Voices reprints a Sept 28 1992 Madison Capital Times article today, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, the Wisconsin Physicians for Responsibility and Madison's Vigil for Peace:
Rest of the Story: Add 49,000 kids to the Gulf body
by Mike Royko
There was this squib of a news story that came over the wires the other day. It wasn't much longer than a baseball box score or an interview with a rock star about his next tour. It said:
"Boston (AP) - The death rate among Iraqi children rose dramatically in the months after the Gulf War, largely because of an outbreak of diarrhea caused by disabled water and sewage systems, researchers reported today. In the first seven months of 1991, about 46,900 more children died than would have been expected, according to a stuy in the New England Journal of Medicine. It said the death rate for children under 5 was triple that before the war.
"The study was conducted by Dr. Alberto Ascherios of the Harvard School of Public Health and other researchers from the United States, England, New Guinea, and Jorden. It was paid for by the Uniterd Nations Children's Fund. The researchers said they worked independently of the Iraqi government."
That's it. About 15 lines of type.
But then, it's old news. The war has been over for a year and the yellow ribbons have been taken down, and the last proud, chest-thumping sppech has been made. Still, if you like numbers, 46,000 is an interesting figure. And you can play with it in different ways.
For example, there are baseball and football stadiums that have a seating capactity of about 46,900. So we might try picturing one of these stadiums with every seat occupied by a child 5 years old or younger.
Try it. Close your eyes and imagine Comiskey Park in Chicago or Shea Stadium in New York with a litte kid in every seat. - That's a lot of noisy kids.
Now, imagine that somebody pulls a switch and sends a jolt of electricity into the seats and every one of those 46,900 noisy kids dies. That would be a lot of dead kids. So you'd better open your eyes, since it isn't a pleasant thing to imagine.
Or we can look at it another way. The biggest hotel in the world is in Las Vegas. It has 4,000 rooms. So if you put 11 kids in each room, you'd have stuffed the place with 44,000 kids. Put the extra 2,900 in the grand ballroom.
Let's imagine that someone pushes down a plunger, setting off a huge explosion that blows the hotel away, really flattens it. Now that would rate more than a squib of a story. It would be front-page headlines all over the world: "HOTEL EXPLODES KILLING 49,000 CHILDREN."
Which just shows that bad water leading to diarrhea and other intestinal disorders doesn't have the dramatic impact of an explosion, although the results are the same.
"The destruction of the supply of electric power at the beginning of the war, with the subsequent disruption of electricity-dependent water and sewage systems, was probably responsible for the reported epidemics of gastrointestinal and other infections. These epidemics were worsened by the reduced accessibility of health services and decreased ability to treat severely ill children."
In other words, we don't see those invisible but deadly killers in the water or the children screaming because their stomachs hurt and their fevers are raging. And we don't see them weaken, fade, then die.
But who would want to see a downer like that, anyway?
In a classic understatement, the doctors concluded:
"War is never good for health. But the full effect of war and economic sanctions on morbidity and mortality is difficult to assess, and the number of civilian casualties caused indirectly is likely to be underestimated.
"…During the Gulf War, it was suggested that by using high-precision weapons with strategic targets, the Allied forces were producing only limited damage to the civilian poluation. The results of our study contradict this claim and confirm that the casualties of war extend far beyond those caused directly by warfare."
Forty-six thousand nine hundred kids. Give or take a few tots. So what color ribbon do we wear for that triumph?