Suicide is Painless
Counting war casualties is in no small way dependent on how one defines war to begin with — this particularly holds true when it comes to accounting for the beginnings and endings of wars, as this discursive signpost represents one of the prime “cuts” of measure in casualty accounting. Thus, one finds that different conceptual and nominal understandings of war, when combined with different concepts of time and duration and what counts as a casualty, have an influence on statistical measures and outcomes.
Unstable identity categories like “civilian” and “soldier” also exert a major impact on casualty reporting. While it is well known among historians and statisticians that states and armies throughout history have not employed official standardized measures to account for war casualties, the tendency among most people is to accept the reporting of casualty statistics as cold, hard, fact. In view of these findings, one discovers rather quickly that what “counts” as a soldier, more specifically a soldier’s body, and particularly a wounded soldier’s body, is not categorically consistent. There is considerable variation with regard to who and how one counts, which differs dramatically depending on the contingencies of specific wars and conflicts.
Equally troubling is the fact that there are many circumstances where the body might be wounded, yet not reveal signs of an identifiable injury or physical scar; other bodies might be wounded without experiencing war; and some bodies are injured without ever being deployed to a conventional battle theater. The lack of a clear answer prompts Judith Butler (2006) to ask, “why is it that sometimes numbers don’t count at all?”
Do you think injuries that register visible on a body are more significant than other less visible injuries that affect the mind (i.e. like those reported/unreported by soldiers who evidence symptoms of PTSD)?
How do we count suicides? Are they combat injuries?
And what about civilian casualties from 9/11? Are they not also combat casualties?
What about other civilian casualties and casualties from countries with whom we are not at war?
How should we count the civilians killed and wounded in missile/drone strikes in the Palestinian territories and in Pakistan? Are they all not war casualties?
Are New York City, Gaza, and North Waziristan not battlefields?