Fuzzy Moral Math

Commentary by Aslan, 7.6.2007 (Original 11.12.2004)



2007 Update: Civilians are dying in Iraq. While this statement is verifiably true, understanding the magnitude of the problem has proven to be elusive. Civilians are dying in the United States as well, but the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Lancet Study) is not roaming the streets of Des Moines and Atlanta surveying households. If they did so, they would be able to produce a stunningly large number of civilian dead. Of course, such a number is meaningless – a large number of civilians are constantly dying in a population of many millions of people. Enter the cornerstone calculation of the Lancet studies: Excess Deaths.

Excess Deaths, by its very definition, identifies an event – in this case, the US-led invasion of Iraq in March of 2003 – and estimates the extra deaths caused by that event and its consequences. Since lots and lots of innocent civilians dying is a bad thing, the logic will follow that the event itself is bad.  In addition, one can safely conclude that the mastermind of the event (Bush) is bad, the enabler of the event (military) is bad and, finally, the people involved in the event (soldiers) are bad (i.e., Haditha).

As one would expect, the authors of the Lancet study demonstrate that they do not understand war, failing to recognize that the success or failure of the Iraq War has nothing to do with the number of civilian dead in Iraq any more than the success or failure of D-Day had anything to do with civilian casualties in France. These are military operations constitutionally begun in the defense of the United States, and military operations cause civilian casualties. Success or failure is determined based upon whether or not military objectives are achieved, not upon how many civilians die in the theatre of war.

Such a statement appears to be inhumanly cruel, and those wielding these large civilian casualty numbers know this well. And by ruling the logical defense of the Iraq War out of bounds, they cannot lose the argument. It would be like arguing with a heart surgeon that a bypass operation was a failure because of the extreme pain from the chest and leg incisions, and then ruling the logical defense – that the bypass grafts are open and that blood flow has been restored to the heart – off limits. That surgeon cut open this person’s chest, for God’s sake, and she is in agony! Are people who go around cutting people open with saws anything but monsters??

The great irony in this debate is that not only are the civilian casualty numbers irrelevant, if they were relevant they would represent a spectacular humanitarian achievement. Opponents of the war, seeking to change the rules of the debate, have glommed onto a losing statistical analysis!

Which brings us back, full circle, some two and a half years later, to the Fuzzy Moral Math essay. Fuzzy Moral Math, like the Lancet studies, also begins with the same event – the invasion of Iraq – and also looks at the before/after picture. But while the Lancet study uses "[h]ousehold information…gathered about deaths that occurred between January 1, 2002, and the invasion of March 18, 2003,” the Fuzzy Moral Math analysis uses the entire reign of Saddam Hussein – July, 1979 through March of 2003 – to compare the plight of Iraqi civilians under Saddam to today, and the conclusion is clear: the quality of life of the average Iraqi civilian has improved since the coalition intervention, and that is just a measure of physical risk. The journey from despair to liberty has value that cannot be measured.

Before reading (or rereading) the Fuzzy Moral Math essay, I would like to make a few comments based upon 33 months of experience defending my calculations.

    Military Deaths Not Included: If I used Iraqi military deaths in the Survival Count calculation, the numbers would be even more staggering:

    Military casualties are not included since the discussion has always been about civilian casualties, although a rational argument could be made that, because the Lancet and Iraq Body Count data includes non-uniformed combatants, the data should be included.

    Past Action/Future Behavior: I have been amazed how vigorously some argue that Saddam wasn’t so bad anymore, that he had stopped killing large numbers of civilians early on in his reign. They say that I cannot rationally project continued bad behavior into the future. First of all, Saddam demonstrated that, in times of threat to his power, he slaughtered people and did so in waves, as circumstances demanded. The greatest threat to his regime was not the Kurds in Anfal in 1988 or the Shiites after Gulf War I (two such representative murderous waves), the greatest threat to his regime was the instability leading up to the current conflict.  This can be said with some certainty as the current threat actually deposed him.  If the U.S. did not invade and the pressure on his regime continued to mount, it is rational to conclude that Saddam’s unpleasant habits, helpfully reinforced by the maturing talents of Uday and Qusay, would have produced additional periods of suppression and murder. If a child molester or thief is imprisoned, it is rational to conclude that their behavior would have continued unabated had they not been caught.

    Second, how insane is it to argue for the rule of a dictator who has so successfully repressed his people that he does not need to kill as much anymore? This is like applauding the abusive parents of a quiet, well-behaved child who had been beaten into submission early in life.

    The Mussolini Argument: This argument extends from the above logic about Saddam softening with age. After thinning out the dissenters, Iraq had settled into an orderly existence with clean streets, no crime and trains that always ran on time. Despite the absurdity of arguing that order is always superior to chaos – even when order is imposed through the systematic application of terror – it is a myth that order was widespread at all. Approximately 500,000 children starved to death between 1991 and 2003, one out of every 23 children (11,570,000 total children/500,000 deaths). It is irrational to assume the environment that produced this catastrophe was peaceful and idyllic, although I am certain the collection and internment of these children was accomplished in a very orderly fashion.

    After being freed from ordered Egyptian slavery, the Jews bemoaned the chaos and uncertainty in the desert: "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?" Here, the Jews cried out – as the leftists do today – that predictable slavery was preferable to the challenges of uncertain freedom. Such thinking was wrong then and it is wrong today; order at the price of dignity and freedom is too high a price to pay, unless you are a leftist looking to score political points.


The point of Fuzzy Moral Math is simple and cannot be rationally refuted: tragically, civilian deaths in Iraq have been happening in Iraq for 28 years. For the first 24, politicians, leftists and the fourth estate didn’t give a damn.


Fuzzy Moral Math

There are those who believe the war in Iraq to be a strategic error in the Middle East, an inflammatory unilateral action that cultivates terror rather quells it.  This position is worthy of some respect, for although it employs flawed logic and ignores the reality on the ground, it is at least lucid and acknowledges, by way of debating strategy, the validity of the War on Terror.

Then there are those who claim to be "anti-war."  Everyone has encountered the diverse members of this species from time to time: the resuscitated 60s tie-dye liberal, the frantic uninformed mother of teenage boys anticipating the draft, the WWJB (Who Would Jesus Bomb?) Christian, the Michael Moore acolyte convinced of Bush greed and evil.  The bedrock belief of this colorful group is that American military might is grinding up the citizenry of Iraq for motives of profit, revenge and/or imperialism.

How many civilians have died since the onset of the war in Iraq?  There are varying reports, but the consensus appears to be between 50,000 and 75,000 people.  An excellent argument can be made that these numbers are  inflated (see The Civilian Casualty Fable), however, for the purpose of debate, let us grant this claim and assign validity to the running tally kept on iraqbodycount.org:

What conclusion can one draw from this?  That the protestors above are pacifists, people of conscience opposed to all military conflict?  That they are overwhelmed by the unique suffering and death caused by modern American imperialism?  Or that these are decent people, simply horrified by man's inhumanity to man?

There certainly are a few classic pacifists sprinkled into this or any anti-war movement, but they are the rare exception rather than the rule. The evidence supports only one conclusion: it is not the death and suffering of innocents that is objectionable to these protestors, only the death and suffering caused by American policy.  These people protest America, not war.

Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq on July 16, 1979 and was deposed in April of 2003. Over that twenty-four year period, Saddam Hussein killed between 600,000 and 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians, was responsible for the deaths of between 250,000 and 550,000 Iraqi military personnel and over 700,000 Iranians and Kuwaitis (here and here).  Utilizing only the Iraqi civilian numbers, this is an average of between 25,260 and 42,108 civilians a year, or between 2105 and 3509 Iraqi citizens a month.  The United States toppled Saddam Hussein fifty months ago now.  If Saddam had remained in power for those 50 months, between 105,250 and 175,450 Iraqis would have died – children starved in prisons, whole villages gassed into oblivion, dissidents fed through industrial shredders, women strangled after visits to rape rooms, all to be eventually reunited in remote mass graves.  Using the maximum credible figures available:

The protestors above are indicted by their selective regard for death in our world in general and in Iraq in particular. Those wielding signs did not stir themselves as Saddam harvested the boldest and brightest of Iraq for 24 years.  The plight of the Sudanese or those in East Timor is met with general disinterest.  Apparently one Iraqi child inadvertently killed by American soldiers risking life and limb to bring liberty to an oppressed people is more horrifying that hundreds of Sudanese children liquidated in Darfur.

The anti-war movement views Iraqi civilians deaths as grist for the anti-American mill.  Dead Sudanese are a statistic.  Dead Iraqis before the war are a vague memory.  Dead civilians in Iraq today are an exhilarating opportunity for the socialist left to undermine American liberty, power and society.  This fuzzy math cannot stand.  Logic Times will keep, from this day forward, the Iraq Survival Count.

Today, as many as one hundred one thousand Iraqis are alive (and free and voting) because of American policy.  I guess that does not interest the anti-war crowd.

Copyright ©  2004, 2007 Dan Hallagan. All Rights Reserved.