Along the Tracks

Friday, April 19, 2002

Failure of the numbers game

Remember all the hubbub about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and how after the Associated Press researched the issue, it was discovered the Taliban was not only inflating the numbers during last fall’s bombing, but also including soldiers and al Qaeda members as “civilian” casualties?

I’d like to point out that our very own media is doing the same thing with Palestinian casualties in the Israeli conflict. People keep hearing about the “3-to-1 ratio” of Palestinians killed compared to Israelis. What they don’t hear is that a large number of the Palestinians killed - and in the context of Israel’s recent incursion, a majority - are actually combatants. These are armed men shooting at Israeli soldiers. Also included are the terrorists who get killed after gunning down settlers, and the suicide bombers who die as a result of their evil weapon of choice.

The common response from the media when this is pointed out is, “Israeli soldiers are also included in the figures.” That may be true, but Israel’s disciplined military and technological superiority make their combatant losses much smaller when compared with those of the Palestinians. And the fact that combatants are included in the figures is rarely mentioned when the numbers are reported. This is deception, pure and simple, to promote the concept that Palestinian civilians are being targeted for death by the Israelis - something patently untrue; and to use "totals" on each side to choose who is the "victim of aggression."

For comparison, consider the Gulf War. Combatant losses by United States and its allies numbered no more than a couple hundred; by contrast, estimates of Iraqi military losses range from 10,000 to 50,000. That’s approximately a 100-to-1 ratio. Civilian Iraqi losses were estimated at another 20,000 to 50,000 (not including Saddam’s attacks on Shiites and Kurds after the war); allied civilian losses were in the hundreds, mostly Kuwaitis. So the 100-to-1 ratio still holds. If we are to judge which side is “justified” based purely on casualty counts, then Iraq was clearly the aggrieved party in the conflict it started by invading Kuwait. If that seems like nonsense to you, that’s because it is.

I can respect committed pacifists who believe all killing under any circumstances is morally unjustifiable, even if I do not agree with them. At least their thinking is consistent.

But that’s not the message media liberals and others on the Left are trying to send. They aren’t condemning terrorist actions along with military ones, rather they are condemning military actions while excusing terrorism as “the only weapon the Palestinians have.” In other words, they don’t mind killing, as long as approximately equal numbers die on both sides. This is a cold “morality” of numbers, unjustifiable by any code other than relativism. And relativism, of course, considers all societal moralities equally legitimate, all actions equally justified, the judgment of all results easily figured on a balance sheet.

Which brings us back around the horn to Afghanistan. The reason some liberal academics were giving credence to Taliban casualty figures is because they wanted a relativistic justification for their opposition to America’s military action. That justification, in their minds, would come when Afghan casualties - civilian or otherwise - exceeded those of America on September 11. In other words, they did not oppose the war because of any moral belief, such as pacifism; rather, they were politically opposed to the war. But in an effort to take the moral high ground with the public, they chose a relativistic attack. This also belies the closed world of academia - only in segregated Leftist circles is such relativism considered a “morality” at all. Thus, their less than honest effort failed to move public opinion because, even if true, held no moral weight with the vast majority of Americans.

The Palestinian-Israeli casualty figure comparisons have been foisted upon the public by media complicit with this relativistic attack. Fortunately, opinion polls continue to show Americans see Israel as the aggrieved party, with a moral right to defend herself against attacks on her civilians. Once again, Americans are proving both their true morality and their ability to think critically.

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