Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Americans Terribly Underestimate the Human Cost of Iraq

Written by johnleemk on 6:38:12 am Feb 26, 2007.

Recently, a survey was conducted amongst adult Americans to gauge their feelings and thoughts about the war in Iraq. (The findings are in PDF format.) The survey offers several unique insights and glimpses into the thoughts of Americans about the war — some of them appalling, some of them surprising.

One thing that might surprise the anti-American zealots is that 60% of the respondents said they feel upset when they hear of civilian casualties in Iraq. On the other hand, 38% said they consider it just a natural part of war. Whichever way you spin it, a majority of Americans seem to care about the human cost of the war for Iraqis.

Another interesting finding is that 77% of Americans say that the human cost of the war for Iraqis, in terms of civilian casualties, has been "unacceptable". Only 17% said it was "acceptable" — more people (19%) said that the American military casualties were acceptable!

People who have this image of Americans as detached from the war, and not caring about its consequences, seem to be quite wrong. Americans have their hearts (if not their heads) in the right place — it's just their leaders who have things all wrong.

81% said they still have feelings about incidents in Iraq, despite the numbing frequency. Again, another nail in the coffin for the anti-American orthodoxy that they just don't care. Unless you're willing to believe that a vast number of Americans intentionally lie about how they feel, it seems apparent that the Americans do feel affected by the war.

What's really shocking, though, is just how ignorant Americans seem to be about the real absolute human costs of the war. For instance, their median estimate of the American military casualties was 2,974. The real figure? 3,135. Not a big difference, but still — the Americans seem so uninformed about the toll the war is taking even on their own men.

What's truly surprising (unless you're a cynic) is that the median estimate of civilian casualties in Iraq was 9,890. That's a ridiculously low figure! Typical estimates made by organisations such as the Iraq Body Count Project and the Lancet range between 60,000 and 650,000. (The Lancet, which contributes the largest figure, might not have done its sampling properly, however, as I wrote in response to some exaggerated grandstanding.)

Finally, one of the key figures is that 59% of respondents think America made a mistake by going into Iraq, while 38% feel it made the right decision. While to an outsider, this may seem appalling — the failure of the war is transparent to most of us, and unfortunately many seem to want it to fail — I'm not that surprised. The division of Americans represents how torn they are about the issue, and also indicates how hard it can be for anyone to admit a mistake.

Personally, though, I feel the Iraq war was the right decision made for the wrong reasons and conducted in the wrong way. If the US had gained the backing of the international community, and if it had made the humanitarian objective its main focus, then we probably would not be where we are today.

Whatever the case may be, we are where we are. The only question now is whether we can restore some semblance of order in Iraq, and possibly a democracy. As for the Americans, they'll have no choice but to withdraw within a few years. It's no longer an if. It's a when.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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