Does Death Become The End?

2,998 lives were lost in the attacks on 9/11.
Nearly 660,000 lives are estimated to be lost as a direct result of the War On Terror.

That’s nearly 220 lives paying for every life lost in the 9/11 attacks.

I don’t question the horror of 9/11. I remember watching the towers, with growing numbness, as they crumbled on that fateful day. I remember frantically trying to get in touch with my friends in New York. Neither do I question the terror brought by Saddam. History is fraught with rulers, who “built” the nation up at human cost.

But does the knowledge that each life lost in 9/11 is being paid for by 220 additional ones (and counting) due to the War On Terror, bring closure for those who mourn their loss? Does the speedy execution of an unrepentant Saddam, bring closure for those who survive the atrocities that he wasn’t even sentenced for? Does bringing terror to supposedly liberate the world from terror not count as a crime against humanity? Or are crimes against humanity judged by who kills and who dies?

Just as we look back on our lives this past year, I started looking back on the events that lead up to this shocking ratio.

The Last Week of 2006

3oth December, 2006. I woke up with a tightness in my stomach and a tune in my head, much as I did during every day of the Thanksgiving week, when about 50 million turkeys were killed to commemorate a day whose origin is rooted in a period of bloody history.

The Tune:
“It’s the same with men as with horses and dogs, nothing wants to die…”
(Tom Waits’ Fall of Troy, from the movie Deadman Walking)

Three deaths captured the US media recently.

December 25, 2006. James Brown, the godfather of soul, of congestive heart failure. He was 73. Thousands danced and sang in the streets of Harlem, New York. Thousands more attended his Augusta service.

December 26, 2006. Former (38th) President Gerald R. Ford, who led the United States out of the tumultuous Watergate era, of a peaceful death. He was 93. Simple in life and simple in death, his funeral did not draw the all-star cast as did President Reagan’s.

December 29, 2006. First day of Eid al-adha. Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq, of a rushed death sentence, for killing 148 Shiites in Dujail, rather than the tens of thousands of Kurds he massacred, or other deaths that may have brought in to question US accountability. He died-without a hood, without remorse, and cursing America. He was 69. His death was viewed as the end of an oppressor by most, and that of a martyr by few. For the US govt., it was undoubtedly at least one accomplishment, out of the long list of businesses it had set out to accomplish as a reaction to 9/11.

Saddam’s Legacy:
Saddam Hussein wanted to unite the Arab world, and liberate it from the stranglehold of the powerful elite and the West.

He brought social services that were unprecedented among Middle Eastern countries. He sought to eradicate illiteracy by providing compulsory and free education up to the highest education levels. Hundreds of thousands learned to read due to the program. He established free hospitalization for everyone, support for families of soldiers, subsidies for farmers. He created one of the most modernized public-health systems in the Middle East. For his efforts, he won an award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

He strengthened the national infrastructure by building roads, promoting mining, and other industrial development. He brought electricity to nearly every Iraqi city and outlying areas. Agriculture was mechanized, farm co-operatives were established, unskilled labor was trained. The living standards of the peasants improved.

A despotic ruler, he brought wars, mass murders, executions, political imprisonments, merciless beatings, eye gougings, electric shocks, amputations, beheadings, rape rooms, lethal concentration camps, assassinations and religious persecution – purportedly to strengthen his homeland against external threat. The extent of his tyranny is not something that begs a convincing argument.

The New Liberator:
With 9/11, came a New Liberator. He wanted to unite the world, and liberate it from the stranglehold of terrorism.

October 7, 2001. The New Liberator invaded Afghanistan, and called it Operation Enduring Freedom.

January 29, 2002. The New Liberator sought to free the world from “the axis of evil”. Iraq was part of that axis. The New Liberator wanted justice for “the bodies of (Iraqi) mothers huddled over their dead children”.

March 20, 2003. I watched the news with my injured father, in the Intensive Care Unit of the Alameda County Hospital. “Oh my God, they invaded Iraq on your birthday!” The New Liberator called it Operation Iraqi Freedom.

December 13, 2003. The allied forces of the New Liberator “smoked (Saddam) out” of his “spider hole” at a farmhouse in ad-Dawr near his hometown of Tikrit, in what was called Operation Red Dawn.

October 29, 2004. The nearly unnoticed Lancet released a study that put the risk of death by violence for civilians in Iraq at 58 times higher than before the US-led invasion. These deaths were mainly attributed to coalition forces – and a large fraction of those reportedly killed were Iraqi women and children, those that the New Liberator had proclaimed to protect.

Campaign of Terror Vs. Campaign Against Terror:
But liberation and progress have to come at a price, we are told. While these numbers don’t come from intensive research, and don’t include all of Saddam’s crimes, or other indirect impacts of war and terror (such as displacement and disease), what is striking is that the mortalities due to the relatively humanely fought War on Terror, is roughly 30-40 percent that of a tyrannical rule that lasted nearly 5 times as long.

Coalition forces have killed more Iraqis in 2006 than the initial “Shock and Awe” and Faluja assaults. With no plans of relenting, the war re-affirms that “today is better than tomorrow” for the Iraqis.

Did Sting not sing, “History – teaches nothing”?

Related Topics:

Early Days:
The Secret War on Iraq

What’s In a Number – 2006 Edition (An excellent audio report on the Lancet study)
Iraq: Why 3,000 Dead Is Such A Landmark
Watch Those Numbers Grow

The Rush to Hang Saddam Hussein

“It will not increase our moral authority in the world. … Saddam’s heinous crimes against humanity can never be diminished, but he was our ally while he was doing it. … Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth will make us blind and disfigured. … Saddam as a war trophy only deepens the catastrophe to which we are indelibly linked.” — The Rev. Jesse Jackson. More Comments


  1. The UN and Iraq Body Count are both passive surveillance methodologies (i.e. data collected from hospitals, or reported deaths). Both of these numbers are severe undercounts, as per Colin Rowat, an economist at the University of Birmingham in England. The Lancet study was an active surveillance method where actual population was surveyed, and their second survey narrowed the confidence interval. Given how difficult the process of counting the dead in a war zone is, this is the most reliable study. You can hear more about data surveillance methodologies and why the UN and IBC are undercounts at
    On another note, the UN has come under a lot of flak for not keeping accurate data in other fields – such as total number of displaced people, something I am trying to get my hands on.


  2. Although the 650,000 Iraqi civilian is impressive (in a horrible way) and This American Life’s report on the Lancet study is convincing, no one really knows how many Iraqi civilians have died since the Iraq war began. The UN report released today says 34,452 were killed in 2006 (The Iraq government reports 1/6 of that), and the Iraq Body Count reports between 54,000 and 60,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed altogether. Regardless, I highly urge everyone to read the UN report and to listen to This American Life to get a better idea of how horrible life is for Iraqis right now.


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