Counting Corpses and Spinning Monsters
November 13, 2006
by William P. Meyers

No one appears to know how many people have died in Iraq since the invasion by the armies of the United States, and no one knows how many of the dead died from attacks by the U.S. or even by the differing armed groups of Iraqies. Using statistical methods one group of researchers says the dead from violence is on the order of 400,000. The U.S. government likes lower numbers because it claims to be a friend of the Iraqi people and less than 3000 U.S. civilians, plus slightly over 3000 U.S. soldiers, have been killed by all the might of the global Islamic "terrorist" network.

The counting of corpses would seem to be something objective that officials and historians can agree about. Yet a lot seems to depend on who does the counting and who does the remembering. Not too many people love the former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (formally, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) any more, so there are not too many people who dispute the old propaganda figure of 60 million killed. However, actual Soviet archives show that 800,000 were executed, 1.7 million died in camps of hunger, overwork, and disease, and 389,000 died during resettlement efforts. Like the Nazis, the Soviets were careful record keepers. The true number could be higher, of course, but to get to 60 million you need to blame Stalin for deaths due to old age and ordinary sicknesses, and then some. It is also worth noting that most of those executed were Communist Party members.

The era of Stalin coincided to a great degree with the periods we call the Great Depression and World War II. In the novel The Grapes of Wrath set in that era John Steinbeck follows a fictional family as they are forced off their farm (by the bank that owned the mortgage) and move to California hoping to work as farm laborers. As a direct result of their forced relocation the grandfather and grandmother die almost right away. Most of the core characters are as hungry and overworked as Stalin's resettled peasants, and many similarly unsettled Americans die around them, but most of the central characters survive. A newborn of the family baby dies, with the implication it is due to malnutrition of the mother.

How much does it matter whether you die from low wages and lack of work or too much work and too few calories? Why does no one worry about the approximately 10 million or so American's who died between 1928 and 1940 because of the failure of both the economic system and the government? What about all the African-Americans who died between 1932 and 1966 because Roosevelt did not have the guts to end segregation? If we count early deaths from malnutrition, poverty, and overwork, what would the African American holocaust numbers look like for that period?

Banks and corporate agribusinesses displaced farmer families in massive numbers in the U.S. during the 18th and 19th centuries. I'd like to see the numbers of resulting dead if any population statistician can be bothered with doing the work.

Zooming out to the really big picture, a common guess for the world's current population is 6 billion people. If we allow the rather generous period of 80 years for people to cycle through life, that means that on average each year 75 million must die to keep the population in balance if each dead person is replaced with one newborn child.