The Innocent Victims

In October, a study on deaths in Iraq was published in The Lancet, the prestigious U.K.-based medical journal. Researchers determined that, as a consequence of the coalition invasion in 2003, about 655,000 Iraqis had died above the number that would be expected in a non-conflict situation. About 601,000 of these excess deaths were due to violent causes.

As an international public health professional and a pacifist, I contacted one of the authors to ask how the statistics break out for children. One of the authors confirmed that about 9 percent of those deaths were children less than 15 years of age. In the period they examined prior to the war from Jan. 1, 2002, to March 18, 2003, the study found that violent deaths of children were very rare. Since the war began, 39 percent of all deaths of children were due to violence.

Thus, as a result of this conflict, an estimated 54,000 Iraqi children have been killed by violent causes, and many of those deaths were directly attributed to coalition forces. This estimate of child deaths, by the nature of the study design, has a wide margin of error. Maybe it’s only half that—or maybe it is double. Regardless, the scale of child deaths is appalling and should shatter any images that we have of a “clean” war carried out with “smart bombs.” There is nothing clean or smart about that number.

I live in a rural, very conservative area of North Carolina where my wife is a United Methodist pastor. About a year ago I asked my Bible study class what sort of cause would be worth fighting for if the result was the unintentional killing of 30,000 children. Even though many of the participants support the war, no one could think of anything worth so high a cost in innocent life. What if it meant that we had to kill those children to make it safer for us? Still, no one could think of anything that would merit the killing of 30,000 children.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2007
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