On anniversaries like today, people tend to produce lots of numbers in an attempt to understand and reflect upon the situation. I respect numbers, but I have to admit, more often than not I have to really stare at a numerical figure for a long time before it begins to have real meaning for me.
For example, today I read (NYT article) that Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz estimates the total cost of the Iraq War at "more than four trillion dollars." But what is four trillion dollars? I can't really relate to that - I mean, to me, $1,000 is already a lot of money. You can write it out:
That's a lot of zeros. Four trillion is the same as saying four thousand billion dollars. Or four million million dollars. Wow.
But even more 'wow' for me was the discrepancy between this total and the Bush administration's pre-war estimate. Before the war started, President Bush and friends said they thought it would cost between $50 and $60 billion dollars to invade Iraq, overthrow their government, and replace it with something we like better. $50~$60 billion vs. $4 trillion - that's not close. How far off were the President's men? Well, the difference between the two is like this: say you go to a deli and order a tomato sandwich. The sandwich guy says, "Sure, that'll be $5 or $6 dollars." (it's an estimate - has to see how many tomatoes he's going to put in it before he comes up with the final price; he's not psychic you know) So he makes that sandwich and then when he's done he hands it to you and says "That'll be $400." Proportionately speaking, that's the same difference. So like I said, $60 million and $4 trillion are not close.
Another number-oriented piece of information I've encountered a few times today: since the beginning of the invasion in 2003, approximately 4,000 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq. 4,000 people! But U.S. newspapers and television news hardly seem to mention the war dead anymore - it's almost as if they've gotten used to the idea and moved on. But what does this mean - "4,000 people"? Invisible to the public or not, this number can be stated in the most brutal terms:
• All together the bodies of the dead would weigh about 360 tons.
• Their brains alone would weigh over 5 tons.
• Laid end to end, their bodies would extend beyond 77 football fields; almost 4 and 1/2 miles.
• The blood from 4,000 people would fill 10 large tanker trucks.
If you want to know the human cost for Iraqis, multiply the above by a factor of about 250.
We need to find an alternative to war culture, and war vision.
[ Bunny: Pinky forgot to mention that all the calculations were by me. ]
[ Pinky: Sorry about that - yes, that was all Bunny. ]
[ Bunny: For those of you who asked, here's an example tanker truck: ]