into American terms by multiplying by the appropriate population? As Eric said, he's not imposing a normative interpretation of the statistic, just a conceptual one.

Though I also understand the general idea Eric is trying to convey, I really disagree with this plugging numbers into a formula method.

I get the point about evaluating the impact the deaths have on the society, and that this is not about the value of individual lives in one place versus another. And this would perhaps be relevant if we were talking about a tiny tiny population. Problem is, Iraq is huge. Sure the US is 10 times as huge, but I'd say when the population is large enough (as in the many millions) it becomes very hard to compare how much a certain number of deaths affects one society compared to another. It may be true that 63 deaths affects Iraqi society more than it would American. But it's something very difficult to measure, and you definitely can't just plug in a "multiply by 10" rule. Things are way to complicated for such a simple technique to mean anything.

That's my take anyway. And I certainly do not believe a million Iraqi deaths affect Iraq the same as 10 million American deaths affect America.

There are various measures you can use to determine the impact on the society. One of which I would think is whether the society can utilize the population, or is the population a burden. I do not think that 3rd world countries like Iraq can utilize its typically excess workers as well as first world countries, so I think that economically the loss of individuals is not of similar impact to a nation like Sweden.

I hope you did not mean that. As phrased, I think that is astonishingly repugnant.

In any case, Eric's clearly not making an economic argument. (On which you would also be wrong, of course - the costs to Iraq's economy have surely been enormous.)

It is an explicitly emotional appeal, I think. And I do not mean that as criticism.

It's an attempt to somehow scale the incomprehensible social and emotional impact of the war and put them on familiar terms, to make the loss "real", like a punch in the gut.

If a civil war was waging in the United States that had killed several million people, and displaced tens of millions, everyone would be affected. Don't think about Iraq. Just think about the US and what that civil war might be like to live through (or not to live through).

Then think about Iraq again.

(PS, imagining that Texans are relatively lightly affected by the conflict, and don't really care about the rest of the nation because they tended to regard themselves as a nation apart anyway, would not make this better in any way. Nor would saying that it's not really that bad, because Protestants and Catholics hate each other anyway, so hey, everybody wins.)

I'll add, incidentally, that I've used this particular technique more times than I can count in my professional life -- math teacher -- as it's one of the better ways to crack through most students' basic innumeracy. Quibbling that 630 Americans did not, in fact, die in the bombing is just that, since no-one is claiming that they -- or indeed, any Americans -- did; the issue is to try to render the statistic into terms to which the audience can more comfortably relate.

All of which is moot, incidentally, since the fact is -- as Jes noted above -- that Americans (en masse) don't consider foreign lives equivalent to American lives, or even vaguely close. Sad, but true. They're just a statistic of foreignness, to be quibbled over and discounted as either false or irrelevant; the roadkill of our national solipsism.

Sebastian,

Not sure what you're gettting at. It's pretty easy for conflict to spur communal thinking even where before there was relative harmony. Also: the sectarian tensions were exacerbated for the past twenty-thirty years and were thus riper than usual for a flare up.

jrudkis: ericred55 - at - hotmail.

It's not sophistry, though the point you make about the Kurds is valid. I'm talking more about sub-Kurdistan.

And I certainly do not believe a million Iraqi deaths affect Iraq the same as 10 million American deaths affect America.

Clearly not, since Americans freaked the f*** out over a shooting that wouldn't even qualify as a blip in Iraq. But that speaks more to our national neuroses, which is sort of the point.

s/waging/raging/

I missed this above, but this is exactly right:

Nombrilisme Vide: Hmm. Okay, I seem to be back from arguing against the rhetorical device to arguing for it, I think. We shouldn't need it. We appear to.

Steve,

The vacation was amazing. Paris is...well, le sigh. I want back.

Imagine if the media had covered each of the 63 Iraqi deaths like they covered the death of Tim Russert.

Each one was a mother or father or son or daughter or sister or brother, a good or bad or indifferent but still human person who is gone, forever, and doesn't even get REPORTED because 'we're winning'. These people have been STATISTICALLY ERASED.

I've often thought about the Iraq to America comparison, and it really does highlight the foolishness of the whole damned enterprise. The 2008 Battle of Basra was never reported in full in the United States media, except as a triumph for Iraqi forces and as a minor skirmish of the kind we've come to expect. And yet imagine if, in Chicago, there were over 10 000 casualties and over 1000 deaths in a week of fighting; if, after FIVE YEARS of occupation, the resultant American state had no control over one of its largest cities; and if at the end of it all both sides still retained influence, control, and prestige -- that the whole bloody shebang was all for nothing.

I sure hope Joe Lieberman's sleeping soundly tonight. If not, he can always ask McCain for another pillow.

People use relative proportions the way Eric did all the time--it's why discussions of Pol Pot don't just mention the actual death toll under his rule (1.7 million), but usually go on to say that this was roughly one quarter of the population. I bet I could argue that Pol Pot was the worst ruler in history and the same people who object to Eric's comparison would probably nod in agreement that anyone who killed 25 percent of his citizenry was a good candidate for that position. I've also seen people argue that America's Civil War wasn't proportionally as bad as some 19th century war involving Paraguay against its neighbors. They weren't referring to the number of deaths in absolute terms (though maybe Paraguay did suffer more--I don't know), but to the percentages.

Or in other words, what Anarch said in 6:17.

The response to Eric's effort, made in good faith, to help break through the distance and abstraction of these facts only makes the fact of denial more obvious.

I agree.

I do not think that 3rd world countries like Iraq can utilize its typically excess workers as well as first world countries, so I think that economically the loss of individuals is not of similar impact to a nation like Sweden.

QED.

Not trying to pick on you, jrudkis, it's just an example.

The bulk of this thread has been arguments about math. The math is not the point.

The reason it's horrifying that 63 people were blown up is because 63 people were blown up. It would freak us the hell out if 63, or 6.3, or two, people were blown up in the course of going about their daily business with the regularity that that happens in Iraq. It would freak us the hell out if it happened once.

Enormous parts of the nation of Iraq are not secure in any meaningful sense. By "meaningful sense" I mean that people can't live their lives without fear of being killed.

If Eric's thought experiment with the numbers gets in your way of getting your head around that, put it aside. Just think of you, or someone you know and love, being blown up when they went to the store, and having that happen a lot, with the specific quantification of "a lot" left as an exercise for the reader.

Thanks -

Russell,

No problem. I know what I said is hard to read, but if you are going to compare the impact of deaths on a society and try and compare deaths in Iraq to other countries, I think it is reasonable to consider whether that society had jobs for the people killed.

I really think that if a country has 50% unemployment than the death of x percentage of people has less of an effect than a country with 4% unemployment...because the issue is the impact on society, not the friends and family.

My experience would indicate that the individual death of a person in Iraq is felt more intensely and longer than a loss of one of my own friends. The closeness of the various tribes and the particular closeness of men makes every loss feel like the loss of a brother. Our own relative remoteness makes loss feel surreal...and easy to compartmentalize into a weekend unless that person happened to be in your immediate family.

But if the brother has no job, I don't think society feels the loss even though he may have been loved by his friends and family.

Wow. Of all the things I never would have thought would spark a big fight...

I teach an occasional course in Native American linguistics over here, and to give the students an idea of the kind of impact that smallpox and other diseases had on Native American tribes, especially in the east (90% of many villages died, and among the plains, 40% was a standard), I do similar exercises with students, asking them to list up their immediate circle of family and friends and then mark off every 10th person and repeat the process. If there were a japanese von equivalent who had argued that this was not comparable because the population was much smaller, I would probably say 'bingo', and hopefully have them realize that in the context of a communal society, te impact is even greater, which is why the term decimate only means a 10% slice.

I made a similar argument when Abu Grahib broke, and suggested that the communal nature of Iraqi society meant that what happened there had a greater rather than a smaller impact on society.

On a side note, understanding that von seems to really dislke these sorts of equivalency arguments makes his strongly stated dislke of trial lawyers much more understandable.

Wow. Of all the things I never would have thought would spark a big fight...

It's an internet tradition, aren't you aware?

That said, isn't Eric's point, from a 50,000 foot level, merely asking us to imagine "what would this be like if it happened in the U.S."? And isn't taking into account the relative size of the Iraqi and U.S. populations part of that thought (along with geographics, culture, etc.)?

As many commenters state above, if the U.S. had a car bombing once every two weeks that killed 20 people, most of the population would be curled up in a fetal position asking for armed federal agents to search their own homes.

LJ,

But aren't you simply comparing the lowest common denominator to the highest?

Sure, you can compare the last of the Mohicans to the European invader, but is that an honest comparison? because, really, do you think the guy shooting the last Mohican thought he was European, rather than what ever particular clan he thought he was in?


I really think that if a country has 50% unemployment than the death of x percentage of people has less of an effect than a country with 4% unemployment...

I don't think this analysis works in general. If a stay-at-home mom is shot dead, even though she doesn't "work" in a way that gets recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all the stuff she was doing will still need to be done by someone else, and all the societal resources that had been invested in her are now shot. More to the point, just because someone is unemployed in Iraq doesn't mean they're not working: there is a lot of under the radar economic activity, ranging from small home based businesses to blackmarket exchanges. Those people don't show up very well in government statistics, but they do bring in revenue to the family, and when they get blown to bits, that revenue stream that their family relied upon goes away forever. Moreover, even if they're not working right now, there's no reason to believe that they would never ever work in the future; lifetime earnings matter in addition to how much money they would have made this year alone. Given that the bombing occurred at a marketplace, I'd guess that many of the victims were in fact gainfully employed.

In any event, the costs to society from bombing extend beyond mere financial losses. If you violently murder lots of people, that means lots of other people are not going to be able to function normally. At best, they'll have nightmares and be unable to work productively. At worst, they may engage in reprisal killings or commit suicide.

because the issue is the impact on society, not the friends and family.

You can't really separate the two: the impact of a bombing on family and friends is one of the mechanisms by which the bombing affects society.

Von,

The problem with your participation in this thread is that you apparantly don't know the difference between inflating and equating

Perhaps Google would be of assistance.

Italics hates the google.

Turbulence,

In general, I am not talking about the employment of the victims, but the employment prospects of the average person. Though in the US, a stay at home mom is not considered unemployed since she is not seeking employment.

If it is an employers market, and there are many to replace the dead, it has less impact than on a society that has tight employment.

jrudkis,

So, just to be clear, if a victim's family member commits suicide or attempts a reprisal killing, do you believe the impacts on society of that suicide or reprisal killing is a function of the employment rate? Do you believe that if either of those secondary victims were unemployed at the time that we should therefore assume that, had they survived, they would have remained unemployed forever?

I think what jrudkis says is: (1) totally repugnant. (2) not even remotely true. Sort of a parody of a soulless, idiotic social scientist who thinks: if the impact of a violent death doesn't show up in GDP, it must not affect society! It's just absurd. GDP & other various social science statistics don't measure everything relevant; decent social scientists--and I mean this in the sense of "competent" as well as "moral"--recognize this.

Katherine,

I think I am failing to make my point: I beleive that those who know a dead Iraqi feels the pain more than our own less social society. I do not discount that part at all.

But if you are going to say that the death of a factory worker during a depression is equal in impact to society as the same death when workers are at a premium, I think you are wrong.

And the comparison we were making, as I understand it, is the same type of death on different societies. My point is simply that where labor is plentiful, violent deaths have less impact on the society because the economy is impacted less...because the dead person can be replaced and keep the economy working.

If you do not think that the economy is the basis for everyone in society to eat and drink, than I guess I am at a loss.

But if you are going to say that the death of a factory worker during a depression is equal in impact to society as the same death when workers are at a premium, I think you are wrong.

That argument might make sense if you assume that the depression lasts forever. So let me ask you again, do you think Iraq's current unemployment rate will continue without significant change forever?

Thanks Ugh... (lowering head and moving away slowly)

I think that based on the current and historic level of unemployment in the region, it is reasonble to believe that Iraq will continue to have relatively high unemployment for the future, and that the employment it does have is less productive than other similar regions in the world. In other words, it will have an oil economy with few other exports, and few Iraqis controlling the oil production.

That argument might make sense if you assume that the depression lasts forever

It does not depend on that at all. In society A where there is full employment, the societal effects of the loss of a worker begin to accrue immediately and in society B that is not at full employment they don't.

The length of time society B is not at full employment affects the amount of difference in the impacts, but not the existence of that difference in the first place.

This is not a novel argument. It is one reason Republican administrations hate full employment. Although the particular aspect of full employment they hate is that workers can remove themselves from the labor market as a bargaining tool rather than get blown up or whatever happens to them in Iraq these days.

And as a final thought, the assertion that a death is a death, that the effect of a humans' death is going to be the same no matter who the person or what the circumstances - that is a lovely thought. But it isn't true. Our lives are not all worth the same in any consistent moral calculus that a rational human being would accept. Sorry!

Jrudkis, that's possible, but if there is another way to explain the impact of depopulation and why Native American linguistics is really the study of scarce data, I'd be happy to consider presenting it.

The last part, I'm not sure if I understand. My point is that it is hard to appreciate how much of an impact the kind of losses have on a culture that is family/clan based and is relatively few in numbers. How would an argument about killing Hawkeye illuminate that?

LJ.

Suppose you were from Newport High, and were responsible for defeating Issaquah High...

Would you be doing so because you were white Europeans, or for closer social ties?

jrudkis,
Are you thinking that the depopulation of native american people was accomplished by death thru warfare? The main engine was an absence of resistance to diseases, so as such, your high school metaphor doesn't really apply.

I think that based on the current and historic level of unemployment in the region, it is reasonble to believe that Iraq will continue to have relatively high unemployment for the future,

Huh? Do you have any data that would justify this conclusion? I thought that Iraqi unemployment was relatively low before we invaded and destroyed their society.

and that the employment it does have is less productive than other similar regions in the world. In other words, it will have an oil economy with few other exports, and few Iraqis controlling the oil production.

You mean like Norway? Or maybe Venezuela?

Do you have any measurements for productivity?

Do you have any data that would justify this conclusion? I thought that Iraqi unemployment was relatively low before we invaded and destroyed their society.

Hahaha. This is hilarious. Why, the Iraqis may at any moment just spontaneously reconstruct the society we destroyed! Like ordering a restaurant meal or something. Hahaha. Saddam will rise from the dead, and get things back to normal there, right?

I must've missed something: why in the hell are people looking at comparative economies again?

What we need to do is find the Americans who planned and executed the bombing, and take them to the International Criminal Court.

Anarch: because their looking for any excuse why Iraqi deaths don't matter very much.

On the topic at hand, I side with Eric Martin, Anarch (unsurprisingly) and others of that ilk. Objecting to the comparison only serves as a device to minimize the impact of the war on American consciousness, and I deplore those who do it.

OTOH, I am amazed that they do not cite the (last line of) the following. I blame a deficient education in Anglo-Welsh poetry:

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London


Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.


Dylan Thomas

Just how insensitive do you have to be to think that unemployed people getting killed has no effect on productivity? Just use your imagination for a moment...

An unemployed man two streets away who you know has been killed. When you go to work, how productive are you when you're mourning him, wondering whether his family is OK, worrying whether it might be you or a family member killed next? How easy it to plan next year's budget when you're thinking that you or one of your colleagures might be dead by next year?

Ask people who work in New York or London how long it took them to get back to being fully productive after the bombings, how long before their days at the office or in the shop weren't frequently interrupted with regrets about what happened and recurrent worries about what might come next. How long before an unexpected noise or sight didn't start their heart racing and make it hard to concentrate on their work?

Or think about yourself when a close friend or relative has died or even been seriously ill. How productive were you at work in the next week, the next month? Think about that and then imagine what it's like being an Iraq at work. Or read what it's like being e.g. the director of Iraq's national library.

And when you've read and thought and tried to imagine yourself in that position then think long and hard before you say such rubbish about deaths not mattering to society again.

@jrudkis
And the comparison we were making, as I understand it, is the same type of death on different societies. My point is simply that where labor is plentiful, violent deaths have less impact on the society because the economy is impacted less...because the dead person can be replaced and keep the economy working.

If you do not think that the economy is the basis for everyone in society to eat and drink, than I guess I am at a loss.

Estimates for unemployment in Iraq are 60-70%, based on what I've read. One of the reasons it's so high is because of a lack of security, e.g., this bombing. So consider this: if in a vacuum, a bomb goes off in New York tomorrow and 63 people die, what happens?

63 people are dead. Presumably many times that are injured (tho' they'll have better access to medical care, so their economic output (apparently the only measure we're allowed in judging the social impact of violence) will be less affected than a comparable number of Iraqis would be, and fewer of these survivors will die in the days and weeks to come. But aside from the loss of 63 units of labor, the partial or temporary loss of Nx63 more units as non-fatal casualties, and whatever damage was done to businesses at the site of the bombing, there will be zero social impact. Well, perhaps some job growth in the security industry, and further government and/or military employment, but other than that, nothing, right? Just the immediate loss of 63 units of labor in a 5-6% unemployment econ- er, society. Does this then balance out with the Iraqi bombing? After all, there's over 10 times the unemployment in Iraq, even if there's 10 times the population in the US; that's actually pretty much the same number of people available in the employment pool. So they're exactly the same w/o any adjustment, right?

But wait; as noted above, the US bombing would generate growth in security and government, thus removing more people from the unemployment rosters and increasing the impact of these deaths! While the Iraqi bombing may have represented the tipping point for a few more businesses to shut down, and thus impact the society even more, we can't assume that it alone will have a massive effect in this regard. So let's call these even, okay? Well, all right, I'm sure the American outpouring of cash to fix security would have a larger impact than a few more Iraqi businesses closing, so we'll consider (as mentioned above) the proportionally greater burden and loss of the partially damaged Iraqi labor units due to their deteriorated infrastructure here as well, to keep the balance even.

So does that sound good? Even though the US is 10 times the size of Iraq, Iraqi society (as measured by the only conceivably meaningful measure going, the economy) is no more impacted by a bomb exploding that directly eliminates 63 Iraqi units of labor than American society would be by a terror attack that slaughtered 63 American citizens, and vice versa. QED.

Jrudkis's argument also goes far to explain why, after the Oklahoma bombing, the 19 casualties least mentioned or discussed by the media were the unproductive layabouts who spent whole days doing nothing more economically productive than watch cartoons and pester their moms for action figures. Clearly, their deaths had no impact on America whatsoever: why, for most of them, it would be have been at least a decade before they got any kind of paid job.

What we need to do is find the Americans who planned and executed the bombing, and take them to the International Criminal Court.

Dave, when's your birthday?

I'm going to buy you your very own life-size straw man. Maybe something like the Ray Bolger character from the Wizard of Oz. You can sit him in a chair in the corner of the room and argue the day away, to your heart's content.

It'll save you the trouble of typing.

Thanks -

Sorry, that was a little caustic. It needed s a smiley.

:)

Thanks -

Yes, it is, Von, unless you believe that Iraqi lives are worth less than American lives.

Further, Eric explained, very clearly, what the meaningful equivalence was.

As you're a reasonably bright person, and I've no reason to suppose you don't have the mental capacity to understand Eric's explanation, I presume that on a very basic level you don't get it because you think that when an American is killed it means more than when an Iraqi is killed.

Charming as always, Jes. My points, which you miss, are set forth above and need not be repeated.

The problem with your participation in this thread is that you apparantly don't know the difference between inflating and equating

Davebo, inflation an acceptable description -- more accurate than "equating", in fact. But I appreciation your suggestion that I learn how to use Google. Be it known that I am aware of that internet tradition.

(We do our best to bridge the OT with the On-T.)

Anarch: because their looking for any excuse why Iraqi deaths don't matter very much.

Or, alternatively, it could be based on the reasons we give.

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