The Morbid Metric

Friday, June 05, 2009


To counter the perception that America is losing the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. command has adopted the practice of releasing a detailed daily accounting of enemies killed. The P.R. campaign started in April of last year and has since announced nearly 2,000 insurgent casualties. Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips says that body counting is controversial in military circles and hasn’t been done this way since the Vietnam War.

    Music Playlist
  • Giving Up The Ghost
    Artist: DJ Shadow

Comments [9]

Ed Nelson from Orland Park, Illinois

"Our" point of view seems offered, essentially, by both On the Media and its guest -- that only counting corpses, whether or not we know anything significant about them, can serve to9 measure military success. The movement of a "front line" is the more accepted "traditional" way. Of course there is in the Middle East no identifiable front line, just as there was none in Viet Nam -- nor in NewEngland of the 1770s. There caan't be when the citizenry is opposed by an organized military force. The U.S. reliance on body counts displays, more clearly than anything else, how out of touch we wre with reality. A new bunch of U.S. "Redcoats." ---ed

Jul. 11 2009 03:05 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Yes. Read "Watership Down."

Jun. 11 2009 03:57 AM
arkonbey from underhill, vt

The idiocy of this is extreme. The body count was a failed metric that epitomized a failed strategy of a suspect war that ended in defeat.

Are memories that short?

Jun. 09 2009 08:49 AM
alex from Brooklyn

"But the military reckons that more enemy dead is always news."

Great journalism is not about the original question, but about the follow up. This was a *GREAT* follow up.

Brooke listened to what her interview subject was saying and pointed out the connections between what his was saying on one hand and on the other hand. She made her point, and her subject had a chance to respond.

Frankly, were I her place, I would have pushed the point much harder, but that would be a failing on my part. In this case, she handled it just right.

I would have enjoyed, however, hearing Bob's ironic/sarcastic/mocking voice in a commentary about this point. But that's probably my bitterness speaking.

So, thank *you* enemy body counts.

Jun. 08 2009 01:46 PM

@ Brett - Greta point. The American public should have more, not less information about the war, so we as a democracy can make a better decision.

Jun. 08 2009 10:31 AM
Gerald Morine

Obama's advisor's seem to be the intellectual sons and daughters of the "Best and Brightest" who made policy for US involvement in Vietnam. Then it was Harvard, now Yale, but the same optimism about nation-building in a xenophobic society mired in the middle ages.

Jun. 07 2009 11:58 PM

Ms. Gladstone asks Mr. Phillips if he can think of a better public relations metric to persuade Americans that the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting. Mr. Phillips replies that because this is a war to win hearts and minds, the building of schools, or reporting the numbers of girls who attend school, might make good PR. But even a child can tell you that although it's a lofty goal to build schools and increase the number of girls who attend them, one doesn't build schools with military operations, guns, bombs, and drones. Humanitarian aid is not a justification for war. If we want to help the Afghani people, a good first step would be to stop killing them.

Jun. 07 2009 04:43 PM
Brett from Chicago

I find it disturbing that On the Media only focused this story on the writer's thesis on how body counts benefit the public support of this war on Afghanistan. The most obvious story here, that wasn't addressed by Gladstone and OTM, is that these body counts are information that should and must be made publicly available to everyone, regardless of their positive or negative impact on public opinion. Is it now acceptable for any government, including our own, to distort or bury information because it might impact public acceptance of a controversial and potentially endless war? Thanks to OTM for keeping this story on point right where the Pentagon wanted it in the first place.

Jun. 07 2009 03:57 PM

This article goes to show both the necessity and difficulty of developing and using good metrics in the military. Army battalions can go to war, and if they suffer casualties and kill a lot of Taliban, it means they engaged the enemy. Conversely, if they suffer few casualties and don't see much contact, it means they secured their AO.

I love the solution for measuring how many girls go to school. That, combined with other metrics about helping to build the local population would be invaluable.


Jun. 07 2009 04:41 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.