Iraq war dead "graph" on college lawn, in flags

Here are photographs of a display on the grounds of Reed College, in Portland, OR. The photographer, KK, explains, "Each white flag represents six dead Iraqis since the beginning of the war, and each red flag represents a dead US serviceman. Statistics come from the Lancet survey of Iraqi mortality since 2003, published October 2006." Link to photo set. (thanks, Jake Appelbaum)

Reader comment:

Lennon Day-Reynolds says,

The flags in the Reed memorial were actually transplanted after being set up at the University of Oregon by both the Reed College and Lewis & Clark chapters of Students for a Democratic Society. Presumably, other schools could make similar arrangements to have the installation travel to their campus. Link.

Andrew Wallace says,

I took several panoramic shots of the red and white flags at Reed. They were amazing. Here is one on Flickr:

360 Panorama: Reed College War Memorial and Protest

Also a version in a java app: Link.

Adam Mount says,

The flags on the Reed college lawn were beautiful, but it's worth noting that their symbolism was problematic. Signs near the installation stated that 112,000 white flags had been planted, each of which represented six Iraqi lives lost since 2003; this translates to 655,000 lives, a number derived from the highly controversial Lancet study that used unverified sampling methodology. Iraq Body Count, which documents verifiable deaths, currently places the number of civilians killed at over an order of magnitude less–at maximum, 64,444.

All of us at the college were touched and sobered, but many were dismayed that the numbers were used casually and without offering a sense of the controversy.

See also: Link.

Pam the Librarian says,

This American Life did a great piece on the Lancet study a while back. They came to the conclusion that the study was probably accurate, and give an excellent explanation of the methodology used.

The "controversy" surrounding the Lancet study seems to have been overblown in much the same way the "controversy" surrounding the existence of global warming is. Give it a listen.

Angelo Maceri says, only counts violent civillian deaths reported by two sources (newspapers, TV, etc) in English. Unfortunately civillians are difficult to define since coalition forces are not fighting against an official army. Also, more importantly, not all deaths will be reported twice in a language that is not commonly used by locals. This means that the number of deaths on is guaranteed to be much lower than the actual number of deaths that resulted from the War in Iraq.

The Lancet study takes a random sample of households and compares their pre-war deaths to their post-war deaths, and then subtracts the pre-war deaths from the post-war deaths to determine the number of "excess deaths" that happened, presumably, because of the war. They have used this exact method in many other conflicts without being accused of inflating the number of deaths.

I'm not going to talk about every argument in "Could 650,000 Iraqis really have died because of the invasion?" because I'm sure you have a limited amount of time to read whiny fact checking e-mails, but it is pretty intellectually dishonest. For example, the article implies the phrase "three-to-one rule" is commonly used by experts to refer to the "fact" in war that "for every death, there are three injuries" and points to the fact that there are not two million injured Iraqis as evidence that there are not 650,000 dead Iraqis.

In fact, I couldn't find any reference to a "three-to-one rule" that wasn't instructions on how to properly set up microphones or a quote from this article on a blog, but I did find an article that claims that in World War II three soldiers were injured for every one that was killed, and that in the Gulf War the ratio is four to one, and goes on to say that the change is a result of improved body armor and medical techniques – people who would have died from their wounds are now surviving.

Iraqi civillians generally do not wear body armor when engaged in their normal daily activities, and are not rushed to military bases where they recieve the best treatment available when they are injured, and, I would argue, are probably more likely to die from potentially survivable injuries than soldiers in World War II or the Gulf War. So, in addition to not actually being a rule, the "three-to-one rule" is totally irrelevant to this situation and it is impossible to base any conclusions on it. In general, the rest of the arguments in "Could 650,000 Iraqis really have died because of the invasion?" are just as misleading.

Anyway, to summarize, Adam's "argument" is pretty much the Teach The Controversy meme that you get from the intelligent design people. There is only controversy over the Lancet study because people who are in favor of the war in Iraq all banded together to say "this is a controversial study" while offering no good evidence to prove it wrong.

Chris says,

I think the flag idea is interesting, thought provoking, and beautiful, but I have another problem with the math. Who gets to decide that 1 American = 6 Iraqis? I think this is problematic. I'm sure that their considerations were purely practical, but I think it is important that the display recognizes 1 American = 1 Iraqi. Or, more importantly, 1 Life = 1 Life.