14 December, 2005

Balance sheet

Yesterday witnessed another desperate milestone chalked up in the neverending war in Iraq. It was precisely 1000 days since America, Britain and a few other countries that never seem to get mentioned (stand up Australia, Portugal, Mongolia et al) invaded.

To mark the occasion, George W. Bush decided to croak out a few statistics about the number of people killed in the country since the conflict began. 30,000 was his figure - "more or less". More or less a further 70,000, according to some sources.

Such numbers become sadly meaningless after a while. A jump from, say, 1000 Americans killed in combat to 2000 is the sort that gives much transglobal pause for thought and has all the world's commentators scribbling away to produce suitably insightful, corruscating criticism. But a notional jump from, say, 19,000 to 20,000 has far less resonance. When the number killed in the tsunami last Christmas hit 10,000 the planet was appropriately agog. Beyond that, though, and the scale became much harder to delineate (how do you visualise up to 275,000 dead?) and to mentally quantify. This is because, simply, so many thousands will always be so many thousands. When it comes down to it, when you're being brutally and nakedly honest, what's the difference between 120,000 and 121,000? Both sums are far too high to mean anything. They're just the same row of noughts with different numbers at the beginning.

Our inability to inwardly process and synthesise incremental gigantic numbers of any kind makes tragedies on the scale of the Iraq conflict all the more unbearable. Like a fly caught down inside your eyelid, the war is always there, just out of our line of vision, forever irritating, forever gesticulating, but impossible to truly ignore or remove from sight or mind. Until somebody in the British government answers for the fact we went to war on a false prospectus, until there is some kind of legal judgement passed on those who cooked up the WMD sham and those who wheeled it out as an excuse to invade, until the balance sheet it totalled up and someone somewhere foots the bill, we'll never be able to perceive ourselves for what we truly are, and this country will never be able to sleep the sleep of the just.


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