The Awful Sound of Silence

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The Awful Sound of Silence

Steve Carlson

" And no one dared disturb the sound of silence. "
--Paul Simon

While I suppose one could argue that it's too early to start identifying the most under-reported story of the 21st century to date, I should think that the actual death and human suffering toll in Iraq might top the list of almost any discerning journalist, academic, policymaker, or for that matter, peacemaker. The fact that the scale and scope of the tragedy has been successfully obscured, so far, is in itself quite a story, though perhaps one with an ending that may leave our collective sense of fundamental goodness more than a bit shaken.

How is it that we in America haven't considered this question seriously? I understand we're in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. I understand we're shedding jobs at an alarming rate. I get it that hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure. No one disputes that these are tough times for a great many people in this country.

But what are the people of Iraq facing? What must it be like to be a survivor of the Iraqi War? Let's start with what's been reported so far.

The website Iraq Body Count has cross documented the violent deaths of between 90,000 to 100,000 Iraqi civilians since the 2003 American led invasion and occupation. Most experts agree that this number is, in all probability, significantly below the actual death toll.

A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins estimated that as of July, 2006, the death toll had exceeded 600,000 people.

A September 2007 study by the prestigious British polling firm Opinion Research Business, put the death toll at 1.2 million Iraqis.

Calculating a rate of increase derived from the numbers reported on Iraq Body Count, (and assuming that the survey methodologies of the Johns Hopkins and Opinion Business Research studies are sound), Just Foreign Policy estimates the current number of Iraqi dead at roughly 1.3 million people.

MIT researcher John Tirman has reported that there are perhaps 1 million Iraqi widows, up to 5 million orphans, and 4.5 million refugees as a result of the war.

What do these numbers mean? For the sake of trying to understand let's pick a number halfway between the Iraq Body Count and Just Foreign Policy estimates. Let's assume that 650,000 Iraqi's have suffered violent deaths since 2003. Let's further assume that the halfway mark also applies to the number of widows, orphans and refugees the war has produced. Then let's put these numbers into context by noting that the population of Iraq in 2003 was roughly one tenth the population of the United States, and then by taking an imaginative leap. Here goes.

A brutal tyrant ascends to power in America, crushing opposition political parties, murdering dissidents and destroying our civil liberties. The European Union and Canada decide to invade in order to "liberate" the American people. And in the ensuing war 6.5 million civilians die violently from military and sectarian conflicts. Civilians, mind you. And the war also produces 6.5 million widows, 25 million orphans, and another 20 milion people displaced from their homes, or become refugees. And the numbers might be double that. 12 Million dead. 40 million refugees. 50 million orphans. Think about it for a moment, if you can.

Tens and tens of millions of Americans would know someone who had been killed in the war. Tens and tens of millions more would know war widows and orphans, or of neighbors, friends or family who fled elsewhere to escape the violence, perhaps permanently displaced. And tens and tens of millions more would have seen violent death and injury first hand. And all of this death and suffering against the backdrop of a destroyed power grid, healthcare system and general infrastructure. A nation and it's people reduced to rubble and despair.

We'd be absolutely awash in grief and shock if such a thing happened in this country. A lot of us wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning. A lot of us would feel as though we had no future and no hope. We'd never be the same again.

So how is it that any politician or pundit in America can talk about what did or did not "work" in the Iraqi War? How can a calamity of this magnitude be considered, in any sense whatsoever, a success? How could anyone in America have complained, as they have in the past, that the media doesn't report on the good things happening in Iraq. What good things?

Shouldn't somebody in Washington want to know the truth of what's happened in Iraq? Shouldn't the rest of us want to know, too? Shouldn't we be talking out loud about all of this? Maybe the crisis we're facing here at home is more than just an economic one.  

Steve Carlson is a former steering committee member of United for Peace and Justice, and a member of the Iraq Moratorium national committee. He can be reached through his website at

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