No More Civilian Body Counts?

Jan 30, 2008


For the past several years, Adriana Lins de Albuquerque and Alicia Cheng have been publishing “Op-Charts” in the January NY Times with a visual representation of deaths in Iraq, with the deaths neatly broken down according to civilian, police, coalition troop, US troop, etc. This year’s installment came out earlier this month.

Two interesting things about this year’s chart.

[I always look for it because their use of symbols is a helpful tool in my Spring “Rules of War” class when I discuss civilian immunity. I want to get my students to recognize that adult men can be civilians too, and that there are many ways in which the use of language, symbols and social norms creates the impression that civilians = “womenandchildren.” This argument is developed more fully in my 2006 book. As you can see from last year’s chart, de Albuquerque and Cheng have been handing me a timely teaching tool for years.]

But this year, when I dug up the chart to update my Powerpoint, what do I find but the civilian icon missing altogether?!! Apparently, de Albuquerque and Cheng have stopped counting civilian casualties entirely in favor of disaggregating the uniformed dead.

This is to be explained by the second interesting difference in the Op-Chart, the fact that the analysts tallied deaths for the whole year rather than just for “30 Days in Iraq.” And:

“Sadly, civilian fatalities in Iraq last year were simply too numerous to represent on a single newspaper page.”

Call me kinda overcommitted to keeping civilians alive, but if I had to choose between doing a month with civilians included or a year with them dropped out of the equation altogether, I’d have used my commitment to civilians to bargain for multiple pages of space. Or something.

To view the entire 2008 chart click here.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.