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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)
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Thursday, November 10, 2005
I see them here, I see them there, I see yankee war crimes everywhere.
Yankee war crimes in the Independent - read Scott Burgess on the White Phosphorus Scandal that rose into the sky like an illuminating flare, appropriately enough, and just as quickly sank. [Added later: I did not make quite clear enought that Scott's role in all this was to supply the gravity.]
Yankee war crimes in the Guardian - see this column by George Monbiot called "The media are minimising US and British war crimes in Iraq"
What struck me most about this article when I had stopped laughing long enough to read it was its reliance on cheap stunts. It starts with the line "We were told that the Iraqis don't count." Because by means of a wearisome pun on two possible meanings of the word "count", Monibot could give you the momentary impression that the Americans have said that the Iraqis are worth less as human beings .... yawn, you guessed right, Monibot does give you that impression.
He doesn't keep it up because he can't. With a certain reluctance he turns to his actual, quite different complaint in the next few lines. He writes:
But then do you know what those warmongering Pentagon scum did? (Sensitive readers may prefer to look away at this point.)
They made a bar chart. Yes, a bar chart. In a report to Congress. It was labelled "average daily casualties - Iraqi and coalition. 1 Jan 04-16 Sep 05".
Sternly, Monibot says, "The claim that it kept no track of Iraqi deaths was false." First point: two of Monbiot's supposedly damning quotes (by Franks and Rumsfeld) date from before the beginning of the offending bar chart. (The first of them dates from before the war itself, and pretty clearly was talking about battle casualties among Saddam's army.) If someone claims not to be on a diet in 2003 it doesn't make her a liar if she then starts one in 2005.
Second point: who cares? So someone came out with a bit of bravado designed to lay the ghosts of Vietnam (a war in which "body counts" of enemy dead were widely condemned both for their dishonesty and because they can act as an incentive to massacre) and then the Pentagon changed its mind about its record keeping? Big deal.
Third point: if you look very, very carefully you will see that the unnamed Evil Pentagonian quoted third said, "The only thing we keep track of is casualties for US troops and civilians." And then if you look equally carefully further down the page you will see Mr Monbiot says,
The report does not explain what it means by casualty, or if its figures represent all casualties, only insurgents, or, as the foregoing paragraph appears to hint, only civilians killed by insurgents.It's all very vague, but it looks to me as if the Evil Pentagonian and the Evil Bar Chart might have been talking about the same thing.
The next bit of the article is about Iraq Body Count and the Lancet study. Now, the internet isn't exactly short of discussion of the Lancet figures. For the record I think that they are way too high to be credible for that sort of war and that the source of error will turn out to be exaggeration by survey respondents for political reasons or in the hope of getting compensation.
Given that the phrase "two independent news agencies" impresses me very little when I consider possible pairs, my guess is that the Iraq Body Count estimate will also turn out to be too high. But I don't want to attack Monbiot here for believing differently. The point is that even on his own account, so far the article has had practically nothing to do with its stated subject of British and American war crimes. First he talked about, at worst, the US keeping records it had said it didn't keep. Then he talked about how to count numbers of deaths due to the war. He is of course aware that the Lancet and Iraq Body Count figures include things like higher incidence of disease, not to mention* the victims of the spectacular and unashamed war crimes committed by Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Finally he claimed that the US foolishly assumes all the people it blows up are insurgents.
The last two issues are important (the first isn't), but I can't help feeling sorry for all those Guardian readers who clicked the link hoping for some juicy US war crimes action and this is all they got. False advertising, I call it. Still, I suppose it sells papers.
*As indeed Mr Monbiot doesn't.