ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND CIVILIANS died in the 1991 Operation Desert Storm and Gulf War between the United States and Iraq. For the next twelve years after the war, the United States bombed and, along with the United Nations, sanctioned Iraq. The United States bombed every single water treatment facility in the country and prohibited Iraq from importing the materials necessary for rebuilding those facilities. They also bombed every major electrical generation facility and limited the capability to rebuild them. As a result, Five hundred thousand Iraqis died of water-borne illnesses in this period, most of them young children whose health was most at-risk. By the time the Bush administration began speaking to the public of war against Iraq in 2002, American policy had already caused the deaths of approximately 1.1 million civilians. That number, again, is 1.1 million, out of a country of less than twenty million in 1991 (most of those who died did so in the early nineties). That toll does not include any deaths in or after the year 2003.
Had Americans, en masse, known these numbers, seen the faces of those who had lost their lives, known their stories-- had they come to value and understand these lives as meaningful, and had they realized their government's policies had caused such awful devastation-- had all of this occurred, it is nearly inconceivable that a 2003 invasion of Iraq would have enjoyed any meaningful support from Americans. In greater likelihood, the U.S. would not have invaded Iraq. And today's awful consequences of that invasion would not be taking up our news headlines every single morning.
Today, the estimates of civilian death in the 2003-12 US-Iraq war number between 350,000 and nearly one and a half million. The median American, when asked, however, updated for 2012, will say that just over 10,000 civilians died in this war. The median American, in other words, underestimates the incidence of civilian death in the 2003-12 war by as little as three thousand five hundred percent and by as much as nearly fifteen thousand percent. In the first half of 2007, at a time when the Lancet journal was publishing reliable civilian death estimates between 600,000-700,000, the median American pegged the civilian death toll at 9,890.
Here is the most remarkable part of the story: In another AP/Ipsos poll in that same year, 2007, Americans answered that their estimate (less than ten thousand) was too high and was not an acceptable cost of war. Americans, in the majority, do not accept civilian deaths as a consequence of what they perceive as an unjust war. But even with this hard evidence, mass media channels still declined to publish civilian death numbers, and stayed even farther away from civilian death stories.
Along with a talented Board of Directors, I am starting an international news nonprofit called World Report News. Our aim is to get hard, reliable facts and data out to the American people in the very earliest stages of conflict and pre-conflict development. Our tri-fold goal is conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and mass education on foreign affairs and foreign policy. My colleagues and I built this company with one underlying thought: How can we make sure that this never happens again?
The answer, we decided, was to create a better world news company than the mass media channels offer. We want to create a service that can give Americans a tremendously higher quality of information without asking for a ridiculous time commitment-- acknowledging that most Americans are short enough on time as things are. We firmly believe that such a media channel will play an important role in education on war and peace affairs and, ultimately, could play an important role in real prevention, rapid policy response, and resolution to conflicts around the globe. If our model succeeds, what happened with the U.S. and Iraq over the past quarter century will not happen again.
I spent four years researching media, conflict, and mass popular movements in preparation for the design of this company. I recently graduated from The George Washington University Elliot School of International Affairs with a M.A. in Global Communications-- this was a particular curriculum that allowed me to merge international relations, conflict prevention, and mass media communications into a single field of study. Prior to that I ran an international affairs journal and news company that succeeded in attracting hundreds of thousands of readers with just a few hundred dollars, and all-volunteer staff, and part-time work on my end, while I pursued my undergraduate degree in Ohio and also worked another part-time job. From that experience, and from my four years of study at both the undergraduate and graduate level, I realized that the need for this kind of organization is absolutely mammoth. Far larger than I had even hoped it would be. When I spoke with mass media executives on the matter, I was pleased to find that not only do they agree with my work and wish me luck-- they also endorse my beliefs and insist that such an audience numbers in the tens of millions.
Why wouldn't they seize such an audience, you might ask? Advertisers. Although there are dozens of identified barriers in mass media structures that we have designed our own organization to overcome, in the end, once all of them are done away with, the advertising CPM profit model requires mass media companies to only air content that third party companies will be okay with. This means not talking about the realities of war. No company wants to be associated with war. That's the bottom line. No auto insurance company wants to show its cute and funny commercial after you've just heard a story about a group of children playing on a beach whose bodies were just smeared on a concrete wall by a traumatized and deranged solider firing thousand-pound shells from an artillery system anywhere and everywhere for no damn reason. But that story happens, whether or not someone wants you to know about it. And the innocence of victims demands that we hold offenders accountable. That is why we are filing as a nonprofit and running the website completely ad-free.
But how can we expect to really make a difference?
We are recruiting senior level experts in all fields relevant to war and peace. International affairs professionals and conflict prevention workers have been working hard to identify with certainty which factors lead a society to violence. Instead of just covering war once it begins, we want to trace those causes, the root causes of conflict, before conflict makes itself evident. Our secondary goal is to cover conflict with greater depth, meaning, and accuracy than American mass media channels. Our primary goal is to prevent conflict before it begins by informing Americans and policymakers at an early-response stage of relevant realities and policy response options conducive to peace, and by tracing the root causes of conflict with relentless fervor everywhere that we find them.
We, the Board of Directors, have extensive experience in this line of work. Together, our experience stretches back more than one hundred fifty years and reaches across just as many countries. If you pick any random country from around the globe, the chances are that one or more of us has worked there in a full-time capacity for one year or longer. Our experience is in both international affairs and world news media. We constructed this board deliberately to bring international relations and world media together, as a reflection of our dedication to directly connect the audience with the source.
I am writing this letter to inform you of our plan, to engage you in our discussions about what this new network can accomplish, to explain what missing function we can fill for American and global society, and, of course, to ask for donations. We are a nonprofit, after all. You can follow this link to donate to the Kickstarter campaign, or follow this link to view in PDF form some of the organization's documents and to check out some footage of myself and board members making the case for the company. You'll find biographies, company info books, and all kinds of goodies on either link.
We aim to facilitate peace and deter war by applying peace media and fair media theory to actual practice. These theories contend that all parties to a conflict are human, that humans, in the majority, make rational choices, and that if we can discover the particulars of why humans make conflicting choices, then we can arrive at peace faster, more effectively, and in a more sustainable manner. Current American mass media do not take this approach and seldom examine foreign affairs with such depth. Our practice contends that greater depth is conducive to greater understanding, so that if we increase the quality of information, we should, at the same time, be encouraging empathy across division.
In short, peace is not always possible, but neither is conflict always inevitable. We aim to minimize the occurrence and severity of conflict primarily through freely provided reliable information and mass education. Our writers and editors consciously seek to fill the gaps in understanding that lead to war, instead of just accepting that those gaps are pre-existing and that war is unavoidable. Above all else, we read those polls cited in the beginning of this essay. Instead of deciding to ignore those numbers, we made the choice to respond to them. That decision requires nothing less than a brand new world news service using a totally different model. So that's what we've come together to create.
Thank you for your time. See you in the comments section!
All the best,