Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

Last year, I posted some numbers for Memorial Day. Let me update those numbers for this year.

Number killed on 9/11: 2993 (up from 2986 listed last year)

Number of U.S. killed as a result of U.S. military activities since 9/11: 3455 (up from 3091 as of this time last year)
390 U.S. military killed in Afghanistan (
up from 295 as of last year), 2844 U.S. military killed in War on Iraq (up from 2464 as of last year), 398 U.S. civilians (e.g., contractors) killed in Iraq (up from 332 as of last year).

Number of Iraqi civilians killed since War on Iraq began: 64,400-70540 (up from 38,000-42,000 reported last year).
(These figures are critiqued by many as being low estimates. See the Iraqi body count webpage, linked below.)

Sources for the above:

If you find figures that you believe are more accurate than the ones here, please let me know in "comments," and please cite your sources.

Some additional context:

Wars apparently are becoming more and more deadly for civilians. Of the deaths caused by each of the following wars, here are the percentages of those deaths being civilian deaths:

World War I: 14%
World War II: 67%
Wars of the 1980's: 75%
Wars of the 1990's: 90%

(The book those statistics are from is: WAR AND PUBLIC HEALTH, edited by Barry S. Levy and Victor Sidel, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.)

War on Iraq (based on above numbers): 96% (up from 92-94% as of last year) are civilian deaths.

Last year I posted numbers because I was struck by how the number of U.S. citizens killed in the war on Iraq had then just surpassed the number who had died on 9/11. (The number of actual military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq combined had not yet surpassed this number last year, but now it has.)

Now, I know that the War on Iraq is not supposed to be a response to the events of 9/11, but it is defined as part of the War on Terror. We were horrified on 9/11 at the loss of so many innocent lives. When a country goes to war, everyone knows that some of its own soldiers will be killed. If what was horrible about 9/11 was the loss of so many lives, why have we gone on to engage in action that we knew would result in the loss of so many more lives?

And that is not even counting the civilian deaths. Factoring those numbers in shows the tragic toll of war even more graphically. Civilian deaths had gone up from being 14% of all war-related deaths to 90% in the 20th century. Only a few years into the 21st century, we are up to 96% of war-related deaths being deaths of civilians in the War on Iraq.

We have much to mourn.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Taking Stock at the End of the Semester

My semester is almost over. Finals week has just concluded. While some faculty have finished their grading already, it has taken me all week just to get to a place where I finally have time to finish my grading! Such has been my life. Once I finish my grading, things will finally start to lighten up a bit for me.

I almost listed all of the things that have made my life so busy this semester, but then I realized that this would be deadly boring.

My loyal readers (well, the two who are left) probably do want to hear from me, but what do they really want to know? What would they really like me to write about?

All I can summon at the moment are a few odds and ends thoughts:

1. As I look back on my whirlwind semester and take stock, what am I most proud of? While there is a way that I feel good at having handled difficult and complex situations well, and this has led to a growth in my confidence, the truth is that what I thereby accomplished was almost always nothing more than what is simply expected in my job. To have failed would have been notable (in a highly negative way), but to have succeeded gets almost no notice at all because it is simply expected. But it's not the issue of getting noticed for all my hard work or not that matters to me the most: the question that matters more to me is whether this is really what I want my life to be like. Doing these kind of things well certainly does matter (whether anyone notices or not) -- but is this kind of work what I really feel called to do? The answer is that the busy demands of this semester have squeezed out time to attend to what I really feel called to do. The one big project that was an "optional" extra is the one that, ironically, has been most expressive of what I feel my unique contribution to the world is all about. I'm glad I didn't drop this.

2. Yet, I don't regret this semester. It pushed me to my limits and I found that I did not break. I faced the pressure, for the most part, with grace and steadfastness. Clarity and strength came at the right moments. And so the net effect has been a gain in my confidence. This is important. I feel that I understand and hence can trust the world a little better. I trust myself better. And I trust God better.

3. Related, I learned some things about myself. I learned more clearly than ever before what I'm good at and what I'm not so good at. I didn't beat myself up about what I'm not good at. Instead, it was a relief to just say, "Ok, I've pushed that for all it is worth and this is all I can come up with, so why not just say in the future when people ask me to do this sort of thing, 'I'm sorry, I'm actually not good at that -- you'd be better off asking someone else.'" Admitting that I'm not good at some things opens up welcome space to attend more to the kinds of things I am good at.

4. What I'm most proud of that I'm good at: I'm good at connecting with people I don't always see eye-to-eye to, and trying to understand their point of view. I've discovered that people love being able to talk to those who disagree with them if those who disagree with them will really listen. In fact, people are starved for this kind of attention. It is easy to get the sympathy of people who already agree with you. And it's frustrating beyond belief to feel "written off" by those who disagree with you. But finding someone who disagrees with you but who really listens: that's rare. And that's an amazingly satisfying experience. While I've mostly been giving this kind of attention, I had the opportunity to receive it as well, and I was astounded at the effect it had on me. I think I'll write more about this in a future posting.

5. What I'm not so good at, and how I feel about this: I think I've probably written to some extent about this already, but the most important thing I learned that I'm not good at is motivating others to action. I'm not even very good at getting them to follow through on what they've promised to do! I have mixed feelings about this. It would be nice to be able to do this, because then I could take on complex projects that involve the work of lots of people with less stress. I could even assume leadership positions within these complex projects. And collectively, well-organized, well-functioning groups can accomplish a lot more than individuals can. But on the other hand, realizing that I'd rather work on more individual projects (like writing books) is a bit of a relief. Had I found myself good at leadership, it would have created a real dilemma about what kind of work I'm really called to do.

6. What has most surprised me: I've learned that I can make decisions that affect others' lives, that others are not always happy about, and still feel that it's the right decision. I can stand strong in the face of their disappointment, feel bad for them, and let them be disappointed and even angry with me, and still myself continue to feel that it is the right decision for all concerned. (This doesn't mean I've become rigid and inflexible. It's just to say that those times when I am clear that I must stand strong, I can.) It's tremendously liberating for me no longer to feel personally devastated whenever anyone is unhappy with decisions I make. And it's empowering to realize that I am capable of making hard decisions like that. But I still don't like having to play this role. This is another aspect of leadership that does not fit my personality very well. Still, it's amazing for me to realize that a person can learn such a skill that is not already inherent in their personality, and feel liberated and empowered by having learned it.

This last point gets at something so important I have to say more about it.

I think this above all else signals a profound change in my soul. I think I have come to a new acceptance that life just is difficult, for everyone. It's not my job to solve the Problem of Suffering. I cannot solve it for others. I can learn from it in my own life, but I can't eradicate it there either. But I also realize that it is not the end of the world. Suffering just is built in to life. For the most part, it is not lethal. We don't really have to be as afraid of it as we tend to be. We can develop strategies for dealing with it. My job on this planet is not to make everyone happy, so I can let go of being all depressed about my continuing failure in this. It's now officially off my "to do" list!

So, what then is my job?

I feel like I am opening up in a whole new way to this question.