Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Nicest People in the World

That's America. We are so nice, even in war. If you want your mind blown, go check out What's in a Number? on the This American Life website. The show (in three acts, as Ira Glass is wont to say) is about civilian casualties in Iraq. The first part of the show is about the making of the study in The Lancet that claimed 100,000 Iraqis dead since the beginning of the Iraq war. This story in itself is fascinating but it then takes a maniacal twist-turn when they talk to a Human Rights Watch figure who a) was integral in the precision bomb targeting of Saddam Hussein and his inner circle's bunkers and palaces and then quit his job at the Pentagon and b) went to Iraq with Human Rights Watch to survey the collateral damage of his own handiwork. He justifies his double life by saying that in both jobs he is "after the bad guys". He describes checking out bunkers that he'd looked at on satellite maps millions of times and seeing a hole bored through four floors by bunker busters to explode in the fourth floor down. That he had sent there from the Pentagon.
In the second act the story shifts to something many Americans have likely wondered about. Ryan Gist was placed in charge of an Iraqi town in which a mistake caused twelve people (some of them terrorists who had taken the town hostage). The broadcast features both an interview with Gist and actual audio from a meeting between Gist and the town bigwigs in the aftermath of the fuckup. Gist, like the Pentagon/Human Rights Watch guy, are full of good intentions. They, like all the planners of the war and all the soldiers on the ground, tried desperately to avoid civilian casualties.
But still, a lot of innocent people died. The gist of the program is that most of the civilians were killed by bombing, even though this was the most precision-bomb-intensive war of all time, a so-called "humane war". So even though everyone is doing their best to be nice and only kill the bad guys, they're still nicking a shit-load of the innocent bystanders in the process.

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