Tjebbe van Tijen via Chello on Thu, 26 Oct 2006 16:56:27 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-nl] 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 standpoints.

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 perspective:

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 perspective...

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
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