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March 26, 2003

"We recognize the importance of

Daniel Radosh

"We recognize the importance of putting out good news and bad news and everything in between," Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said the other day, by way of explaining, naturally, why the Pentagon would not in fact be releasing a running total of U.S. casualties. "Don't you have an obligation to share that with the American people?" a reporter asked (Torie felt she did not, and the Times story where I learned of this exchange did not provide its own count.

Does the Pentagon really think it can -- and should -- prevent body counts? Why not: it works. The other day, USA Today said that Americans are surprised by the number of casualties so far in Iraq, because "For 12 years, wars have been presented on TV largely as precision-guided bombs hitting exact targets to produce extremely low U.S. casualties. Just 148 U.S. soldiers died in battle during the 1991 Gulf War. None in the bombing attacks on Kosovo. Sixteen U.S. troops in Afghanistan."

Leaving aside the dubious premise that we're shaken by 47 deaths (at last count) today because there were "only" 148 deaths in 1991, this editorial unintentionally reveals that when casualties aren't emphasized by the media, they probably will be underestimated. By the Pentagon's own count, there have been, so far, 64 US casualties in Afghanistan (or, technically, in Operation Enduring Freedom; some folks died across the border in Pakistan, or at bases elsewhere). Six of those came the day before the USA Today editorial appeared, so you think they might have noticed.

You'll notice that the DoD site also lists casualties in the Iraq campaign, even if Torie Clark won't. And that the CNN count I cited above includes UK troops. Oh, and look a that: 11 Americans dead in the Phillipines. When did that happen?

True, some folks tried to warn us in advance that people die in wars, but they couldn't even pay to get on TV.

Meanwhile, Iraq is officially saying there have been 93 civilian deaths, which is, oddly, much lower than independent media assessments. And no one is keeping a running toll of Iraqi military deaths, but it's probably well over 1,000. And, yeah, that matters.

Of course, the US is trying to limit civilian casualties, for tactical reasons as much as moral ones, so, hey, look on the bright side.

Update: And in a related story...

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