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Monday, May 25, 2009


 

Remembering the dead. All the dead.


I was riding my bike through a nearby college today, postering for the upcoming "End the Siege of Gaza!" demonstration, when I came across this remarkable exhibit, entitled "Counting Lives Lost" (click to enlarge):

Counting Lives Lost

Now, I admit that officially speaking, Memorial Day is a day honoring Americans who have died fighting in wars, but even President Obama recognizes the greater generality of the concept of the day, considering that today he continued a tradition of laying a wreath not only at the Tomb of the Unknowns but also on the Confederate Memorial (who were obviously Americans, but who fought against the United States just like, to name one, John Walker Lindh [correction: Lindh was actually in Afghanistan fighting the Northern Alliance. He is imprisoned for fighting Americans, but he wasn't actually doing so]).

But honoring not only those who have been killed, but those they have killed, well, I admit I didn't think too many people were thinking along those lines until I got to this exhibit. The exhibit (there's a closeup in the upper-right of the composite photo) consists of hand-made clay figures, the white ones representing American soldiers who have died in Iraq, and the brown ones representing Iraqis who have died. Quite appropriately, the latter are faceless, reflecting the fact that we don't even know their names in many cases. The text accompanying the exhibit even, remarkably (and perhaps without really considering the meaning of the words too deeply), referred to "Iraqi dead," not Iraqi "civilian dead," suggesting, in the title of the exhibit, that we should remember all the lives lost (although, like virtually the entirety of the media, they left out the more than 300 British, Italians, and other members of the "coalition of the billing" who were killed, not to mention the unknown number of Iraqis who died fighting on the side of the occupying forces).

Sadly, as well-intentioned as the exhibit's creators are, the exhibit demonstrates the continuing power of a lie. The figure used for the ratio of American to Iraqi dead (and hence the ratio of the different figures) is explained in the text to be 1:22. With 4300 American dead, that gives a number of 94,600 Iraqi dead, which is essentially the low-end estimate of Iraq Body Count, which only counts civilians dead from violence, and even then, notoriously undercounts them. Indeed, 94,600 is barely more than the 87,215 dead officially tallied by Iraq since 2005, excluding the first three years of the war!

Well, I should cut them some slack; if they had tried to make a million Iraqi dead, instead of only 93,000, they would have taken up the entire plaza in which the display was situated, and they probably would still be hard at work making the figurines. Still, a remarkable and powerful display.

Update: Press release about the exhibit.


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