All entries for Thursday 27 July 2006

July 27, 2006

From People To Bodies To Statistics

Edit (22.44 28/07/2006): After reading this article by Adam I want to make it clear that this entry refers purely to the Lebanon crisis and is not to be extrapolated globally.

Unlike one person I spoke to earlier this week, I've not failed to notice that there's a bloody war occuring in the Middle East. Bloggers on here have been debating the politics from pretty much every available angle, from feverent support for either Israel or Hezbollah, to the more considered critiques of the actions of both. But there's something which has bothered me the whole way through this. Something which bothers me about a lot of modern warfare – the people who die.

This is more than just humanitarian concern. War has developed over the last century or two to become less about who defeats who on the battlefield, to include elements of who can inflict greater casualties and destruction on the enemy. No country which has fought a war since 1900 is innocent. From reciprocal bombings on Dresden and Coventry by the national war machines of WWII, to the asymmetrical warfare in Ireland, Argentina, Rwanda, and scores of other countries, civilians suffer more and more in war these days. It's even a part of one of this university's History Dept core modules to look at this (see Week 12 ).

So Hezbollah and Israel rain down rockets on the civilians on both sides. Neither care for accuracy or consideration of targets – Hezbollah have killed Israeli Arabs, and Israel seems unconcerned that its victims inevitably include those who dislike Hezbollah. Yet the news in this country (and others) tries to be even handed but cannot be as this is now a matter of numbers.

Leaving aside who started this and who has the right to hit who, there is more coverage given to the suffering of the Lebanese. Some on the Israeli side see this as unfair, more signs of bias against Israel. They seem to fail to understand that numbers matter. The First World War was not much different from other European wars from history except in two ways – the minor noteworthiness of England and France being on the same side, and the much much more important fact that the death toll was massively higher than any other death toll in European wars. Since then only one war has surpassed WWI in terms of its icon nature – WWII in which even more people died.

It works on all levels. The 1993 World Trade Centre attacks get less coverage (and started fewer wars) than the 2001 attacks because in 1993 only six people died compared to 2,749 in 2001. The more people who die, the more the world's concentration focuses on those people.

So when hundreds of Lebanese are dying and Israeli deaths are yet to reach triple figures it is only natural that people's attention will be focused where the worst casualties are. The news reports that try to be fair (which, whether you like it or not, is led by the BBC) are showing Lebanese suffering first in its broadcasts and Israelis second. The footage the other day was indictative, Lebanese people in hospitals, crying over lost loved ones, covered in blood, followed by Israelis running for air raid shelters and talking about their fears whilst sat in normal, undamaged clothes. Those Israelis are living in terror every day, lives disrupted and people confused. But it's just not humanly possible to feel more upset for them than the bloodied and dead in Lebanon.

This isn't me saying I am biased towards the Lebanese. And yes, I accept that there's always the fact that we only see what the media wants to show us. There are bloodied and dead Israelis. But it's not on the same scale so the cameras aren't privy to it to the same degree, there isn't as much footage. And it doesn't matter who we 'should' be supporting once cold rational facts are considered, humans will feel sympathy for the victims and the Lebanese look more like victims at the moment, especially as everyone seems to think that this is Syria and/or Iran's doing that Hezbollah have been attacking Israel. The Lebanese are the perfect suffering innocents in the media eye.

In the end it doesn't matter who these people are or which side they are on. Civilians don't deserve to be what they have become – potential statistics in a scramble for worldwide sympathy.

July 2006

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