Enemy By Death--Counting War Casualties

Friday, October 21, 2005 at 07:59 AM

Newspaper headlines often use casualty figures in their headlines:  Seventy Insurgents Killed in Raid.  Twenty Insurgents Dead After Night Strike.  And so on.  Very precise, very knowing, very certain.

Which makes you wonder: How do you know how many of the dead are "enemy" and how many "unlucky civilian?"  Do "insurgents" (or "the enemy" or any other popular name for the "bad guys") carry ID cards that clearly mark them as insurgents?

The same headlines appeared during Viet Nam. And the running joke among soldiers stationed there--at least those that viewed the event as the surreal venture that time has proved it to be--was that only in Viet Nam could you C.A.D. (convert after death) to become E.B.D. (enemy by death).  The number of enemy dead always equaled the number of dead, period.

When all the dead are, by definition, the enemy, you accomplish two things at once: (1) you impress your superiors and the public with the progress being made against the enemy, and (2) you avoid all those nasty local, national, and international problems associated with killing lots of civilians.

However (and unfortunately for casualty counters), reality is indeed "what doesn't go away when you stop believing in it."  The dead who converted after death to become an enemy by death have friends.  They have relatives.  These friends and relatives have a pretty good idea who became EBD.  And for some reason, they tend to resent seeing their friends and relatives being EBD.

And the more EBD you have, the more unhappy locals you have.  The more unhappy locals you have, the more true enemy there is.

Seems to me that there is a tipping point somewhere, some surreal place in time and space when the number of EBD produces so many true enemies that you really can equate the number of dead with the number of enemy dead.

But that's not likely to be a good thing.