We Respond to Register Letters

On Nov. 4, the Register published a letter in which Bob Koster wrote that although the deaths of 222 Americans in Iraq since May 1 were devastating to family and friends, "how many of these same young men would have been killed by now if they had remained home?" Since most of the soldiers are males in or near their 20s with no more than a high school education, Koster reasoned, they belong to the highest-risk group for homicides and fatal accidents. Given this, Koster wondered, "just how unsafe Iraq is compared to the streets of America."

The report Health, United States, 2003released by the National Center for Health Statistics supports Koster's claim that males ages 15 to 24 are indeed the group most likely to die from homicides and unintentional injuries. In fact, in 2001, of all males in this group, 22.2 per 100,000 died from homicide-related deaths. If unintentional causes are included, the number grows to approximately 100.

Since 222 Americans have died in six months in Iraq, extrapolation yields a rough estimate of 444 for the entire year. With 130,000 troops in Iraq, that works out to 342 per 100,000—more than three times the 100 who die on the mean streets of America. However, the report clearly indicates that nearly eight times as many African-American males die from homicides in America as white males. With the streets so much more dangerous for African-American men, perhaps Koster is on to something: black men may indeed be safer on the streets of Baghdad than anywhere in America.

In the same issue, Catherine Brennan observed that although America is trying to rebuild Iraq so its people can live in peace, Iraqis are making it clear they would rather live with fear and violence. Brennan concluded, "Too many people are dying for those who do not want civilization." But just when did Iraqis begin eschewing civilization? The area along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has been heralded as the Cradle of Civilization. Long before the rise of Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations, the ancient Sumerians thrived on the Mesopotamian plain (modern-day Iraq). Inventors of the wheel, the plow and a math system that is the basis for our modern system of time, the Sumerians established a vibrant culture whose contributions have had lasting impact. Further, is a tendency toward violence a rejection of civilization? As historian Victor Davis Hanson argues in Carnage and Culture, Westerners are the most deadly soldiers in history and have been the most "adept at using their civilization to kill others." The bloodiest battles in history—Gaugamela, Cannae or Tenochitlan, to name just a few—have been the product of Western civilization.


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