Tjebbe van Tijen/Imaginary Museum Projects on Thu, 26 Oct 2006 21:37:44 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> MetaMap Saddam Hussein 1937-2007 & victims: "the moral significance of scale"

Last week I produced a MetaMap of Saddam Hussein:
a visual navigator to on-line representations of power & violence  in 
graphs, maps and ceremony.

It was made for the web gallery "Oog" (eye) of the Dutch daily De 
Volkskrant, that invites artists to react to "the news".

The MetaMap is an attempt to construct a visual narrative of Saddam 
Hussein and Iraq, that links to one hundred detailed and contextualized 
links on the Internet.

One of the subject areas is the debate on the number of victims, 
especially violent death of Iraqi. The metaMap gives a short 
introduction and several links to both the original documents and sites 
that a criticizing methods of counting or communicating about the 
numbers. One such a site has been the UK based group , 
with another site trying to reconcile the opposing 

The MetaMap also points to an earlier influential study on made made 
violence by Gil Elliot in 1972 who was one of the first to point to the 
"moral significance of scale" in his "Twentieth century book of the 
dead". As his book may not be readily available anymore I give here the 
full quotation:
What is the moral context in which we should see those killed by 
violence? There exists a view that one violent death has the same moral 
value as a thousand or a million deaths. Presumably 'moral value', in 
this view, is kept in jars of concentrated essence on the shelves of 
philosophers, or in the divine pantry. The killer cannot add to his sin 
by committing more than one murder. However, every victim of murder 
would claim, if he could, that his death had a separate moral value. 
Thus there is an accretion of moral significance in quantity of deaths. 
There is no doubt that this is difficult for the imagination to 
compute. After a certain stage in assimilating casualties, the rest 
seems an ( indigestible piling-on of horror and numbers. So long as the 
moral significance of scale is not understood, only the crudest 
relationships can be made in the discussion of macro-violence: the 
Nazis were wicked, Stalin was a monster, and so forth. How then are we 
to understand scale? As we have seen, it is absurd to look upon the 
hundred million or so man-made deaths of the twentieth century as the 
'cost' of conflict, as though they were the casualty returns of a field 
commander. They are more directly comparable with the scale of death 
from disease and plague which was the accepted norm before this 
century. Indeed, man-made death has largely replaced these as a source 
of untimely death. This is the kind of change that Hegel meant when he 
said that a quantitative change, if large enough, could bring about a 
qualitative change. The quality of this particular change becomes clear 
if we connect the present total of deaths with the scale of death 
inherent in the weapons now possessed by the large powers. Nuclear 
strategists talk in terms of hundreds of millions of deaths, of the 
destruction of whole nations and even of the entire human race. The 
moral significance is inescapable. If morality refers to relations 
between individuals, or between the individual and society, then there 
can be no more fundamental moral issue than the continuing survival of 
individuals and societies. The scale of man-made death is the central 
moral as well as material fact of Our time. The 'historical necessity' 
of Marxist materialism as well as the individual morality of 
Christianity must bow to its significance. [p.5-6; Elliot (1972) 
Twentieth century book of the dead]
A significant link on the MetaMap reference page is to a study with 
picture statistics that I made this summer to put the victims of the 
Palestine/Israel/Lebanon war into a longer regional historical 

It is a table using the istotype statistic approach of Otto Neurath and 
Gerd Arntz under the title:
"Summary of Ten KiloDeath Wars in the Middle East 1948-2006 (1 
KiloDeath = 10.000 deaths).
That ongoing research can be found at:

In this graph it is very clear that the most violent event in the area 
in the last half a century has been the Iran Iraq War in the early 
eighties of last century. The lowest estimates are in the range of 
700.000 the highest 1,2 million.

When we take the actual highest estimate of the the so called "Lancet 
Report" of October 2006 of Iraqi deadly violent casualties... we get a 
number of 600.000 deaths. If this estimate (made by a team of renowed 
epidemiologists of John Hopkins University) were true, the invasion and 
occupation of Iraq by mainly the US and the UK has produced as much 
deaths as the gruesome Iran Iraq war was its trenches, mustard gaz, 
bombing of civilian targets by rockets and so on.

One wonders why such a comparison is not publicly made... we certainly 
need to see the violence in the Middle east in a much wider 

My MetaMap project is an attemtp to assist a wider understanding...

This is one of the fourteen introduction to specific sections of the 
Saddam Hussein MetaMap:

Between  the highest and the lowest estimates (655.000 and 50.000) 
there roams a whole big city of either dead souls or ghost victims that 
never  existed.

Each war is also a war of statistics... depending on one's position  
and situation, numbers are raised or lowered, or simply not given  at 
all. The debate about the number of dead as result of the invasion  and 
occupation of Iraq since 2003 will not come to any final conclusion,  
there simply is no truthful tally possible under the actual 
circumstances.  For a while there seemed to be some commonly accepted 
magnitude,  ranging in the tens of thousands with a slowly but 
regularly growing  factor arriving at 40/50.000 in autumn 2006. One of 
the most quoted  sources for this number is the initiative Iraq Body 
Count (IBC).  Since 2004 there is also a study of epidemiologists from 
Johns Hopkins  Bloomberg School of Public Health and Al Mustansiriya 
University  in Baghdad, published by the medical journal The Lancet 
(commonly  called the Lancet Report), that arrived in their 2004 report 
at a  much higher number than US and UK government and anti-war 
activist  sources, putting the number of Iraqi victims in the range of 
100.000.  In October 2006 the Lancet Report was updated and came to a 
tenfold  higher estimate than that of Iraq Body Count: 655.000. It 
needs to  be pointed here that these numbers are produced by two 
completely  different methods: Iraq Body Count uses publicized news 
sources of  victims, only counting what has been established by several 
news  sources (so leaving out all incidents/accidents that remain 
outside  any press coverage). The Lancet Report is an estimated figure 
based  on a nation wide household survey in Iraq (1.849 households) and 
  the numbers of birth and death of all causes that had occurred over  a 
certain period, from which - through a well established epidemiologist  
methodology - an estimate is made of those who died of violence that  
can be directly related to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The reference page of the MetaMap site will be regularly updated.

Tjebbe van Tijen

Imaginary Museum Projects
dramatizing historical information

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