OVER A million Iraqis are dead from America’s war.
That sentence is a cognitive litmus test. Some people’s immediate reaction is, “That can’t be right,” because the United States couldn’t do that. Or because crimes on that scale don’t still happen. Or because they do happen, but only in horrible places that the United States hasn’t rescued.
One million is a “Grandpa, what did you do to stop it?” number. It’s a number that undeniably puts the American state among history’s villains. Those who are not willing or able to accept this are physically unable to retain the fact that over a million Iraqis are dead. Their brains expel it like a foreign germ.
Noam Chomsky once wrote that the “sign of a truly totalitarian culture is that important truths simply lack cognitive meaning and are interpretable only at the level of ‘Fuck You,’ so they can then elicit a perfectly predictable torrent of abuse in response.”
That pretty much sums up the how the media reacted to the one million figure in 2007 when it was announced by the British polling firm Opinion Research Business (ORB). (In fact, the firm estimated 1,220,580 Iraqis had died, confirming and updating a separate study done the year before by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and published in the Lancet medical journal.)
Take Kevin O’Brien, deputy editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Upon receiving a media advisory about the findings from ORB, whose clients include the British Conservative Party and Morgan Stanley, this was his response: “Please remove me from your mailing list and spare me your transparent propaganda.”
The silence is deafening.