Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Iraq war seeping into our lives

An Associated Press poll which investigated U.S. knowledge of and attitudes toward the Iraq carnage seems full of interesting data -- but you'd never know it from the headline and the lead to the story.

Americans Underestimate Iraqi Death Toll
Americans are keenly aware of how many U.S. forces have lost their lives in Iraq, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll. But they woefully underestimate the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed.
This finding is not terribly surprising; continuous daily reporting renders Iraqi dead a faceless blur of broken bodies. Many U.S. military casualties get sympathetic obituaries in their home towns, complete with high school pictures and classmate remembrances.

But the really striking finding in the poll is this:

...[the U.S.] death toll is painfully real for many Americans. Seventeen percent in the poll know someone who has been killed or wounded in Iraq. And among adults under 35, those closest to the ages of those deployed, 27 percent know someone who has been killed or wounded.

More than a quarter of all younger U.S. residents have a personal connection to the war! Considering that the object of the Bush administration has been to have its war without mobilizing the society or giving most people any awareness of the cost, this seems quite a high figure. Nothing like previous wars though.

Fewer people are likely to know someone killed or wounded in the current battles because the war is smaller than those of the past century, said military analyst John Pike of globalsecurity.org.

"Vietnam, Korea, and the World Wars were much larger and bloodier wars fought by a rather smaller America," Pike said. ... "The probability of knowing a casualty was about 100 times higher in (World War II) than today." AP-Mercury News [reg. rec.]

Yet the number of people in the U.S. who directly know someone hurt by the war is growing enough to cause concern among the powers that be. A Duke University researcher has written a calculator to estimate how rising Iraqi and Afghan civilian deaths, injuries, and detentions by the occupiers increase numbers of resistance fighters. He knows his calculations can also be applied to the U.S. antiwar movement:

Knowing how many people are influenced by a casualty through family ties, work or school becomes important as people debate whether the war effort is worth the billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost, said [Dr. James] Moody, who works in the growing area of sociology that studies social networks.

"What's significant about it is it has this social magnifier effect," he said.

Looks like the Bush administration has done the experiment. Opposition to an inexplicable, losing war gets significant when the level of those touched closely reaches a quarter of the younger civilian population.

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