Thursday, August 19, 2004

Perspectives (poem)

Not every generation
has its moment of truth
its jolt and sudden shock of knowledge:
an instant addition to collective memory
dividing the past from whatever follows,
changing the world forever.

August 1914
The Wall Street Crash
Pearl Harbor
Kennedy in Dallas
September 11

Not every generation
gets dragged into history:
(when the Chinese dislike you
they politely extend the hope
you may live in "interesting" times).
If it happens, endure.



Everyone dies eventually. My point is that -- allowing for the usual car wrecks and gun-toting criminals in the USA, and allowing for the shameful deprivation and lack of basic infrastructure in the developing world -- it is becoming progressively harder to die of old age because of organized ideological violence: good guys and bad guys alike. Historically, of course, this is nothing new.

The list of "memorable events" in the poem is brief, selective, and culturally slanted. To make up for that I would like to provide a more extended list below. Somebody can "Google" the exact casualty figures, but it comes down to the same thing in the end. I use the convenient letter "M" to represent million: 1,000,000.

A million (M) is a lot. A million dollars in $100 dollar bills weighs 44 pounds (20 kilograms). In $1 dollar bills it would weigh 4400 lbs (2000 kg.) That would fill up the flatbed of a pickup truck. I don't know how much a million people would weigh. According to Hoess (commandant at Auschwitz) killing people in large numbers is easy. What's hard is disposing of the bodies. That's what took up most of our time, he said, it really slowed us down.

So when you look at these numbers, don't think of zeroes, think of individual people who weigh (let's say) 150 lbs on average. Hmmm: 150,000,000 lbs. How many trucks or trains or containers will that take? And that is only ONE million. It's not just the physical presence of these people that gets destroyed -- obviously! -- but that's where you begin when you try to imagine what these numbers really mean.

6-7 M Mongols drop in to visit Europe (13 C)
20-30M Black Death (bubonic plague) hits Europe (14C)
4-5M Tamerlane visits the Middle East (15C)
3-4M Spain ravages Mexico & S. America (16C)
2-3M Europe goes to war over religion (17C)
2-4M European diseases decimate native populations (18C)
2M French kill themselves and others (1789-1815)
1.5M Irish Potato famine (1845-50)
0.8M American Civil War (1861-65)
0.4M Paraguay War (1864-70): two-thirds of population killed.
4M European genocide in Africa (1880-1910)
11M First World War (1914-18)
30M Russia under Stalin (1927-53)
0.5M Spanish Civil War (1936-39)
50M Second World War (1939-45)
15M China under Mao (1949-69)
2M Vietnam vs. Outsiders (1941-75)
1.8M Cambodia under Khmer Rouge (1975-80)
1.5M Rwanda (1994)

This is a partial list, leaving out atrocities and wars which have left less than a million (M) casualties with the exceptions above of the American and Spanish Civil Wars and the devastation in 19th century Paraguay. It's amazing what people will put up with; what's worse is that they actively take part in it.

It's a wonder we are still around.

50,000 (War on Terror)
this number includes about 5000 US casualties at the WTC in New York plus subsequent military and civilian losses in Afghanistan and Iraq. The remainder are (presumably hostile) foreign nationals in those two countries.