A decade after the fighting died
down in Bosnia, researchers have confirmed what many analysts and journalists
suspected; far fewer people were killed there than the media reported (over
200,000) at the time. Researchers believe the number of dead was, about 100,000
(including accidents with weapons, which was common cause of injury or death).
Despite all the attention civilian deaths got, some 60 percent of those killed
were soldiers or paramilitaries. The Bosnian Moslems were the major victims,
accounting for some 65 percent of the dead. Serbs accounted for 25 percent,
Croats eight percent, and various other minorities the rest. Most of the dead
civilians were Moslems (83 percent), while ten percent were Serbs, five percent
Croats and the rest other minorities.
Exaggerating wartime casualties is a media staple.
Dramatic headlines and scary statistics attract more eyeballs, and advertising
revenue. But those inflated numbers also tend to influence public policy and
political, and military, decisions. This is increasingly the case as mass media
has become more massive, and 24/7.
The same inflation is happening in Iraq, and it
will be years before reliable casualty figures, especially for Iraqi civilians,
are available. Actually, reliable data is available now, but it rarely gets
reported. For example, civilian deaths from terrorist attacks and combat were
about 1,400 last January, but that has been down to about 500 a month over the
last two months. You'd never know that from perusing media accounts of what's
going on in Iraq, where every terrorist bomb is reported with whatever
spectacular adjectives the reporters think they can get away with. The media
does not like good news, because it does not excite viewers nearly as much as
The terrorists, in particular, have no interest in
seeing accurate casualty statistics reported. The bigger the numbers, the more
terrified people are. In Bosnia, everyone pumped the numbers up. The Bosnian
Moslems wanted international sympathy and aid. The Serbs, who were doing most
of the killing, wanted their own losses to appear as high as they could get
away with, to show that Serbs were victims too.
Back in Iraq and Afghanistan, the media reporting
of casualties tends to ignore normal losses from violence. Before 2003,
Saddam's "peacekeepers" (several hundred secret police and paramilitary thugs)
ran up quite a body count each month, in order to keep Iraqis in line.
Ironically, some of those same killers are still at it, trying to pass
themselves off as "insurgents" devoted to liberating Iraq from democratic rule.
Also not reported are the large parts of the country where there is hardly any
terrorist violence, and foreigners can travel freely. Alas, the truth is that
too much detail on casualties will be ignored by most news consumers. Simple
sells. Worse yet, and simplistic and misleading reporting isn't even noticed
for what it is.