Real and Unreal

by Kieran Healy on August 28, 2003

David Adesnik doesn’t believe there’s much in the way of Iraqi resistance outside the “Sunni Triangle.” Tacitus disagrees and gives a list of U.S. fatalities. David rebuts him, saying

bq. Tacitus most definitely has a good eye for detail, but are ten or so fatalities supposed to persuade me that there is real resistance outside the Sunni Triangle?

Well, it’d probably convince the hell out of me if I’d been one of the soldiers killed. Except it wouldn’t matter, because I’d be dead.

This is kind of a cheap riposte from me, and the two may have already resolved their differences about the substantive issue. But it’s worth policing the armchair generalship if only because tossing around phrases like “Are ten or so fatalities supposed to persuade me” is not a good habit for a responsible Oxblogger to have. It’s a bit like that Economist article that Daniel picked on recently for casually making a distinction between hunger and “mere uncertainty about where the next meal was coming from.”



mitch 08.28.03 at 9:27 am

How many of these attacks even come from Iraqis? One of Salam Pax’s friends writes: “I think we are already hot listed as the best [destination] this summer on the [Bin-Laden Tourism Board] . For those kids who missed Afghanistan and find Chechnya too far away, why not try Iraq?” And goes on to describe a conversation with a young Syrian who apparently came to Iraq in search of jihad, only to end up in an American-run hospital.


Matthew 08.28.03 at 10:05 am


I don’t know whether this is a general thing, but on my computer since Monday on Crooked Timber the ‘medium’ font size setting is too large, and to make it readable it has to be on ‘small’, which is too small for most other websites.

As I said, it could be just me as I am using a laptop and quite an old one at that



eric 08.28.03 at 1:30 pm

Bill Maudlin drew a cartoon in WWII of two soldiers (his Willie and Joe) in a fox hole, and one of them says to the other: “The Hell if this isn’t the most important hole in the world. I’m in it.”

That being said, Tacitus was being disingenous about the casualties. There have been more murders in Philadelphia this year than US casualties in Iraq. Get a grip.

If the media payed as much attention to every murder in the USA, (or even California, since its supposed to be the same size as Iraq) I think people would have a different perspective on things.


zizka 08.28.03 at 3:53 pm

Yeah, and you could die falling down in your bathtub.

More seriously, if I had supported the war when it started, based on what I knew then, these casualties would not bother me now. My understanding then was that it was an optional, proactive (aggressive) war meant to enormously strengthen the American position in that part of the world, and had little to do with Saddam per se. I still believe that my understanding of the war at that time was correct, and was close enough to what the military planners were actually thinking. They said yes, I said no, to the same question.

The problem is that this isn’t what we signed up for. The war was deceptively sold. That has a magnifying effect on casualties.

And of course, for the record: the US troops in Iraq are fewer than the population of Philadelphia. And contrary to what you America-haters out there think, we Americans are not proud of the high murder rate in American inner cities. We actually think of that as a very bad thing, not as a baseline of normality. We would prefer to take North Dakota as an ideal — a state of over half a million people where the murder rate, in a good year, is zero.


dop 08.28.03 at 5:48 pm

How the hell does saying “Look over there, people are dying there too!” come even close to wiping out the sheer horror of the fact that Americans are dying far from home for no good reason?

Let’s ignore for now the fact that the comparison is wildly inaccurate due to the simple truth that Philadelphia has a much higher population than the US militiary population of Iraq (or is eric implying that Iraqis aren’t people since their deaths are not being counted in this “murder rate”?). I’m sure Philadelphia’s murder rate would drop significantly too if we only counted a very small portion of the people in Philadelphia for statistical purposes.

Yes, someone here needs to get a grip (on critcal thinking).


Matt Weiner 08.28.03 at 6:02 pm

Adding to what zizka and dop said–probably most of the murder victims in Philadelphia are not as visibly and heavily armed as U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The vast majority of people who kill U.S. soldiers are motivated specifically to kill U.S. soldiers–that’s resistance for you. (Not to mention that people who get murdered in Philadelphia were not specifically ordered into harm’s way by the U.S. government.)


eric 08.28.03 at 6:53 pm

Stop all the crocodile tears for the US soldiers in Iraq already.

None of you cared about the soldiers in the first place, your bleating now ring false.

Now, Philadelphia does have about the same population as Baghdad–granted, there aren’t as many AK-47’s and RPG’s lying around. If there were, things would be a lot more noisy around here.

But people already have hit on one thing that isn’t getting any news, and that’s the number of Baathists, terrorists etc. that have been killed in the midst of the rest of the attacks. It ain’t just GI’s dying. It would be interesting to see if what the numbers are. The country put up with 50,000 dead conscripts in the 1960’s–It can handle a few dead hundred volunteers now.

I’d love to see what the you all would have said during WWI or WWII.

And since it looks like you all didn’t support the war in the first place, nothing that happens now is going to satisfy you.


Paul 08.28.03 at 7:33 pm

I tell ya what….

Before you guys spout things you know nothing about why not do some research????

start here…

Then tell me how horrible the numbers are coming out of Iraq.

Is anyone telling us we should get out of New Jersy because it is a Quagmire?



eric 08.28.03 at 8:46 pm

NJ is a quagmire.


JW 08.28.03 at 9:10 pm


You have NO basis for saying that the folks on this blog didn’t “care about soldiers in the first place”. None, zero, zip. There may be some stridently anti-military lefties out there, surely, but they are a teensy-tiny minority & not represented here. Everyone I know — and I move in a pretty liberal crowd — is 100% behind our troops, and gets pretty F**KING MAD when told that they aren’t behind the troops simply because they have no confidence in the empty suit who is their commander in chief.

Now, there is a point here about how many casualties is enough to make a point over — you are surely right that a few hundred casualties would not have been a good reason to call off the invasion of Europe in the 1940s! I don’t think that most folks are calling for us to _pull out_ of Iraq, so much as pointing out that things are going pretty poorly in Iraq, and hoping to put some pressure on the administration to get its act together. The issue is not one simply of how many Americans are dying, but how many are dying in no small part because of this administration’s gross incompetence.


PG 08.28.03 at 10:28 pm

If the only way to show support for American troops is never to question whether losing them was necessary, then call me a traitor.


zizka 08.29.03 at 12:55 am

That site comes from NJ, but the 156 lawman deaths reported from 2002 are not from New Jersey. That’s from the whole US plus Puerto Rico, and it includes on-duty deaths from all causes including auto accidents and heart attacks. Only about a third seem to be from gunfire (I spot-checked the first bunch of names).

Get back to us when you figure out what you were trying to say.

Eric, I more or less agreed with you. If I, and the American people, supported the actual war we are fighting, these casualties wouldn’t be that bad. But the war we got is different than the one we were sold, and and I never bought the war in the first place. What problem do you have with that?


Roger 08.29.03 at 12:57 am

Philadelphia murders do have a rationale. Some are murdered for their money. There are husbands who murder their wives to get out marriages and avoid alimony — wives who murder husbands because they are cheating bastards. There are drug dealers murdering rival drug dealers. There are convenience store thieves who were a little too loose with the pistol. And so on.

However, the death of US soldiers in Iraq increasingly has no rationale. What are they dying for? To introduce free enterprise into Iraq?

They certainly aren’t dying defending this country against terrorists — what terrorists from Iraq have ever attacked this country? Are they defending good Iraqis against worse Iraqis? Well, shouldn’t the good Iraqis be “allowed” by the occupying power to defend themselves?

Surely, if Eric is serious about the logic of his comparison, there’s only one conclusion: the troops should come home as soon as possible. If they get murdered in Philadelphia, at least they can die knowing they died for a reason.


Ben 08.29.03 at 2:11 am

“Ten or so” deaths are regrettable, but policy cannot be driven by a relatively small number of deaths.


Nabakov 08.29.03 at 10:18 am

Oh, a fight. Goody.

“The country put up with 50,000 dead conscripts in the 1960’s”

Actually it was more like 58,000 US combat fatalities, both enlisted and conscript, over more than a decade. And the country didn’t put up with it. Politicial will to fight an apparently endless war was sandbagged by the bodybags coming home.

“but policy cannot be driven by a relatively small number of deaths.”

Define ‘relatively’. Just over .01 of the US population were killed in 911 (much lower percentage rate that US troop deaths in Iraq) yet that sure drove a fundamental policy shift in the US and worldwide.

Numbercrunching like this may sound heartless but, hey, you started it.


The Dakota Kid 08.29.03 at 1:43 pm

OK, I know this is a *very* trivial point, but just in the interest of accuracy, looking at the 1970-2000 murder statistics for North Dakota, I couldn’t find a year with no murders (Zizka’s definition of a “good” year), although there was one year with only one murder … the average seemed to be about 7 or 8, with a high of 15 …


dop 08.29.03 at 4:10 pm

As someone says, smarter monkeys, please.

The murder rate in Philadelphia for 2001: 20.4 per 100,000 in the course of a year.

The death rate of our troops in Iraq: 180 per 100,000 (if I just take Brit Hume’s count and assume no more will die this year)

Which means that if Philadelphia’s murder rate were even close, there would be 2700 people dying to murder in Philly every year.

(Hands tight, now pull hard and your head should pop right out of your behind.)


zizka 08.29.03 at 4:24 pm

Dakota Kid: That one guy was really a suicide. Trust me.

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