Friday, October 29, 2004

The costs of war.

I mislike what you might call argument ad mortum, or corpse counting - as a means of assessing the correctness of a war. For one thing, it's subject to so many claims and counter claims - "6 million Jews died in the Holocaust" "Well between three and five million Germans died after the war..." etc.
It's as ugly as any statistical battle.

It has begun over the report from the Lancet indicating that the death toll in Iraq due to the war may be much higher than previously announced. The Guardian covers it - CBC carries a detailed analysis, including this point:
The report in the British journal is based on the work of teams from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. The authors acknowledge that the data cited in the study might be of "limited precision."

However, similar methodology was used in the late 1990s to calculate the number of deaths from the war in Kosovo, put at 10,000.
Which, I think, indicates that the methodology is accepted widely. I think the comparator is at least useful to allow us to have some confidence (if that's really an appropriate word here).

Australian News carries the first rebuttal I've seen, which is an Australian minister observing that Saddam had killed over 300,000 people. Obviously, that's neither here nor there to the people who have died who otherwise wouldn't, and their relatives, but it is a clear example of argument ad mortumn. Their take on the report is a straight lift from Reuters. New Zealand Herald lifts their story straight from the Independent - so their take is more, shall we say, combatative.

Can't see any other obvious coverage, that's enough. My point is, once one gets past treating morality as an accounts book with balancing columns, you have to assess war by means other than death tally. Once you have decided it is right that one should die, then it is right ten thousand or a hundred thousand should die - or else you invalidate your justification for the first death.

I will just say, though, that I think this illustrates the socialist position on war - that in modern capitalism so many lifes are so dependent upon an integrated system of production and distribution for their very existence, that it's disruption by war will have catastrophic consequences. This quote, from the Guardian report, carries that full weight:
They found an increase in infant mortality from 29 to 57 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is consistent with the pattern in wars, where women are unable or unwilling to get to hospital to deliver babies, they say.
By the way, it seems in the UK infant deaths per 1,000 are 5.2.


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