The Counting Game, take 2
Some thoughts on who gets memorialized, and who doesn't
I'm a perfectionist. So it's not unusual that after I've scrambled to finish a cartoon on deadline, I have regrets. Usually they're stylistic--I should have drawn that panel better, I should have had a better punchline, I should have used different lettering or a different pen. But there's one that's been bothering me for a while about The Iraq Counting Game. When I originally drew the cartoon (and yes, the numbers have changed since), it went like this:
- (Panel 1) Weapons of Mass Destruction: Too few to count (0).
- (Panel 2) Bush Admin Lies: Hard to Count. A lot. (237+).
- (Panel 3) U.S. Military Dead: Too Many, and Still Counting (628).
- (Panel 4) Iraqi Civilian Dead: Is Anyone Counting?
The original point was supposed to be--how horrible it is that these hundreds of soldiers have died. And how horrible that we don't even know how many civilians have died. As you might have noticed, in the final cartoon I switched the order of the last two panels to put the U.S. military dead last. I did this against my own better judgment because cartoons are propaganda, meant to persuade, and I thought U.S. readers would probably be more concerned about U.S. military dead than they would about then tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians (and nevermind dead Iraqi soldiers). I should have left it.
I was reminded of this when I read Ted Rall's column this week ("A SELFISH MEMORIAL DAY: Remembering 1% of the Fallen"), and I felt ashamed. A few small excerpts (though you should really read the whole thing, it's not that long):
The left nags us about the bloodbath; the right ignores it. Pro-war or anti-war, however, both sides are the same in one respect: Death only matters when it happens to Americans. It's a cliché of journalism: a single murdered blonde scores screaming headlines while "2,000,000 Chinese Die in Floods" gets a column inch under the fold on page 19.and
But chronically insular Americans have become so myopic since 9/11 that they only mourn their own soldiers--they don't even care when their allies bite the dust... . A total of 122 non-U.S. coalition troops have died since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, 12 are missing and 125 have been wounded. Thirty-six journalists have died. So have an uncounted number of U.S.-trained Iraqi policemen.
Major Memorial Day observances didn't include them.
An inclusive Memorial Day would have referenced the innocents who died during our bombing, invasion and occupation. In his Bush-approved book "Plan of Attack," Bob Woodward says General Tommy Franks estimated that 30,000 Iraqis died during the first three weeks of the war. According to the Associated Press, Iraqi morgue records lead to a low-balled rough estimate of 33,000 additional civilians killed between May 2003 and April 2004. (This doesn't include those killed in explosions or those who were buried without ever going to a hospital.) These 63,000-plus people--yes, people--paid precisely the same price as our soldiers for deposing Saddam Hussein. But unlike our soldiers, they didn't volunteer.
No one, even Michael Moore, talks about the dead Taliban and Iraqi government soldiers, many of them conscripts... . The fact that their side lost cannot diminish the horror of their destruction, wipe away the grief of their wives and children, or dishonor their sacrifice. God knows we try. We pretend that our 880 dead soldiers, followed at a distant second by civilians reduced to "collateral damage," are the only losses that matter out of nearly 100,000.
Iraq Body Count has an online memorial with the names of some 600 of the 30,000+ Iraqi civilians killed as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But most of their names will never be known.
So here's how I would do the cartoon today.