Creative Destruction

July 19, 2006

The hidden war on men in Iraq.

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq,War — Daran @ 6:24 pm

In a recent comment Toy Soldier said:

…it is far more likely that men and boys have shouldered the brunt of the war [in Iraq]

He’s right of course. I was researching this with a view to blogging about it, and just about every source confirms that, bad though things are for women in Iraq, it is overwhelmingly men and boys who have suffered and are continuing to suffer violence in Iraq.

I did come across one piece of apparently contradictory information from the BBC’s website reporting on the Lancet’s 2004 study.

Violent deaths were mainly attributed to coalition forces – and most individuals reportedly killed were women and children.

The study (pdf) does indeed make this claim:

Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children.

Feminists would indeed have a point in their portrayal of women as the primary victims, at least with regard to coalition-caused deaths, if that were an accurate and fair categorisation of the study’s findings. But it is?

In fact the 61 recorded post-invasion deaths directly attributed to coalition forces breakdown as follows:

Men 15-65 years – 27 deaths
Boys under 15 years – 16 deaths
Total males – 43 deaths

Women 15-65 years – 4 deaths
Girls under 15 years – 10 deaths
Total females – 14 deaths

Adults (Sex not recorded) over 59 Years – 2 deaths
Children (Sex not recorded) under 15 years – 2 deaths

Total Children – 28 deaths
Total “woman and children” – 32 deaths

It is literally true that “women and children” are the majority of the victims. It is also grossly misleading. Of the four major demographic groups (excluding the elderly) women suffered the least. The plurality of the causalties were adult men. The next largest group was boys. There were more boys killed than female adults and children put together. Males accounted for nearly three quarters of the deaths.

But it’s worse than that. Excluded from these figures are twelve violent deaths (11 adult men, 1 adult woman) not directly attributed to the coalition, up from one prior to the invasion. It’s likely that the great majority of these deaths are a result of the breakdown in civil order caused by the invasion. If these deaths are factored in, then the male deaths increase to 38 – an absolute majority of the casualties.

That the authors of the report distorted their own findings and the medial latched onto it in this way, should come as no surprise to anyone. We live in a culture that puts a high value on female life, while regarding men as dispensable, disposable cannon-fodder, and no opportunity is missed to focus attention upon the more worthy victims. Male combattents, most of whom had little or no choice in the matter, are not even considered worthy of being counted.

13 Comments »

  1. I’m wondering how you know that most male Iraqi combatants had little or no choice about being combatants – especially in this case, when many combatants may be insurgents, and so were probably not subject to a formal draft. I’m not saying you’re mistaken; I actually have no clue if you’re correct or not. I’d like to see this point developed more before I assume that you’re correct.

    I do think that there’s something especially evil about the deaths of children, and I am in my heart more bothered when children are killed in war than when soldiers of either sex are. However, I do agree with you about the malignancy of the whole “women and children” thing, and I’ve said so in the past.

    I wouldn’t mind a “combatants/non-combatants” tally, which is, I suspect, what the “women and children” thing is getting at. There is a real argument for considering a war against soldiers morally better than a war against civilians. But the assumption that all men are combatants, and all women and children are not, is unjustified.

    I’m not sure that I buy the motives you attribute to the Lancet authors, but whatever.

    Comment by Ampersand — July 19, 2006 @ 6:48 pm | Reply

  2. Is one life more significant, a greater loss, inciting a more profound grief, than another? Even if US soldiers signed up to die, either not thinking, or the opposite–carefully planning how to kill and most likely dying in sickening detail, don’t we consider suicide a tragedy?
    Don’t we mourn,too, for the survivers who must live on, forever the slayers, our nation’s well-oiled, hyper-efficient killing machines?
    To be honest, I too find myself more distraught over the rampant killings of women and children.
    But any death resulting from war, rather than natural illness or accident, is criminal, as well as tragic. And we are all diminished if not responsible for it.
    Certainly as important as tallying up numbers would be establishing a ritual for grieving over the people our country has slaughtered and bombed to bits. Of course, it would not satisfy, let alone rectify, anything. But we could, if we agreed on a intelligent ceremonial format, pay a modicumm of respect–formally recognizing every murder as a gross evil we all on a communal level have committed, with no cease-fire in sight.

    Comment by grasshopper — July 20, 2006 @ 11:11 am | Reply

  3. grasshopper wrote:

    Is one life more significant, a greater loss, inciting a more profound grief, than another?

    This question is a mostly rhetorical flourish we allow ourselves when nodding toward either the egalitarian ideal or the principle of sacredness of life. In practice, however, we all have a scale of some sort for judging the value or waste of life and the profundity of loss of life. For instance, it makes no sense to regard the death of the elderly in the same light as that of children, no matter the circumstance.

    The problems come when we discriminate based on politics and brand our enemies as subhuman, not deserving of the lives they have. In the context of battle, perhaps it makes sense for the purpose of self-preservation (psychic or otherwise), but that thinking then bleeds into policy and diplomacy.

    Further, when challenged about their relative interests in local people (other Americans, say) versus remote people (Pakistanis, say), most Americans will admit they care much more about the locals, just as our government does. That perspective seems to me normal and sensible only until we begin to regard remote peoples self-interests as illegitimate, which we often do through various forms of political oppression and economic exploitation.

    Comment by Brutus — July 20, 2006 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

  4. I’m wondering how you know that most male Iraqi combatants had little or no choice about being combatants – especially in this case, when many combatants may be insurgents, and so were probably not subject to a formal draft.

    There have been reports of males being forced to fight in Iraq. It is reasonable to assume that this still occurs and perhaps at a much higher rate than it did before now that so many insurgent forces have entered Iraq.

    Comment by toysoldier — July 21, 2006 @ 1:05 am | Reply

  5. Ampersand:

    I’m wondering how you know that most male Iraqi combatants had little or no choice about being combatants – especially in this case, when many combatants may be insurgents, and so were probably not subject to a formal draft. I’m not saying you’re mistaken; I actually have no clue if you’re correct or not. I’d like to see this point developed more before I assume that you’re correct.

    I don’t recall claiming that about most male Iraqi combatants, (edit: yes I did, in the very last line) although it is what I believe. I base it on the observation that most people, given the choice between comfort and security, and discomfort and danger, choose the former and eschew the latter. We deride the chickenhawks for being armchair warriors, not for choosing the armchair per se. We also chose the armchair, because we could.

    I don’t believe that the overrepresentation of blacks and the lower classes in the enlisted ranks is because these groups prefer discomfort and danger. I think it’s because these groups have less economic choice. Nor do I believe that Iraqis are so different from us that these observations don’t apply to them.

    I do think that there’s something especially evil about the deaths of children, and I am in my heart more bothered when children are killed in war than when soldiers of either sex are.

    You are also in your heart more bothered by suffering inflicted upon women than upon men. I don’t dispute that intellectually you regard men to be of equal value to women, but this is an essentially cerebral position. I’ve never seen you write about the slaughter of men with the passion that you do about comparatively trivial insults and injuries inflicted upon women.

    I’m not sure that the particular status given in our hearts to children can be justified either. The rationalisation for this view is that children bear no responsibility for the events that result in their deaths and injuries, and have no ability to protect themselves. But the same is true for many of the adults victims. To afford them less consideration seems to be a subtle form of victim-blaming.

    However, I do agree with you about the malignancy of the whole “women and children” thing, and I’ve said so in the past.

    Do you agree that it’s particularly egregious in this case because the impression is given that women bore the brunt of civilian casualties when in fact they have been virtually unscathed?

    The regular Iraqi soldiers who died in their tens of thousands during the two Gulf Wars were typical conscripts on pain of torture and mutilation, and persecution of their families. They had no responsibility for the war, no way to avoid it, and essentially no ability to defend themselves from the overwhelmingly superior force against them. Yet they get virtually no consideration at all as victims of the war.

    I think there is something very contradictory about placing a high value upon the life of a five-year-old boy who was killed in the first Gulf war, and no value at all on his identical twin brother who was killed as a conscript in the second.

    I wouldn’t mind a “combatants/non-combatants” tally, which is, I suspect, what the “women and children” thing is getting at. There is a real argument for considering a war against soldiers morally better than a war against civilians. But the assumption that all men are combatants, and all women and children are not, is unjustified.

    I agree that there are real arguments that wars against the willful perpetrators of injustice and against those who have freely chosen to be soldiers are “morally better” than wars against civilians. But those arguments do not apply to wars against conscript armies.

    You could argue that it “morally better” by reason of “moral necessity”, if the war itself is regarded as justified – you can’t fight a war without targeting the enemies forces. But neither can you fight a war without inflicting unavoidable civilian casualties. If they really are unavoidable, if every effort is taken to keep them to a minimum, then I think they’re just as morally necessary as the conscript casualties.

    “Moral necessity” arguments take us down dark alleyways. Terrorists would argue that attacking civilian targets is justified because it is the only effective way they have of waging what they regard as a justified war against their militarily superior enemies. The adult civilian population of a democracy surely has more responsibility for the actions of the State they live in, than the conscripted footsoldiers of a dictator’s army.

    I’m not sure that I buy the motives you attribute to the Lancet authors, but whatever.

    By “distortion” I mean “misleading in the extreme”. I did not intend to imply that the Authors intended to mislead; I have no reason to believe that. I do think they were negligent in presenting their results in such a misleading way.

    Their motive, I suggest, is to present the burden as falling most heavily upon those society regards as the most ‘innocent’, hence the most worthy victims. While it is likely in this case that many of the male civilian casualties were combatants, I do not believe that “women and children” trope’s purpose is to highlight those unlikely to be combatents. It’s too ubiquitious for that.

    Edited for typos and minor wording.

    Comment by Daran — July 21, 2006 @ 6:21 am | Reply

  6. [...] If the Lancet’s breakdown of civilian casualties is accurate, then that statement is true if 5 or fewer in 38 violent adult civilian male deaths (including those not caused directly by coalition forces) were of non-combatants. Lets put that another way, for this to be not true, about 7 in every 8 such casualties would have to be combatants. This assumes that none of the women killed were combatants. If any were, then the ratio would have to be even greater. [...]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » The hidden war on men in Iraq - Part 2. — July 23, 2006 @ 4:18 pm | Reply

  7. You are also in your heart more bothered by suffering inflicted upon women than upon men.

    This is a cheap shot, and I’m worried that by responding I may falsely imply that it deserves any response at all. It does not.

    It’s true that I’m focused more on some issues than others. I make no apology for this, nor do I think I am morally required to write about each and every issue with exactly equal passion, mathematically balanced by the number of victims and how extreme the atrocity is.

    I’m not sure that the particular status given in our hearts to children can be justified either. The rationalisation for this view is that children bear no responsibility for the events that result in their deaths and injuries, and have no ability to protect themselves.

    What most bothers me about child deaths is that they died before they got a chance to live a full life. Everyone has to die sometime, but when a 5 or 15 year old dies, it seems particularly unfair. (I’m also bothered more when a 40 year old I know dies than when an 80 year old I know dies.)

    (Pro-lifers reading the above may be tempted to say “but aborted babies are denied all chance to live at all.” Such a response begs the question by assuming that a fetus is a person, a question that’s very much in dispute).

    So I don’t think it’s innocence alone that makes the death of a child particularly wrenching. However, I do think innocence is part of it, and in my view that’s defensible. It’s true that when an adult dies violently, there’s a strong chance that they were not in any way morally responsible for the conditions of violence that led to their death. However, when a four-year-old dies violently, it’s not just “a strong chance” that they bear no such responsibility; it’s a near total certainty.

    Of course, it’s possible that humans are also biologically programmed to be protective of children, and thus to react more when children die. However, if such “biological programming” to protect children exists, then it’s clear that humans sometimes override their biological programming.

    Comment by Ampersand — July 31, 2006 @ 2:21 am | Reply

  8. [...] Me: That is simply false. The majority of victims in most wars are male. In Iraq, for example, adult men were the demographic group most likely to be victims. Adult women were the least. See my post here for details. [...]

    Pingback by Are 80% of war victims women and children? « Creative Destruction — September 8, 2006 @ 12:22 pm | Reply

  9. [...] As Daran points out (one two), male Iraqis – mostly non-combatants – are being slaughtered and abused in Iraq, by both insurgents and US forces. [According to the Lancet study of deaths among Iraqis,] the plurality of the causalties were adult men. The next largest group was boys. There were more boys killed than female adults and children put together. Males accounted for nearly three quarters of the deaths. [...]

    Pingback by Making Things Worse In Iraq « Creative Destruction — September 25, 2006 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

  10. [...] As Daran points out (one two), male Iraqis – mostly non-combatants – are being slaughtered and abused in Iraq, by both insurgents and US forces. [According to the Lancet study of deaths among Iraqis,] the plurality of the causalties were adult men. The next largest group was boys. There were more boys killed than female adults and children put together. Males accounted for nearly three quarters of the deaths. [...]

    Pingback by Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Making Things Worse In Iraq — September 25, 2006 @ 7:28 pm | Reply

  11. [...] Like the earlier study, this study found that the large majority of Iraqis killed have been male: Of the 629 deaths reported, 87 percent occurred after the invasion. A little more than 75 percent of the dead were men, with a greater male preponderance after the invasion. For violent post-invasion deaths, the male-to-female ratio was 10-to-1, with most victims between 15 and 44 years old.   [...]

    Pingback by New Lancet Study: 425,000 - 790,000 Excess Iraqi Deaths Since We Invaded « Creative Destruction — October 11, 2006 @ 10:09 am | Reply

  12. No soldiers, no wars?

    I’ve often thought that if there were no soldiers there would not be wars. It must come down to the person pulling the trigger, releasing the bombs, “following orders”.

    Sure, there are pressures to fight, including being killed, court martialed, tortured, and so on if they refuse to join the army or pick up their gun. Still, that is just ONE death [your own] whereas a single soldier often kills dozens or 100s. Maybe it is better to le them kill you so military powers will not be powerfull.

    Certainly if we can just not join up, like in America’s “voluntary army”, that is the most humanitarian thing we can do. No soldiers, no wars.

    Comment by Kev Kvisle — October 17, 2007 @ 1:39 pm | Reply

  13. [...] A recurring theme in gender discussions is female mortality in war, “….women are the primary victims of war…” and similar claims. The fact is that men, combatant or non-combatant, are overwhelmingly the victims of war and of violence in general. This doesn’t fit the chivalrous narratives that inform so much feminist historical analysis, but it is nonetheless true. [...]

    Pingback by GendErratic — November 29, 2012 @ 7:46 pm | Reply


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