Our Dead are Not the Same

Noam Chomsky has always remarked that American produced body counts are never counted. We just never know how many innocent people we have killed in any one attack. While our own body counts are always tallied and shown on television with somber music playing in the background or are written in bold headlines on the homepages and front pages of our national news media, the death counts of those innocent people in foreign lands who have been the victims of our military’s wrath are rarely reported.

A few examples are the recent killing of Afghan civilians caught in air attacks by NATO forces. On 22 June, NATO forces killed around two dozen Afghan civilians. Twenty or so Taliban members were also among the dead. Al-Jazeera, like it always does, reported the atrocity on its front page. The New York Times did not. Another brutal attack occurred just a week later on 29 June. Afghan officials reported up to 45 civilian deaths in another NATO led attack. Al-Jazeera’s web site carried the story on its home page. CNN.com showed nothing. The only news now circulating about the attack on American news web sites is that NATO officials are playing down the numbers of civilian deaths. I had to go to the New York Times’ Afghanistan page to even find the story. In their report, which was taken from the Associated Press, they mention that the Taliban are ultimately responsible for the deaths. NATO officials point out that they are not deliberately targeting civilians, but that they are being forced to kill civilians in order to get to Taliban members who are hiding amongst civilians. Afghan President Hamid Karzai mentioned that NATO forces seem to think Afghani lives are cheap.

In relation to the absence of Afghan civilian deaths, CNN.com posted amongst its headlines on 4 July that six Canadian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. Dozens of dead Afghans apparently do not merit the same attention as half a dozen dead Canadian soldiers to CNN’s editors. The obvious disregard for those our forces kill is apparent. Our soldiers’ deaths and even those of our allies merit far greater attention. The lack of perspective is rather amazing when one wonders why Americans ask “why do they hate us?” and cannot seem to understand the obvious answer. Al-Jazeera was kind enough to include at the bottom of its recent report of the 45 or so Afghani dead that NATO and US officials say they do not have civilian casualty figures. Our press reports regularly on the deaths of American soldiers (and Canadian ones, too), but even massive piles of dead civilians cannot penetrate the pages of our main news web sites or newspapers.

Maybe if our press showed pictures and reported regularly on all of the civilian casualties that have occurred since our nation invaded Afghanistan and Iraq then would people here be aware of exactly how the “war on terror” is being carried out. If terrorists claimed that they only wanted to kill American forces, but in the process killed fifty or so American civilians then most Americans would probably view that as unjust. It is obvious that through the neglect of reporting such stories those from other nations understand that our media filters content and could only surmise from such action that Americans simply do not care about innocent people being slaughtered. The media’s responsibility has always been to be objective, to present both sides of the story, but everyday it becomes apparent by checking foreign news services that our media has always been a failure at telling the whole truth, if it ever even tells part of it at all.

OMER SUBHANI is a candidate for a Ph. D. in History at Boston University. He can be reached at: OS21@aol.com