The Associated Press announced this evening that the death toll for the Iraq War reached 4,000 today. That number is incorrect. It is correct to say that 4,000 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, but it is incorrect to say that the death toll--even with the descriptive "American" added--for the war reached 4,000.
The problem is that that number doesn't count civilians, and it doesn't count Iraqis, and as a result, the American public doesn't have a real sense of just how devastating this war has been.
Nothing I am saying here is new. People have been making this same statement almost since the beginning of the war, and at one point, there was even some public outrage over the fact that the US wasn't doing civilian body counts. But that faded, just like coverage of the war has faded in recent months, thus enabling the farcical notion that the surge is working.
At least the AP acknowledged in its lede that while the 4 US deaths pushed the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq to 4,000, another 61 Iraqis were killed as well. No total number was given for them. Iraq Body Count puts the number of Iraqi civilian deaths somewhere between 82,000 and 90,000, and the 2006 Lancet study suggested that the number of people who are dead now who would likely not have been otherwise was potentially as high as 650,000. Either number is too high for my liking, but the fact that these numbers are not reported bothers me even more.
It is because we do not see these numbers, and more importantly, that we do not translate these numbers into actual people--mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, lovers--that there are not riots in the streets demanding an end to the war. And on those rare occasions when they are mentioned, they are not mothers and fathers--they are terrorists, insurgents, camel fuckers, rag heads, sand merchants, hajjis (which, according to Reza Aslan's book No god but God, is the term for a Muslim who has completed his or her hajj to Mecca--think "pilgrim"). They are demonized--the easier to ignore their suffering, the easier to assuage our consciences, to tell ourselves that they were bad people who had to die, or worse, that they weren't people at all, but rather animals.
But they are people, and they are dead, and they have family and friends who grieve for them, and we as a nation bear the responsibility for that.
Please, make us understand that responsibility.