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
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail