If you want to start a blog frenzy, just write about the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed as a result of the US invasion.
First, you will hear from those who lambast you for not writing about the number of Iraqi civilians killed by Saddam Hussein. Yes, terrible tyrant, gassed his own people, as they always seem to add, (actually, seeing as they were Kurds, not really) but not the point at the moment.
Then there are those who want to know what makes you think you know more than the DoD and the Pentagon, which stopped doing body counts after the Vietnam war because the numbers played into the hands of the "liberal" media. Gee, people just don't like to hear about nursing mothers and babies being snuffed out by their unquenchable thirst for democracy.
But if you chose to go with the Iraq Body Count's numbers, a much more conservative estimate, roughly 60,000, over the Lancet's 655,000, the left rears up with a snarl. "What are you, the mouth piece for George Bush?"
The numbers are all over the place, with the Iraq Body Count only tallying those killed by direct military intervention, and the Lancet counting those who have died indirectly, whether from lack of medical care or other necessities. Plenty of excellent anti-war people are on the record taking issue with the Lancet's methods and final count, while others just as strongly debunk the IBC's process.
While reading the angry exchanges about who has the numbers right, it struck me that it was a bit like arguing the number of angels dancing on the proverbial pin. Before your fingers hit the keyboard to smite me, here's why I say that.
If we use Hitler as the classic example, the fact that he put forth the ideas he did and managed to get a well-educated nation to go along with him -- stuffing train cars with living men, women and children and building ovens to incinerate them -- is such a horror in and of itself that whether 6 million people were slaughtered, or 600,000, is almost beside the point. (Not if you count your relatives among the dead, and I do not make light of the enormity of that number.)
But is the magnitude of the tragedy measured solely by the number killed? Can it not also be measured by the number who embraced it or simply looked the other way?
I am not saying that George Bush, as insane and inept as he is, is in the same mold as Hitler. I don't believe he set out to exterminate innocent Iraqis, or send 3100 (and counting) American soldiers to their deaths. But some day, let's hope sooner rather than later, the dust will clear in Iraq and there will be a clearer count of how many died and by what means. And whether it's 60,000 or 100,000 or 650,000, or one million, it's a crushing loss of life.
We should grieve every loss, no matter what the number, but we should also grieve the loss of our country, and wonder how it came to be that so many people were bamboozled long enough to let this happen.
When I was growing up we were all taught to question what happened to the good Germans. I don't think we ever expected to have to ask the same question of ourselves.