Three stories I read today had me thinking of the counting of the dead. Finally I read this WaPo article on the layers of loss from the Iraq War which touch so few of us. There are many reasons cited for this. But I am also struck by how we even account for the lost lives. Examining such may be a starting point for what appears to me to be a growing disconnect from events and perhaps even our morals and humanity. So back to the 3 stories…
The first story was from Reuters on New Orleans recovery. It reported that Katrina killed “more than 1300.” I don’t know where this number comes from yet I continue to see it in press accounts though it is off by hundreds. A basic fact check would show that NOAA had the death toll at 1833 in August. That is now dated as Louisiana lowered their official toll. Thus the Katrina toll would now be 1720. When the press says more than 1300 I doubt people are thinking as many as 420 more or 24% of all those who lost their lives. If by chance Reuters is referring to more than 1300 dead from the city of New Orleans I have no idea where they could have obtained that as a final list with deceased by city is not available and regardless would be less than 1300 with the info known (LA total minus known from all parishes other than Orleans)
US Military Dead
The second story is from the LA Times on counting the war dead. They report…
One of the most widely cited sources, used by The Times and several other news organizations, is the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count website, icasualties.org. The website is maintained by Georgia resident Michael White.
One man…acting on his own… relying on donations to do his work… is the source of troop casualties for most of the press. That really is unbelievable. Only the AP also maintains a count of military dead. Apparently no other press or media outlet independently maintains an account.
Finally there is this from a NYT article on the Iraqi death toll…
…officials reported that 16,273 Iraqi civilians, soldiers and police died violent deaths in 2006, a figure larger than an independent Associated Press count for the year by more than 2,500.
The 16,273 figure is suspect as the NYT also reports that the UN believes 100 die in Iraq daily or 36,500 annually.
The varying numbers in the last example is somewhat more understandable than the other 2 examples, given the ongoing chaos in Iraq. I doubt Iraqis would excuse it though. And that is why an accounting of the dead is so important on many levels. It is important to each family who has suffered a loss. US military families praise Michael White, the self described Joe Blow for keeping track of casualties, which is the most accurate of the above examples no less. They praise his work because they want their loss to be acknowledged and remembered.
But Michael White also said this of his work…
“I wanted people to use facts as opposed to opinions to talk about the war”
How are we to talk of these events if we do not have the most basic facts? How do we gauge or understand their importance without those facts? How do we measure and judge our action, as in War or inaction, as in Katrina, without knowing the price, the toll in human lives?
I just find something terribly wrong when the press repeatedly under reports Katrina deaths by the hundreds, when one man voluntarily shoulders the burden of reporting military war dead and when we really have no idea of the human cost to the nation of Iraq for our actions. I believe there is a callousing effect in this that is truly disturbing. We owe it to the dead to demonstrate more considerate compassion. And we, the living, risk losing the ability to do so, should we not.