Casualties of War – Visualising the dead in Iraq

NYTimes Faces of the Dead

The New York Times features an interactive info-graphic that is a sombre reminder of the human cost to the US Armed Forces in Iraq. From J.T. Aubin in 2003 to David Stelmat a few days ago, the first tab of the special section is devoted to all in the Army who have died in Iraq, that is now a shade under 4,000.

The second tab is an interactive timeline of the deaths. The two invasions of Falluja alone, we learn, cost over 400 deaths. Over half of those dead are between 18-24 and the majority from the US Army.

This powerful visualisation is a visceral reminder that wars today, fought and reported about like computer games most of the time, is still a costly, brutal affair – sometimes necessary perhaps, but always bloody. I wonder though how many people will change, or at the very least, register a slight shift in their opinion of the war in Iraq by looking at this. Compelling it may be, but I somehow feel that those in support of the war will look at it and use it to suggest that all these deaths should not be in vain, whereas those opposed to the war will look this as grim markers of of a war that has done little or nothing to help their government’s soi-disant war on terror.

What the NY Times significantly does not show are the numbers of private security contractors and mercenaries killed in Iraq. As noted in this article written a little over a year ago:

The dangers faced by contractors working in Iraq were laid bare last night by new figures showing hundreds of civilians employed by the Pentagon alone have been killed in the country since 2003. In a graphic exposé of a hitherto invisible cost of the war in Iraq, it emerged nearly 800 civilians working under contract to US defence chiefs have been killed and more than 3,300 hurt doing jobs normally handled by the military.

The casualty figures, gathered by the Associated Press, make it clear the US Defence Department’s count of more than 3,100 military dead does not tell the whole story. 

In Sri Lanka it’s clearly a different story. As Iqbal Athas notes:

“If you add up all the figures given by the government from the beginning of the separatist war until now, it would have wiped out the population of the north twice over,” says Iqbal Athas, consultant editor and defence correspondent of the Colombo Sunday Times and correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly.

“Similarly if one were to adopt the figures put out by the Tamil Tiger rebels, that would have depleted the ranks of the military considerably.”

Picture that.

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