FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Death Tolls

The poet John Donne famously wrote ‘do not send to ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ It’s a line that echoes as death tolls keep rising. On October 29, 2004 The New York Times reported the conservative estimate of Iraqis killed since our invasion at 100,000, half of them women and children killed in airstrikes. 100,000 Iraqis is one third the number of civilians Saddam Hussein is accused of killing in a period of 22 years. How do we compute 100,000 Iraqis? How do they compare with 3,000 Americans killed in Osama Bin Laden’s 9/11 airstrike, or with 15 Palestinians killed by Israeli rockets in Gaza?

How do we measure numbers of dead? Does their value depend on nationality or religion or race? Are my people worth more than your people, my children more precious than others’?

The weight of numbers is numbing and arguable. The human number is one.
That is the meaning of Donne’s great line. Every life counts: we are diminished by every death.

This no doubt seems sentimental to the sacrificially inclined-those willing to send men and women to fight for freedom or democracy or Allah or Israel. Unlike Christ who said you should lay down your own life for another, leaders like Bush and Bin Laden and Sharon lay down others’ lives. Which of them give themselves for their causes? Saddam Hussein thumped his chest and brandished his rifle and threatened to die before defeat from the enemy; and he crawled pleading from a hole. George Bush now boasts and brandishes Saddam’s gun in the White House oval office.

Mayans see human life bound as a blanket, woven, unwoven, rewoven through time. Every day in every moment people die and are born and we can’t comprehend or fathom or care. We barely manage caring for ourselves and families; our energies and reach are small. Nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love tend to be muted by the furies of war. We empathize little unless we or someone we know is in the fury, or unless we press to imagine and identify. Some who protest abortion do empathetically identify as single-celled possibilities.

But tolls are totals, abstract sums, by which we don’t imagine a burning child, a woman bleeding and giving birth and dying at a checkpoint, a scared soldier nervously shooting a little girl’s head off in a car he fears rigged with explosives.

Death tolls announce not thee or me, but a number which is never we.

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

 

More articles by:

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail