Friday, August 04, 2006

The comparative value of human life

There's a bit of dialogue in an old episode of West Wing that asks why the life of a resident of some faraway, Third World country is less valuable than the life of an American. The answer to that is, "I don't know, but it is."

Three and a half weeks of war in Lebanon so far, with reports of around 500 people killed north of the border. The Israeli death toll is at 75, over half of them soldiers. I don't think it will surprise anyone that in the Middle East, the life of a Jew is worth a lot more than the life of an Arab.

But there is another perspective on the global outrage concerning the civilian casualties in Lebanon that I have not seen considered anywhere. That being: since the US invasion in Iraq, no less than fourty thousand civilians have been killed. Now, admittedly, the vast majority of that has been at the hands of other Iraqis - but you can't argue that the bombings would not be happening had it not been for the invasion. I will not dispute that Saddam deserved to be put in jail, but at the same time there isn't really any reasonable way for the US government to avoid responsibility for the civil war in Iraq.

Where is the outrage?

Another geographical name that has not been heard in a while is Darfur. You may recall it - a place in Sudan, essentially an enormous refugee camp. As the result of a civil war, massive numbers of people were murdered. Now, this can't be pinned on the Americans, but the shear figures dwarf the Iraq body count. Seventy thousand by the most conservative estimate, as much as four hundred thousand by people who sound like they might know what they're talking about.

Where is the outrage?

Partially there's the PR machine to consider, but Iraq has been on the news for years. Footage for Darfur ran on MTV. Bono shed tears over it.

Fourty thousand Iraqis. Hundreds of thousands Africans. And the world shrugs it off. Five hundred Lebanese - and the world trembles with righteous indignation.

Here's another TV quote, this time from Yes Minister:

"The Letters JB in capitals are one of the highest Commonwealth honours. They stand for Jailed by the British. The order includes Gandhi, Nkrumah, Makarios, Ben Gurion, Kenyatta, Nheru, Mugabe and many other world leaders."

In much the same way, there is a superior distinction today in the eyes of Europe and a lot of America. The proudly displayed letters KJ: Killed by the Jews. There isn't really anything about the Lebanese that would endear them to the First World.

It's just that the value of a human life increases significantly if taken by an Israeli attack.

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And a different, though related, point. I'm beginning to be terribly annoyed by people weeping publicly for the poor dead children of Lebanon, talking about how their humanity does not allow them to condone civilian deaths under any auspices whatsoever. I'm sorry, but this is pompous bullshit. If any of these self-righteous pricks gave a damn about the plight of the disadvantaged in faraway countries, they wouldn't be flaming me on the Internet - they'd be de-worming orphans in Somalia. Me, I at least admit to myself and anyone else that I've never met these people, their deaths do not affect me in any way whatsoever, so while intellectually it's unfortunate that they've been killed, at the end of the day I don't really care. But giving twenty bucks a year to the Red Cross does not give you the moral high ground and the right to assume the pose of Defender of the Meek.

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One of my more astute purchases has been that of an Israeli Air Force T-shirt at the Hyatt Regency gift shop - before the start of the war. Have been wearing it for three days and haven't had my ass kicked yet, but according to Mutton, in London I'd be hospitalized within hours.

2 comments:

AllanL5 said...

I think the Israeli Prime Minister said it best when he laid all the deaths at the feet of Hezbollah. If Hezbollah hadn't attacked that squad, none of the Lebanese civilians would have died. If Hezbollah didn't launch missles from civilian buildings, none of them would have been destroyed.

I find it astonishing that people condemn Israel for attacking Hezbollah, and occasionally civilians get killed, when they're NOT equally attacking Hezbollah for continuously targetting civilians with their rockets.

That Hezbollah should be incompetent at their attacks, and therefore kill comparatively few, should NOT let them off the hook for their intent. I find their "outrage" at civilian deaths to be a cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion.

a cynic writes... said...

Flasher - my previous job was with one of organisations which merged to form http://everychild.org.uk/ . I've also been a specialist foster carer for 7-8 years (still am) and in that time dealt with some of the most disturbed children. I think I've paid my dues.

So if Israel works within the rules it has my support. When it does not it loses it.

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