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Monday, April 24, 2006


"Casualty": a casualty?

The story of a bombing at an Egyptian resort today prompts me to write about something I first wrote about back in October, 2003: the word "casualty." Most readers probably know that "casualty" is not synonomous with "fatality," but includes injuries as well. Most people probably don't know that the actual definition of "casualty" also includes soldiers who have been captured or are missing in action as well. At least since the beginning of the current Iraq war, however, and probably much earlier, the U.S. CentCom definition counts only fatalities; they try not to mention injuries at all.

But the whole problem is actually more subtle than this, which is why today's report triggered this post. CNN Headline News, which I was watching, reported "More than 100 casualties in Egyptian resort." Which made me realize -- whenever there is a report of a "terrorist" action, such as the one in Egypt or this car bombing yesterday in Baghdad, we always see sentences like this: "Seven car bombs exploded in the capital on Monday morning, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 100." They actually tend to avoid the word "casualties," but almost always give us the largest possible numbers to react to by including the number of wounded. But when it comes to U.S. military personnel, it's quite a different story, typified by this story in the same paper on the previous day: "Three U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb northwest of the capital, raising to eight the number of Americans killed this weekend in the Baghdad area." Now I don't know, since it wasn't reported, but it seems highly unlikely that eight Americans were killed and not a single one injured. It's simply that those casualties go unmentioned. (Added later: And, it should be noted, incidents in which there are only injuries, and no fatalities, go completely unreported in the media).

The explanation seems fairly straightforward. The higher the numbers of Iraqi (or Egyptian) casualties inflicted by "terrorists," the worse the "enemy" seems and the more justified the war and occupation. On the other hand, the lower the number of American casualties, the "better" the war is going, and the longer Americans are willing to put up with the "cost" (not that a majority are willing to accept the cost even now).

There's a reason why you have to swear in court to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Because, as I wrote just yesterday, an omission can be just as much a misrepresentation of the truth as an actual lie. Too bad the U.S. media and the U.S. military don't have to take that oath.

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