How many days has it been
Since I was born?
How many days
‘Til I die?
Do I know any ways
I can make you laugh?
Or do I only know how
To make you cry?
― Leon Russell, Stranger in a Strange Land
The mass media in the US have covered up the most important fact in America’s ongoing wars: the number of people slaughtered. Even before the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the mainstream media served as cheerleaders for the bloodshed, spreading the major lies that led us to war.
As a combat vet still shocked by what I saw almost 50 years ago in Vietnam, where we earlier slaughtered millions in another war based on lies, I decided to look into what is happening in the current wars. I discovered that as many as seven million innocents may have been slaughtered in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I say “innocents,” because even most combatants American forces have killed were merely defending their homelands from invasions by foreigners (that is us). The invasion of Afghanistan was avoidable ― the Taliban had offered to give up bin Laden if the USA would show them proof that he was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
The invasion of Iraq meanwhile violated international law and was little more than genocide.
I first looked for government or mainstream media reports in researching this article, but found little help there, forcing me to conclude they are not at all interested in counting victims. Anything they’ve put out to date is so simplistic that it should be ignored by anyone seeking facts. They wouldn’t even report on or take seriously a 2006 report by the respected UK medical journal, the Lancet, which, based upon household surveys and other data, concluded that between the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq and the beginning of 2006, Iraq had suffered over 650,000 war-related deaths, representing an astonishing 2.5% of the country’s population.
It should go without saying that nobody has a completely accurate count of the dead. But over the years, the impact of a corporate media and National Security State have taken their toll on the truth, warping it to imply that relatively few people have died in America’s phony “War on Terrorism.”
The charge of a cover-up by the mass media seems obvious, as it is unconscionable that major media, a multi-billion dollar industry, could not find the numbers if they made even a feeble attempt. It seems obvious as well that such numbers would shock the public and turn them against the wars, which probably explains the silence of the mainstream, which is in line with their avid war support and simply echoes the words of General Tommy Franks that “We don’t do body counts.”
As far as the people of Iraq are concerned, the Iraq war is now 25 years old. It began in 1990 with deadly economic sanctions imposed on Iraq, followed by a 1991 attack by President George HW Bush against Iraqi forces. The sanctions after the hot war ended, continued during a subsequent hot war with President Clinton’s Operation Desert Fox, and continued until sanctions were finally lifted in 2003 as the illegal US invasion of Iraq was launched by George W. Bush. A variation of the continued assault on Iraqis crawls forward under the banner of war on ISIS, a violent group the USA is largely responsible for spawning in an attempt to bring down the government of Syria.
In 2001, Iraqi Cultural Minister Hamid Yusuf Hammadi, speaking at a conference against the UN embargo, estimated that 1.7 million Iraqis died as a result of the sanctions and other violence directed against Iraq by the USA up to that time under presidents GHW Bush and Clinton.
Before that, in 1996, Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark estimated that 1.5 million Iraqis died as a result of the sanctions, while attempting to bring war crimes charges against the USA and others for genocide.
While the corporate US media ignored it, even Clinton Secretary of State Madeline Albright, in 1996, acknowledged studies showing that over half a million Iraqi children had died because of US sanctions on Iraq between 1990 and 1996 (mostly a result of the inability of Iraq to import chlorine to purify public water supplies), and concluded that this horrifying and genocidal slaughter was “worth it.”
But all of that was before 2003’s Shock and Awe attack on Iraq.
In 2007, Opinion Research Business of London estimated the number of Iraqis killed in the 2003 invasion of that country and following war up to that time to be 1.2 million, based on face to face interviews with 1,720 adults aged 18+ throughout Iraq (1,499 agreed to answer the question on household deaths).
Taking these numbers from the invasions, sanctions and occupation of Iraq alone, we are already over 2.5 million dead.
And then there is the Afghanistan affair.
In 2001, President George W. Bush authorized an invasion of Afghanistan, where, we were told at the time, seven million people were being fed by NGO’s because they were on the verge of starvation, meaning they would die in a short time without emergency food.
Noam Chomsky reported in 2002 on the time of the invasion, “A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned that ‘We are facing a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions in Afghanistan with 7.5 million short of food and at risk of starvation,’ while aid agencies leveled ‘scathing’ condemnations of U.S. air drops that are barely concealed ‘propaganda tools’ and may cause more harm than benefit, they warned.”
No one has counted how many Afghans starved to death as a result of the invasion, but clearly the NGOs who had been feeding people on the verge of starvation had to withdraw because of the bombing. Those starving people who were being fed by those departed NGOs were among the poorest on earth, lacking birth and death certificates, so we may never know what happened by searching records.
Some good people have tried to use newspaper accounts to come up with numbers of Afghan dead, but this doesn’t take into account the massive numbers of rural Afghanis who likely died of hunger away from cities while fleeing the massive bombing for several months without food.
Australian scientist Gideon Polya did a study of the effect of war on the Afghanistan population and concluded that as a result of the invasion and occupation up to 2009,”This carnage involving 4.5 million post-invasion violent and non-violent excess Afghan deaths constitutes an Afghan Holocaust and an Afghan Genocide as defined by Article 2 of the UN Genocide Convention.”
So if this estimate is correct, there are 4.5 million dead in Afghanistan as a result of the invasion and occupation. Combined with the 2.5 million who died from war and sanctions in Iraq, we arrive at the rough figure of 7 million dead.
But if 7 million people died, why is it that few seem aware of these numbers? After all, anyone you ask on the street can tell you 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. Why aren’t 7 million Muslims important enough to notice?
One may speculate that the truth is offensive to a National Security State that would be embarrassed by its involvement in two major genocides.
The owners, board members and advertisers of our mainstream press are interlocked in “defense” contracting investments, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most lucrative in history, with, at times, more contractors in both Iraq and Afghanistan than there were troops. The National Priorities Project estimates that well over $1.5 trillion has been spent on these Wars since 2001. Some figures place the total cost of the War on Terror at over $3 trillion.
Our politicians’ own “defense” investments as well, and their political campaigns, often depend on contributions from “defense” industries, at great expense to taxpayers who wind up, as a direct result, buying weapons systems even the Pentagon doesn’t want. Many Members of Congress legally vote for “defense” projects which personally enrich them because of their investments.
Even though the majority of the public oppose the wars and want our troops to come home, it is imperative to the corporate media and corporate government, and those above them (the ruling Forces of Greed) that as much public support as possible be maintained to keep the wars going.
If the public were informed that as many as 7 million people may have been slaughtered, more war supporters might fall off the bandwagon, making it harder to keep the bloodshed flowing for the billions in profit, just as a point was reached during the Vietnam War when the vast majority of Americans opposed the war and it could no longer be waged without risking rebellion.
Violence has become the primary diplomatic tool of our government, enabled by propaganda spread by corporate media. Gandhi said “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
Our government and mass media are still covering up the evil, but it may be permanent for as many as seven million.
Jack Balkwill is an activist in Virginia.