December 21, 2001


Damian Penny and Charles "Little Green Footballs" Johnson and have already gone to the trouble of dissecting the study behind the latest Guardian editorial on Afghan casualties. (See also Bruce Rolston's more detailed examination of the data.) Here's my reaction.

Seumas Milne's Guardian piece simply reports that a study by University of New Hampshire economics and women's studies professor Marc Herold demonstrates that the number of Afghan civilian casualties is far higher than is generally believed. The characteristic hysterical Guardian rhetoric notwithstanding (title: "the Innocent Dead in a Coward's War") this is certainly possible, even probable. A systematic, objective study of Afghan casualties would be worthy and of general interest. Unfortunately, the study itself is hardly that. Despite Milne's wide-eyed wonder at the integrity and conservatism of Herold's estimates, many of the sources used in place of the official reports are extremely questionable: among others, Robert "hit me baby, one more time" Fisk, Al-Jazeera, and the Afghan Islamic Press, along with an unspecified "variety of other reputable sources."

A major source, however, seems to be Herold's own disorganized, anti-American imagination. Even the Guardian apparently couldn't bring itself to trumpet Herold's main finding: that the US intentionally developed its target set in order to kill the greatest number of civilians possible. The reason: racism. Here Herold slips into faux-analytical incoherence:

the Afghanis [sic] are not "white," whereas the overwhelming majority of pilots and elite ground troops are. This "fact" serves to amplify the positive benefit-cost ratio of sacrificing the darker-skinned Afghanis today (like the Indochinese and Iraqis of former wars) so that "white" American soldiers may be saved tomorrow.

Herold has lost himself within his own layers of inverted commas, perpetually confused by the "fact" inside the "'fact.'" Afghans are not "not 'white'"-- dark-skinned though they may be. Darkness and light, literal and figurative, are a general source of befuddlement for Herold, presenting him with imaginary "'facts'" as well as imaginary dilemmas:
One may point out that the mass bombing of Serbia just a couple of years ago, contradicts this view. But the Serbs, it should be noted, were tainted (read "darkened") by their Communist past--at least, in the views of U.S. policymakers and the corporate media--hence were fair game. Otherwise, there is no instance (except during World War II) of a foreign Caucasian state being targeted by the U.S. government.

Irony unintended, I'm sure: "Caucasian" is surely not the ideal term for Americans when the object is to differentiate them from the peoples of central Asia. And let's just say that, as wars go, World War II is a pretty big "exception." (Not the only exception, of course, though to enter that debate would require accepting the bizarre concept of a "Caucasian state," which I don't believe would be worth it.)

Finally, Herold's analysis leads him to the inevitable conclusion (inevitable because it was pre-determined) that the conflict is comprehensible only in terms of the fashionable theory of the "cycle of violence," a cycle that cannot but lead to a "flowering" of further US injustice. Perhaps so. Yet such a conclusion, or more accurately, such an attitude, is more a matter of faith than of data, whether it is made up of facts, "facts," or "'facts.'"

I can hardly do better than to quote Charles Johnson's succinct summary:†††††††

This is an anti-American tract masquerading as an academic study; itís obvious Herold came to his conclusion first (US = evil) and then looked for evidence to back it up. Itís a sad indictment of our educational system that shoddy, biased work like this is given any credibility at all.

Indeed it is.

Posted by Dr. Frank at December 21, 2001 04:01 AM | TrackBack