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Collateral Damage? August 29, 2007

Posted by Philip Ryan in News.
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thailand.jpgHuman Rights Watch says that 89% — or 2,196 — of the people killed by the “separatists” and “insurgents” in southern Thailand since January 2004 are civilians. They are careful to say separatist and not use the “T” word — a good thing, since the word’s overuse by the current junta in Washington has rendered it essentially meaningless. Oh, I guess there’s two “T” words — terrorist/m and torture. The obfuscated meaning of both is part of the shining legacy of the Department of Justice under Bush 2.

What does it mean when nearly 90% of a separatist or insurgent group’s victims are civilians? I guess I’m naive. I guess I just don’t understand modern asymmetrical warfare. Of course most victims are civilians — they’re there.

There seems to be very little curiosity in the United States about the numbers of Iraqi (let alone Afghan) civilian dead — some would ask how a civilian, living or dead, could be distinguished from a combatant anyway. I know (or I think I know) that around 57- or 58,000 Americans died in action in Vietnam. But how many civilians died? I don’t know. A million? More?

I just looked it up (this being the internets there may be other answers out there):

The Hanoi government revealed on April 4 [1995] that the true civilian casualties of the Vietnam War were 2,000,000 in the north, and 2,000,000 in the south. Military casualties were 1.1 million killed and 600,000 wounded in 21 years of war. These figures were deliberately falsified during the war by the North Vietnamese Communists to avoid demoralizing the population. . . .

Note: Given a Vietnamese population of approximately 38 million during the period 1954-1975, Vietnamese casualties represent a good 12-13% of the entire population. To put this in perspective, consider that the population of the US was 220 million during the Vietnam War. Had the US sustained casualties of 13% of its population, there would have been 28 million US dead.

And that doesn’t count Laos or Cambodia. The sad thing with Iraq is that we’ll probably never know. We thought the 20th century was the century of genocide and death on fantastical scales, but it turns out the trend continues into the 21st. The death of a soldier is a terrible thing, but the bitterest tragedy of war is what it does to civilians.

– Philip Ryan, Webmaster

[Photo: David Longstreath — AP]

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