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Math Murders

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The moral meaning of death counts is further obscured by their apparent lack of objectivity. Take the war in Iraq. How many Iraqi civilians have died as a consequence of the American invasion? Supporters of the war say 30,000, a number that even President Bush finally brought himself to utter late last year. Opponents of the war say more than 100,000. Surely there must be a fact of the matter. In practice, though, there are only competing methodologies and assumptions, all of which yield different numbers. Even if we could put politics aside and agree on one, it would be hard to say what it meant. Does it matter, for instance, that the higher estimate of 100,000 is the same order of magnitude as the number of Iraqi Kurds that Saddam Hussein is reckoned to have killed in 1987 and 1988, in a genocidal campaign that, it has been claimed, justified his forcible removal?

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