Sunday, April 08, 2007

The 600,000...

... killed  in Iraq, of course. You may have heard a brief mention on the 6 PM news on BBC Radio 4 (26 Mar), along the following lines: while the British government poured scorn on the figure at the time, it was being privately advised that the report in the Lancet "was right." From the website: "The study design is robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to 'best practice'."

Norman Geras posted in October 2006: "[..] had I been able to foresee, in January and February 2003, that the war would have the results it has actually had in the numbers of Iraqis killed [..] I would have withheld my support. [..] nothing on earth could have induced me to [..] campaign for a course of action that would have saved the Baathist regime. But I would have stood aside." Unlike Norman, I did comment on the detail of  the first Lancet report ("the 100,000") and expressed my doubts about it.

To return to the recent revelations from the BBC, the full story was on the World Service's Newshour at 21:00, which I happened to catch. From this it emerged that British officials believed the methodology to be soundly based, but they still thought the figures too high. Further balance was provided by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, who thought that the figure probably overstates by 2 or 3 times. That still leaves an appallingly high figure, of course. 

One factor, as a BBC correspondent pointed out, is that the headline figure reported at the time of a bombing atrocity is one thing. But of those wounded a high number die needlessly due to the incompetence (that's not quite a strong enough word) of the Health Ministry, run by Muqtada al-Sadr's people.

We should also bear in mind the numbers killed due to the wars inititiated by Saddam Hussein against Iran and Kuwait: 750,000 for 1980-8 and 100,000 for 1990-1 (the so-called "First" Gulf War) seem not unreasonable.

Still on the subject of numbers, according to the program shown on BBC4 (Racism: a history, Part 2, 28 Mar), around 30 million died in famines in British-ruled India in the late 19th century, due to neglicence and conscious racism (*). 

This puts into some sort of context the numbers who died as a result of the “Great Leap Forward” in China in the 1950's - figures vary between 20 million and 30 million people - which make some people wonder why Mao is never quite regarded as a criminal on the same scale as Hitler and Stalin (**). 

The BBC programme, which was utterly shattering, suggested that, horrific as the holocaust carried out by the Nazis was, it should be seen as part of a continuum of European races regarding others as inferior.

*   For those in the UK with Freeview digital, the series is repeated starting next Tuesday (10-12 April).
** Mao and forever By Richard McGregor Published: August 13 2004


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