WEIGHING THE COST OF WAR IN A SCALE OF LIVES: Sponsors of an Anti-War Ad Answer Critics

War casualty figures are necessarily imprecise. Standard estimates of the total death toll from World War II vary not by hundreds of thousands, but by 10 or 20 million. What is clear in hindsight is that the fog of war never completely clears; the losses are uncountable and irrecoverable. Forecasts of likely casualties in future military action are equally imprecise.
Yet the numbers matter. Judgments about use of military force rely on these grim calculations. Therefore, we would like to substantiate war casualty estimates that appeared in an ad opposing war in Iraq in Foster's Sunday Citizen, the Portsmouth Sunday Herald, the New Hampshire Sunday News and the Boston Sunday Globe on consecutive Sundays in February.
The statistics ran under a photograph of an Iraqi mother and child with the headline "We cried for America's children. Why can't you cry for ours?" and two subheadings: "Stand Up Against War in Iraq," and "End Economic Sanctions."
There was much favorable comment, but two people wrote to take objection after reading the following statistics on child mortality under America's Iraq policies: Seventy thousand children killed in Gulf War I; another 500,000 children dead as a direct result of post-war sanctions; 400,000 civilians likely to be killed or injured, many of them children, in Gulf War II.
No, these are not misprints or errors. We did not get them, as one skeptical reader suggested, "out of thin air." Reputable international organizations compiled the figures: the United Nations, UNICEF and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. (See www.afsc.org/pwork/ 0212/021211.htm; http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi /middle_east/2636835.stm; www.casi.org.uk/info/ undocs/ war021210.html; www.unicef.org/newsline/99pr29.htm.)

Casualty figures from Gulf War I
The Gulf War I estimate under suspicion on the grounds that Saddam Hussein would have an interest in inflating the count. True, and this would discredit estimates based solely on official Iraqi data. But many different methods were used to compile death statistics after the Gulf War.
University of New Hampshire Professor Marc Herold has developed new research tools for studying casualty rates in warfare. He estimates in a forthcoming book that impact deaths from American bombing in the Gulf War took the lives of 3,000 to 15,000 Iraqi civilians.
The civilian casualty figure we used (more than 100,000, 70 percent children), was compiled by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and incorporates not only impact deaths from bombing but deaths from all health effects directly linked to the war. This would include deaths from disease and environmental contamination in the immediate, chaotic aftermath of the devastation and deaths in flight, from exposure and privation.

Deaths under sanctions
Criticism of the estimate of the number of children who have died as a direct consequence of sanctions (500,000) focused less on the number itself than on the objection that Saddam Hussein is to blame, not the sanctions. "Economic sanctions have killed exactly no one," one Manchester resident wrote. If anyone has died, he continued, it is only because Saddam is diverting oil revenues to his military and personal use.
This is not correct. Many of the problems causing the most severe health effects among Iraq's children do not stem from lack of money but from inability to buy medical equipment, water purification equipment and other infrastructure hardware that have been embargoed under the sanctions policy.
The Manchester man's charge that Saddam Hussein has been caught selling food aid abroad is difficult to substantiate. Three coordinators of the U.N. humanitarian program who were on the ground in Iraq - Denis Halliday, Hans von Sponeck and Tun Myat - have all stated that these stories of diversions are untrue.
Halliday, a 30-plus-year veteran diplomat of the United Nations and its assistant secretary general, resigned in protest over the sanctions. Having seen the piteous consequences firsthand, he described the policy as a system designed to fail and manipulated by the U.S. government through its vote on the Security Council. He said its effects have been genocidal. Von Sponeck, a U.N. veteran of more than 25 years' service, succeeded Halliday in the position, and though hawkish at first, he too resigned in protest over the sanctions within two years.
Malnutrition remains pervasive despite the Oil for Food Program not because aid is being diverted, but because per-capita quotas are low and people have become so poor they are selling part of their food rations to buy other necessities. (http://ww.un.org/Depts/oip/background/latest/tm001019.html)
UNICEF's last comprehensive survey of child and maternal mortality in Iraq in 1999 found that 500,000 children under the age of 5 had died of acute respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases and other causes as a direct result of the sanctions. The emergency continues. Numerous employees of UNICEF and other international organizations are working in Iraq now, responding to and documenting this tragedy. It's time for reasonable people to stop using self-deluding expressions such as "if anyone has died."

Death toll in a new war
The Gulf War II estimate (400,000 civilians killed or injured) provoked the harshest responses. Our critic wrote that increased use of precision-guided weapons, which are designed to reduce collateral damage, should lower the civilian death toll in a second Iraq war.
Drawing on Herold's research again, we respond that precision-guided munitions do not spare civilians. They were developed to knock out targets using fewer bombs and fewer sorties, making air assaults safer for U.S. pilots, not for civilians. "As the U.S. bombs get smarter, civilian casualties increase," Herold says.
But that's not the main reason the civilian death toll could go much higher in a war to topple Saddam Hussein, compared with the war that drove him out of Kuwait. The first was waged in thinly populated desert, while the second is expected to bring bombs and troops into the heart of Iraqi cities.
The casualty figure we cited is from a leaked U.N. report discussing contingency planning for humanitarian aid. It is higher than most, but lower than some. If it were our children at risk, we wouldn't want policy to be based on a best-case scenario. Using war plans reported in the Washington Post in November 2002, another organization, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, calculated a range of 48,000 to 260,000 civilian deaths, with an outside possibility of 3.9 million if chemical, biological and nuclear weapons were to become involved.

World War II analogies
One man researched World War II casualties to try to prove that our numbers are not credible. He cited a figure of 672,000 civilian war deaths in Japan to put into perspective our projection of 400,000 injured or killed in a new assault on Iraq. But to put both figures in perspective, widely read military historian John Keegan sets World War II civilian deaths in Japan at 2 million; in the Soviet Union, 7 million.
These statistics shed little light on casualty estimates in the current crisis. Their relevance probably has more to do with emotion than logic. One of the feelings conveyed is that if all those innocent people died in a war Americans look back on as a time when we were heroes, we can be heroes again, even if we kill innocents.
It would be a grave misreading of history to draw any such lesson from a war whose extraordinary toll left all nations exhausted, heartsick and stunned. The debate on Iraq policy is strewn with World War II references taken out of context. In World War II the United States fought back after being attacked, and fought to liberate countries that had been overrun by foreign powers. In this case, Iraq is not invading any country, including the United States. None of the Sept. 11 highjackers came from Iraq. Not one.
"You are not looking at the facts and are just acting emotionally," a critic of our ad concluded. We counter that a resort to violence in this situation is the ultimate in acting emotionally. Emotion-laden World War II analogies only blur the truth.

Lost in the numbers
Let's not get lost in the numbers. If you doubt our numbers, divide them by ten. Divide them by 20. Suppose only as many Iraqi children are killed as attend your local school system. The world's most powerful country should be ashamed to calculate how many children's deaths are acceptable in order to ensure its own security.
The terrible irony is that this immoral bargain isn't even smart. Attacking Iraq will not diminish the risk of terrorism. Attacking Iraq will certainly not reduce the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The disparity in the U.S. treatment of North Korea and Iraq teaches America's enemies they need a nuclear deterrent to defend themselves. Meanwhile, the United States neglects the quieter, far more urgent task of accounting for and destroying former-Soviet nuclear materials.
What confronts us is not a melodramatic showdown with evil but a complex international crisis and human tragedy. One of the faces from the crisis belongs to the woman from Basra in the photograph in the ad. One of the voices belongs to Neda, the mother from Baghdad quoted in our headline.
Neda was speaking privately to an Iraqi-American friend about the children killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. Her friend, a member of the group that put this ad together, repeated it several years later, in January 2003, at an anti-war rally in Portsmouth, N.H. She made a passionate appeal to Americans to respect the dignity and suffering of the people in her old country and spare them from another war, and she got a standing ovation.
The United States supported Saddam's rise to power and continues to strengthen his stranglehold by imposing collective punishment on the country. To help the people of Iraq, we need to stop hurting them. Lift oppressive sanctions. Let the inspectors work. Don't barge in with guns blazing and liberate people to death.

Ad for Peace Project, Portsmouth, N.H.

The Ad for Peace Project is sponsored by Seacoast Peace Response, a community group promoting nonviolent alternatives to war and other forms of aggression.

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