Counting the Dead

How often have you heard a sentence like "55,000 died in Vietnam"? It resembles that other claim now in circulation: "The casualties from the Gulf war were miraculously light." Not many died in the Gulf -- but only if we are accepting the standards of Huck Finn's society:

"We blowed out a cylinder head."

"Good gracious! Anybody hurt?"

"No'm. Killed a nigger."

"Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt."

When Winston Churchill and others talked of "the democracies" as defenders of freedom against dictatorships, George Orwell said that, in all such descriptions of the forces of freedom, "The unspoken clause is 'not counting niggers.'" He meant that hidden in with the democracies at the time were "six hundred million disenfranchised human beings" in the British and French empires.

Third World people literally do not count. Only 55,000 died in Vietnam -- and, miraculously, not one of the Vietnam War's casualties was Vietnamese. Not as we count, anyway. Actually, at least two million Vietnamese, by the best estimate, died during our own engagement with that country. Ten percent of the entire population was killed or wounded. And this takes no account of Cambodian, Laotian, and other neighboring deaths -- nor of casualties from the French colonial war that preceded ours.

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