The huge outpouring of grief over the Virginia Tech shootings throws into high relief the low regard we show for Iraqi casualties.
To get the full perspective, we are talking about 32 murdered people, 1 suicide, and two dozen injured in Virginia (out of a total population in the U.S. of over 300 million people). Since the U.S. invaded Iraq, approximately 650,000 Iraqis have been murdered (1/3 by U.S. forces directly, 2/3 as a direct result of the U.S. invasion). Prior to that, the U.S. led sanctions against Iraq caused the deaths through starvation and disease of approximately 1.5 million Iraqis (while Saddam remained plenty rich and comfortable despite the sanctions). In addition, four million Iraqis are now refugees (two million have fled the country and two million more are internally displaced). The injured are uncounted, but probably number well beyond a million. The mental anguish and fear suffered by these people is incalculable.
Iraq is only one-tenth as populous as the U.S., so to get a true sense of the scale of the catastrophe, multiply all these numbers by 10.
What would Americans think if we were told we would suffer a similar fate for whatever reasons (political, economic)? Let's say we were told that we needed to be "liberated" from Bush. The cost is 15 million Americans (mostly children) dead of disease and starvation as a result of sanctions. Then over 2 million Americans will be murdered by an invading and occupying army. Over 4 million more will be murdered by other Americans fighting for control. 12 million Americans will be injured. 40 million Americans will become refugees. Nothing will work right, not the electricity, the schools, the hospitals. Would this outcome produce as much grief as the Virgina Tech shootings? More? I should hope so.
And yet . . . where is the outpouring of grief--that WE HAVE CAUSED--for the Iraqis? The government of this nation has produced, in one other country, over the past decade and a half, the equivalent damage as over HALF A MILLION Cho Seung-Huis.
And yet we casually ignore this endless catastrophe and pour out our grief on Virginia Tech. I do as well. I do not have enough capacity for grief to deal with Iraq. No one does. I can only hold it at arm's length.
Associate Professor, musician.