The inspiration for this blog entry is the disparity between death and death. By that, I mean the multiple by which we multiply the number of Western deaths to determine the number of enemy deaths that we demand to avenge the quantity of our deaths. Sometimes the ratio is approximately 4:1 when calculating the Israeli and Palestinian deaths during the height of the intifada. During much of the looming wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ratio is perhaps 10:1. If one were to calculate the number of deaths on September 11th and subsequently the number that have been the direct result of subsequent American military agitation, the ratio would approach 30:1 A similar number might arise when assessing death tolls during American intervention in Southeast Asia one generation ago.
History tells us that the winners end up recording their version of the action. The thin red line between justice and atrocity easily disappears amidst the fog of war. What is patently obvious about American military superiority during this ostensibly unipolar era is that military planners exact justice based on some premeditated multiple. I cannot be sure of who performs these calculations, but it's obvious that some defense hawk must be churning out stats that justify a hugely disproportionate number of civilian casualties on the other side. Determinists might have you believe that more Iraqis die because of the Arab culture of death. Because Arab Muslims, as faithful followers of Allah, must believe that jihad is the path to salvation. That life is not worth living unless it is sacrified for divine justice and the pursuit of holy struggle. Is this the real reason why more Arabs die in Iraq than Americans? Or, is it because America demands submission to its awesome power and exacts justice based on supposed supremacy and military might, rather than based on liberal democratic principles of human equality and fairness.
For what reason does the arbiter of global legal balance and harmony create a system in which the world cop and superpower kills far more than is deserved? This ratio derives from an intuitive understanding about true global hierarchies and relations of power. Liberal internationalism is a myth in a world order where cops and robbers are interchangeable. Cowboys commit highway robbery of the Indians, all the while masquerading as warriors of God. Crusaders abiding by sacred creeds delude themselves into thinking that they are entitled to kill by a certain multiple of their own dead. Perhaps this ratio is computed by figuring out an acceptable economic value for their own losses.
By this logic, it would seem that perhaps there is some way to measure how much a single human being is worth to his/her society. Given the reality that Western societies have achieved a relatively high standard of living (GDP per capita) as compared with the rest of the world, maybe Western society values human lives more merely as a result of their earning potential. Is this commensurable value the true source of the supposedly advanced Western code of morality? Did the West not value humans as much when per capita lifetime earning potential was so much less? I would say NO - societies did not value individual human lives when life was naturally ended so much easier and faster. Before the advent of complex Western medicine and the strictures of predictable Western society, it could not be guaranteed that one human life would produce a predetermined amount of economic value for his/her society. However, given the developed state of the Western world today, we readily supply a numerical figure for how much is lost when a person dies. This value is understood in explicit terms by military planners, estate attorneys, life insurance assessors, and politicians. Military and civilian deaths have a specific economic variable attached to them that is a function of individual productivity and lifespan. Though I am not terribly knowledgeable about the life insurance business, it seems that such computations are essential in that arena.
Therefore, I can safely conclude that America values a single human life more than a much poorer country due to the fact that an average American has a relatively high productive capacity across his lifespan. This earning potential amounts to approximately $30,000(per year)x40years=$1,200,000. This is about 19 times the lifetime earning potential of an average citizen of Iraq, where the yearly earning potential and GDP per capita are about 1/16 those of America and where life expectancy is indeed a few years less. $1,800(per year)x35years=$63,000. 1.2 million is 19 times this Iraqi lifetime individual earning potential. Thus, perhaps it follows that the death ratio in wartime is around 19:1.
I am not at all advocating this sytem of death ratio computation. I myself do not adhere to brutish and reductionist systems of value that do not account for true human, ecological, and cultural costs. The numbers above are mere observations about perceived differences in the death tolls on both sides of various international conflicts. I cannot prove the origin of these explicit comparisons in the cloistered bunkers of military planners. However, these disparities are real and are a function of perceived differences in military supremacy and also, I believe, of disparities in the realizable economic value of individual human lives. Thus, such numbers appear evidence of my cynical attitude about power projection upon the rest of the world. However, these death ratios have a solid basis in military history and will surely continue to characterize military relations for the foreseeable future.