Doing Harm in War Reporting: An Ethical Call for Properly Contextualizing Loss of Life By



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Doing Harm in War Reporting: An Ethical Call for Properly Contextualizing Loss of Life
By

Stephen D. Perry, Ph.D.

School of Communication and the Arts

Regent University

Doing Harm in War Reporting: An Ethical Call for Properly Contextualizing Loss of Life

Reporting on War has been analyzed from many perspectives. Public support for war or weariness of war can be enhanced or reduced by the content included in journalistic reports of war events. For example, Hayes and Myers (2009) found that greater coverage of local casualties in the preceding three weeks of news coverage resulted in increased support for troop withdrawal from the war theater. Ghanem (2010) demonstrates that war coverage on culturally similar soil lead to more human centered victim coverage. But coverage on culturally dissimilar soil led to coverage emphasizing patriotism, weaponry, and the technological aspects of the story. By downplaying casualties, Ghanem (2010) believes the media keeps the public from turning against their governments during war. Because of this understanding of how journalists can impact public perceptions, others have criticized international news flow because loss of life and property, often through war, has been shown to correlate with greater likelihood of less developed countries receiving journalistic coverage. Thus public perceptions end up revolving around fear and negative perceptions for these struggling nations (Chang & Lee, 2010).

If news coverage alters perceptions then how a war is framed or if it is covered at all is important. For example, 3.9 million people are said to have died as a result of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but only .04% of U.S. foreign news stories covered it (Fahmy, 2010). By studying the rate of mortality in homes in the Congo compared to homes outside the war zone in the same region, Coghlan and colleagues (2006) determined the death rate was 40% higher in the Congo. This meant that 38,000 more people per month died as a result of the war, and that lasted for six years (Coghlan, et al., 2006). While their survey’s method of calculating deaths would only only have resulted in 2.7 million people dying rather than the 3.9 million others have reported, the numbers are mountains higher than a natural disaster that claimed far fewer lives. The tsunami of December 2004 claimed 1/10 as many lives, yet the coverage was so intense that most Americans thought the tsunami caused the greatest death toll. Thus, the choice of stories and the construction of news frames influences public perception of the greater causes of death in international contexts (Fahmy, 2010).

The Global Bystander Intervention Model says that when there are a lot of countries that can see an emergency situation in another country or world area, they are more likely to respond when lots of other nations have responded. But if most other countries see a problem and don’t respond, it leads a nation to consider the situation as less important or urgent and to bypass offering any assistance. News networks are the key global mechanism for emphasizing the severity of a situation and intensifying the international communication that will prompt others to take action on the international level (Lim & Barnett, 2010). In the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami, international meetings facilitated by the United Nations with delegations from countries around the world gathered to promise aid. They pledged finances and armies of aid workers to the devastated areas. And while the deaths in the Congo were so much greater, the international response was much less. While there are many reasons for that, the global outpouring could not happen with little news coverage to facilitate it.

It is with this influence of news in mind that this paper sets out to challenge an existing ethical framework for news coverage and to call for long-term contextualization in coverage of war, and perhaps, by extension, of diplomatic cold war. This challenge is to an ethical perspective that has been championed recently by many scholars called Peace Journalism.

Peace Journalism

Perez de Fransius (2014) lays out Peace Journalism as part of what Johan Galtung (2004) founded and called peace studies. Discourses are categorized into either those of peace, or those of security. In the first, the discourse places participants in conflict on a level or equal playing field, making no judgment about which side is right or wrong, good or bad. Peace discourse looks for a path to resolving disputes that is a non-violent, empathetic, creative process. Peace is seen as the best approach to security. In the latter discourse, one party is categorized as evil and the good must squash evil through strength. Security is seen as the best approach to peace.

Peace Journalist scholars describe three types of violence. Direct violence is the type characterized by military force, aggression, and other forms of physically superior strength exerted to subdue a rival. Cultural violence is found in the discourse and imagery inherent in a society. It is seen in the talk, teachings, beliefs, and images that glorify or endorse direct violence including, or perhaps foremost, in discourse that exists in the media. The final kind is structural violence where legal and acceptable behaviors of a group or society permit harm or ignore the harm that is happening to a group. Each of these forms of violence are said to be “equally destructive and detrimental” (Perez de Fransius, 2014, p. 74).

Peace Journalism argues that reporting should reveal the structural or cultural violence present in the damage done to family structures, to cultural institutions, to disrupted school education, etc. Some analysis suggested that there was almost no coverage of this outcome of the Iraq war. But social media is making voices of all parties in war more transparent (Perez de Fransius, 2014).

As a result of journalistic overreliance on conflict frames, Lee (2010) criticizes war reporting, claiming it suffers from weaknesses including sensationalism, overemphasis on tangible losses like human casualties, and identification with the home side. She is critical of journalistic fixation on the win-lose outcome as they “simplify the disputants into two pugilists slugging it out in a sport arena” (p. 362).

Lee (2010) claims that peace journalists understand a conflict’s historical roots. It claims that by giving voice to all parties (including beyond the two warring parties), understanding and empathy are created. The goal is to build a situation where understanding and seeking the causes of and possible solutions to conflict are nurtured. She attributes to Galtung1 that he recommended reporting on the causes and consequences of a conflict, and nonpartisanship (objectivity, balance, fairness, thoroughness – ideals of journalism), and giving voice to all parties. Though, as will be noted later, she disagreed with some of his recommendations.

The father of peace studies further recognized that direct violence often stems from other cultural factors. He seems to allow for the necessity of physical violence to help stem the tide of cultural violence saying, “How narrow it is to see peace as the opposite of war, and limit peace studies to war avoidance studies. . . . Important interconnections among types of violence are left out, particularly the way in which one type of violence may be reduced or controlled at the expense of increase or maintenance of another. Like ‘side-effects’ in health studies, they are very important and easily overlooked” (Galtung, 1990, p. 293).

The Categorical Imperative and Journalism Ethics

Galtung’s allowance for the need for violence seems to stem from a practical realization that is as simple as the notion that police may have to use force to quell a riot. Perhaps there is a deeper ethical philosophy at the root of his thinking. Most who propose ethical practices with the ends as the highest goal are addressing them from a teleological foundation, such as that of John Stuart Mill (2003).

Mill was not a proponent of doing absolutely no harm, as sometimes might be read into the writings of those who analyze journalism from a Peace Journalism perspective. Instead his Utilitarianism stance stated that we should be free to do anything that does not interfere with the freedoms of others (Marino, 2010). The utilitarian sees right actions as those that, from among all possible alternatives are likely to result in the greatest happiness for those impacted by the actions (Elliott, 2007; Moore & Perry, 2012). Utilitarians try to see both the long and the short term results of their actions (Mitrook & Danner, 2006) as is important in any situation where war is involved. Thus, the utilitarian perspective certainly seems to shed light on the Peace Journalism philosophy as voiced by Galtung (1990) but is somewhat lacking in how others have analyzed the extent to which journalists practice the approach (Lacasse & Forster, 2012; Lee, 2010; Perez de Fransius, 2014).

For this paper’s part, the philosophy of Emanuel Kant will provide further guidance. Kant’s philosophy, often categorized as his Categorical Imperative (CI) is an ethical perspective based in duty. It is founded within those ethical theories that are deontological. That is, they are supportive of the notion that there are universal rights, wrongs, and obligations that people should follow. For Kant, this can be discerned based on two primary measures: 1) everyone ever in a similar situation could be obligated to do the same thing, and 2) we would accept being obligated to this same decision, even if on the receiving end of it (Kant, 1999/1781; Moore & Perry, 2012). Ends or consequences are secondary in the decision of the duty-based philosophy. Because there are universal rights and wrongs, the actions of those involved, such as a journalist, must be taken because they are right, and the consequences would have to follow where they may. In addition, putting consequences first would assume that each person could discern what the ultimate consequences of an action would be, when the best one can know is what they may be. Therefore, to go the direction of a utilitarian philosophy, if the journalist could believe that everyone in their situation could be obligated to do the same act and that he or she would be willing to be on the receiving end of that journalistic act if the roles were reversed, then the journalist can make an ethical decision without being omniscient.

The Society for Professional Journalists also has a code of ethics. In that code is a preamble which says that the duty of the journalist is to further justice and the foundation of democracy by “seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.” Among the categories of ethical behaviors then are the headings “Seek Truth and Report It” and “Minimize Harm” (Brooks, Kennedy, Owen, & Ranly, 2005, p. 541). These are presented as duty based principles like Kant espouses. However, they clearly still recognize the consequences based on the preamble, and the duty to “minimize harm” requires assessing the context of each situation in a somewhat utilitarian way. Still, it is dangerous to ask the journalist to look beyond the immediate circumstances and predict the future in their decision making process. Thus, the CI approach allows for more definitive ethical decision making for the journalist.

A Challenge to Peace Journalism Scholarship

Lee (2010) is among the Peace Journalism scholars who have taken the field in a predominantly utilitarian direction. She articulates her own belief and that of others2 that objectivity stands in the way of reporting on war in a way that shows its brutality. She says objectivity devalues ideas by emphasizing facts as more important. Thus, she argues that a journalist should exercise some level of omniscience and make a decision on how their reporting could best be framed to essentially reduce war, throwing out facts to some degree for the sake of ideas. She further expresses that the journalist should avoid the dictum to “do no harm” in order to “do good” (p. 363). The good she refers to is solely focused on bringing an end to war.

While that ultimate goal is certainly laudable, it must be couched in the larger considerations articulated by Kant’s CI. The journalist must ask if an action that would throw out objectivity to end war is something that everyone in this situation would value. So, for example, would the victims of genocide want a war that was preserving the lives, stability, and living conditions to be ended, allowing their oppressors to be left in power? Or, if an alternative to war would be sanctions that lead to conditions of poor medical care, devastation of an economy, and death by starvation for many, is that a desirable alternative? Would the journalist be accepting of reporting decisions made calculatedly to end war if they were on the receiving end of potential starvation and lack of medical care resources?

These questions shed light on the potential for a Kantian approach to Peace Journalism to be superior to an approach based in Utilitarianism, though the distinctions may be subtle at the end of the analysis herein. The present article will claim that, rather than throwing out objectivity during war reporting, it is the news value of timeliness that should be brought into question. The journalistic fixation on timeliness reduces the conflict frame to losses that occur across a single battlefield, with no regard for context of the abuses that occur or occurred beyond the war context. Even Peace Journalism scholars have become sucked up by the fallacy in their thinking that a war is bounded by some official or unofficial start date and that the goal is to bring about the quickest end date to the activity classified as war, disregarding other contexts.

In the lead up to the potential of a war starting, journalists often cover the issues and arguments for and against war. Politicians make these arguments in ways that might appeal to their publics in what they believe to be the most effective way. They try to build coalitions, to get support from international bodies, and to gain buy-in from the public whose money and youth will need to support the war effort. In the build-up to going to war against Sadaam Hussein’s government in Iraq in the early twenty-first century, U.S. President George W. Bush included the need to stop Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction. While journalists repeatedly incorporated this narrative into their reporting, perhaps they began to view it as political rhetoric and not for the value people saw in the rhetoric, that of reducing greater costs by going to war.

A television character named Dr. Tom McCord is written as a religion professor, war ethicist, and the husband of the U.S. Secretary of State on the show Madam Secretary. In an April 2015 episode the character claimed to be quoting his former ethics professor and said, “War is always wrong . . . always! But some things are wronger” (Hall, 2015). Things that are “wronger” are sometimes arguable, and at other times seem much clearer. The likelihood of a nation using weapons of mass destruction against either their own people or other nations would certainly be on the side of “clearly wronger.” In the same vein, the structural violence that Galtung was concerned about, which often has great human costs, may also outweigh the wrongness of war.

In order for the public to be able to assess the greater wrongs, more contextual reporting is needed. Fahmy (2010) articulates the oversimplification that characterizes much international reporting in the United States, and probably elsewhere as well. Part of that simplification results in the loss of context outside of the bounds of a war timeline. It is rare for a war to start without a building up of greater cultural and societal conflicts in advance. In the case of Hussein’s government in Iraq, the cultural issues included genocidal behavior toward the Kurdish ethnic group in northern Iraq as well as against the Shia Arabs (Curry, 2003). Canadian Alliance MP Jason Kenney criticized his country’s unwillingness to enter the war in Iraq in 2003 because he said 185,000 Kurds, over 250,000 Shia, and countless thousands of other civilians had died as a result of ethnic cleansing or state oppression. Since he believed Saddam was responsible for the deaths of over a million of his own citizens through both domestic terror and wars of aggression, he justified going to war with the United States and its allies in Iraq. He noted the “depth and longevity of human atrocities,” which could also be referred to as a system of structural violence, made participation particularly applicable (Curry, 2003, A12). Martin Rudner, director for the Carleton University’s Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security agreed with Kenney’s assessment as being accurate (Curry, 2003).

The particularly applicable note here is “depth and longevity.” The ongoing nature of the violence against his own people, if reported in context with news of civilian war casualties in Iraq, would certainly provide some counterweight to the idea that war is the ultimate evil. It would fit within the “some things are wronger” (Hall, 2015) category. Now, as Perez de Fransius (2014) correctly points out, there are other US/Iraq entanglements that should be weighed from beyond the bounds of the war timeframe also. Journalists should question the role of oil, the prior Gulf War, prior support for rogue Iraqi leadership, etc. But since Peace Journalism studies generally call for greater coverage of the costs of war, this paper calls for greater coverage of the costs of avoiding war – the costs of the things that are “wronger.”

Wronger” Things

What contextual elements might have been appropriate for journalists to have considered as they covered the Iraq War specifically? Certainly there can be different opinions of the contextual elements that are pertinent, but in hindsight they certainly begin well before the war and continue to today. Elements that must be discussed, however, are components of genocide, sanctions, and post-war lawlessness.



Genocide. “The Iraqi government’s actions against the Kurds may be acts of genocide” (McCorquodale, 1991). That is, the actions included killing, serious bodily or mental harm, prevention of births, forcible transfer of children or deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of a group, if those acts are “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Such acts are against international law and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948 obligates states to prevent and punish such crimes (McCorquodale, 1991).

An article in a Saudi affiliated newspaper website classified the chemical weapons attack on Halabja in 1988 as among the worst crimes committed against a civilian population in recent history. The attack on March 16, 1988, resulted in poison gas being dropped by Iraqi planes commanded by Saddam Hussein. The gas was dropped on Halabja, a Kurdish town in Northern Iraq, killing approximately 5000 civilians. This attack was part of a campaign against the Kurds that “included mass executions, disappearances and widespread use of chemical weapons. Figures suggest that up to 182,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed between 1987 and 1989” (Raphiann, 2014, paragraph 2) but others round down to 180,000 (“Saddam trial,” 2006) or up to 185,000 as attributed to Kenney earlier (Curry, 2003). Continued effects on the Kurds who survived include many birth defects, mental and physical illnesses because of the mustard gas and nerve agents that contaminated the water and ground where they lived. This genocide is known as the Anfal campaign against the Kurds (Raphiann, 2014).



Sanctions. Just because war ends doesn’t mean deaths cease. After the Gulf War in ’91, sanctions were put in place instead of war because the goal of the war did not include the definite ouster of Hussein himself. By August that year, 55,000 children were said to have died and another 170,000 (five percent of the child population) were expected to die of disease and starvation because of the continuing effects of war and sanctions against the country (Hoskins, 1991). By 2002 some were claiming that 1.5 million Iraqis had died because of food and medicine shortages caused by economic sanctions that had been imposed following the Gulf War (Hiller, 2002).

A news outlet in Bahrain, which could be expected to provide a different perspective, accused the US of murdering over 600,000 Iraqis in its “crusade against the country” (paragraph 6). It also said this did not include the 500,000 children who died because of US sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s (“Ethnic cleansing,” 2014). No specific evidence was given to support the numbers claimed in this article.

In 1991, the US and Britain had backed down on sanctions, allowing the sale of oil in exchange for food and medicine because sanctions were threatening massive starvation of Iraq’s population including 200,000 children younger than four (Lucas, Doyle, & Pope, 1991). In 2005, however, multiple officials at the UN were found to have turned the program into their own corruption schemes for self-enrichment (“Oil and trouble,” 2005). So while the number of people who died from the sanctions is unclear, there are multiple reports suggesting that number is very high, and may have been exacerbated by the corruption that accompanied the initial effort at sanction relief.

Lawlessness. The same news outlet that accused the US of killing over a million Iraqis also accused the US war ousting Saddam with making Iraq a lawless country that resulted in sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing, killing innocent civilians from all ethnic and racial backgrounds. This same news outlet accused the war of eliminating Christians in Iraq who “lived in peace under Saddam’s rule” (“Ethnic cleansing,” 2014, paragraph 3) but whose numbers had been reduced from 1.4 million to only 200,000 in the country. Islamic State jihadists (IS) had returned the country to a state of “systematic ethnic cleansing” (AFP, 2014, paragraph 1) in northern Iraq, according to Amnesty International. UN rights officials said the fighters had carried out “acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale.” The AFP (2014) quoted Amnesty saying that IS was guilty of “mass summary killings and abductions” (paragraph 3) and of “carrying out decapitations, crucifixions and public stonings” (paragraph 5).

Amnesty International was also quoted as saying that IS had turned northern Iraq into “blood-soaked killing fields” (Sinha, 2014, paragraph 2). IS killed or abducted somewhere from hundreds to thousands of non-Arab or non-Sunni Muslims, and they forced more than 830,000 people to flee the area (Sinha, 2014). But the lawlessness goes much beyond killings and turning people into refugees. There have been repeated media reports of the destruction of centuries old relics, historic places, and centers of worship. Elements of past civilizations that can never be recovered (Barnard, 2015). While such practices may seem less of a concern than the killing of people, they may instead be more important as they are calculated to annihilate the existence of a people group by removing evidence of their historic presence and by discouraging them from ever returning to a given land (Bevan, 2014). They are part of both the cultural and structural violence inflicting the area.



Beyond Iraq. In addition to the situation in Iraq where journalists should have put war casualties in context with the “peace time” casualties that resulted from war avoidance strategies like sanctions, there are also examples of where the world’s superpower(s) allowed genocidal level devastation to propagate. In Cambodia where The Khmer Rouge took power in 1975 and turned it into a slaughterhouse, the US remained nearly silent. Vietnam invaded and ousted the Khmer Rouge and President Jimmy Carter’s administration fought successfully for the Khmer Rouge to retain Cambodia’s seat at the UN. Similarly, when Hussein was working to wipe out the Kurds in Iraq, President Ronald Reagan quashed a congressional effort to condemn and sanction Iraq. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton both avoided calling Rwanda a genocide by using the term ethnic cleansing in the early 1990s. Clinton also blocked calls to strengthen Romeo Dallaire’s tiny peacekeeping mission in Rwanda (Gardner, 2004). Rwanda was one of the most visible genocidal atrocities where 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were killed in 100 days in the 1994 genocide. The actions were made famous by the Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda (Bob, 2014; Laidlaw, 2007). America has a history of supporting regimes who had something we wanted even when that regime was involved in genocide (Jaishankar, 2014).

Clinton did intervene in Kosovo along with NATO, to prevent what the U.S. called “looming genocide” (p. B7) but he limited participation to a U.S. casualty-less high-altitude air campaign. Of course, there were casualties on the ground, but those were “more acceptable” non-American / non-coalition losses. The second Bush called for the UN to label the 2004 situation in Darfur where 200,000 Africans were killed over the course of two years as genocide, a move praised by some in the International media as “a courageous act and an historic precedent” (Gardner, 2004, B7; see also Bob, 2014; Laidlaw, 2007).

If Peace Journalists really want to end the human toll and reduce casualties that they attribute to war, they need to look farther into reporting on situations of genocide. Peace studies, as articulated by Galtung (1990) clearly refrains from advocating war avoidance when the costs of not going to war are so much greater. Peace Journalists, in such situations, should advocate for war when rapid response is the only way to curtail an ongoing human tragedy.

Discussion

Comparisons of numbers of dead from different scenarios is clearly crass and simplistic. But in the scholarship of Peace Journalism, the objective is largely to reduce the costs of war, and those are often measured on a scale of casualties and fatalities. Exposing the human face of war through images has more impact than numbers (Elliot & Lester, 2001; Fahmy, 2010) and is championed by Peace Journalists. But if a war ends up reducing the actual numbers of dead as it did in Iraq as this author has posited (Perry, 2009) then does reducing society’s taste for war result in dooming oppressed groups to genocidal fates? Peace Journalism, the way it is being analyzed, in many instances could be labeled as the cause of widespread death and destruction. It supports the continuation of structural violence.

As shown herein, while the numbers are at best approximations, the number of people who are claimed to have died from the effect of sanctions is in the range of 1 million people. Even if that estimate is plus or minus 50% from actual numbers, a generous measure of the casualties because of going to war in Iraq in the twenty-first century is 300,000 deaths. Thus, a war that ends sanctions can be said to have cut the number of fatalities from around 100,000 per year to only 25,000. So at least in a body count way, war is a 75% improvement over sanctions.

The same comparison can be made against the pre-Gulf War numbers of genocidal killings in Iraq. If Sadaam was responsible for 700,000 deaths by one count (Perry, 2009) and of over 1 million by other estimates (Curry, 2003), then reducing that to a generous 300,0003 over 12 years since the war started in Iraq again reflects the same 50% to 75% reduction in deaths. When taken together, the numbers would suggest that going to war in Iraq may have reduced death tolls on Iraqi citizens by as much as 85%. Only about 2% of that number seems to represent deaths of the coalition troops who fought in the war or in peacekeeping efforts there since the war ended,4 so while most deaths were of Iraqis, they still have experienced far less loss of life than they seemingly would have without the war’s occurrence.

Returning to the ethical models journalists might follow, then, I postulate that Peace Journalism, as it has been conceptualized by most of its followers, is really what Galtung referred to as war avoidance studies (1990). It is too narrow, as he says, to consider that death is reduced by avoiding war. Therefore, future research on Peace Journalism, if it is to be called that, must assess the broader systemic issues that led to war, the costs of life associated with sanctions and other war avoidance diplomatic measures, as well as the costs of the actual war if it is to truly be understood as a way to mitigate the loss of life inherent in large scale conflicts. The basic ethical tenets of the Society for Professional Journalism support this notion. To “minimize harm” the broader issues must be included. To “seek truth and report it,” means looking at the whole truth of how many fewer lives are being taken once a war takes down a rogue regime. To report on death means to consider war deaths against the backdrop of mass genocide and mass starvation possibilities. Without full consideration of the benefits of war, presenting the costs alone does significant damage to the notion of reporting truth. In other words, instead of using a headline that says, “110,000 dead since the start of war,” a more appropriate headline might have read, “600,000 fewer die in Iraq since war started” as suggested by Perry (2009).

Finally, whether one approaches war related journalism from a utilitarian viewpoint or from a duty based view, it seems the same result could have ensued in this case. According to Kant’s Categorical Imperative, the journalist must ask, “If I were oppressed by sanctions or ethnic cleansing violence would I want military action to rescue me and end it?” If the answer to that question is yes, then a journalist cannot rightly ignore the broader causes that precipitated a military conflict and only report on war casualties as often happens once a war starts. The Utilitarianism approach that seeks to do the most good for the most people should also easily choose to report on the broader issues. If a war is caused by significant violence than can be ended by taking down a rogue government, then the utilitarian should also see the war as a great improvement on people’s happiness, even though short term measures. Unfortunately, the utilitarian approach has also been used as justification for throwing out other ethical expectations like objectivity when it comes to war.

Of course, either perspective also would insist that no war should end by leaving a devastated area with people fending for themselves and no rule of law. It is paramount on the victor to help rebuild and establish security and services so that the deaths that the war was meant to mitigate are not, instead, exacerbated. Establishing a government and a process for peaceful transitions to honest, effective leaders, as well as the infrastructure to help in the post-war healing is essential. It is the duty of the victor. And while the costs to the victor and the global community may be high, in the end the price should be worth it when weighted against the increased chance at life for those in a formerly oppressed people group or a country beset by economic hardships due to sanctions. Journalists must include, in their mission, coverage of the need to rebuild as part of the need to minimize harm and to seek truth and report it.

Conclusion

This paper has used Iraq as a case study against which to assess the notion of Peace Journalism as typically practiced, though the founder of peace studies takes a broader view that would be closer to the view of this author. Still, Iraq is certainly not the only theater for which this assessment could be made. Would the same results be found by assessing Afghanistan? What about the situation in Darfur in South Sudan? Would an assessment of that situation insist on international military intervention if the types of reporting presented herein are exercised and assessed in other places? Those questions can be left for future research.

It is certainly true that even in the national context of this paper, the current surge by IS fighters is again raising the toll on the people of Iraq. Some would blame that on the removal of Hussein from power, and certainly one can show a vacuum of honest, qualified, capable leaders to take the helm in an area torn by such ideological division. There is no question that the ability to fill the post-war leadership void is an essential consideration in any foray into war. But once war has toppled a government, the question becomes a moot point. The press, therefore, must be able to paint a full picture of the benefits of war along with its costs. While Peace Journalists have chosen to harp on the timeline of the war theater’s impact to the exclusion of deaths from failing to go to war, this paper calls for a re-appraisal of the proper contextualization of loss of life to include all deaths and casualties resulting from both genocidal or ethnic cleansing strife that often precedes war. It also calls for contextualization in relation to sanctions, one of the most highly touted tools of diplomacy, which at least in the Iraq case has had far more devastating effects than war itself.

Peace Journalists and others have fought to have the human face of war brought to the front in place of cold statistics (Elliot & Lester, 2001; Fahmy, 2010; Ghanem, 2010; Parez de Fransius, 2014). They point to the impact those images can have on public opposition to the war. This paper calls for an equal coverage of the human face of starvation and medical deaths from certain kinds of sanctions. It calls for coverage of the mass graves and poisoned environments as a result of the use of genocidal chemical agents. And finally, it calls for the proportional coverage to represent the costs on both sides of the argument for or against a war effort. The costs of war must be balanced, sometimes against double, triple, or even 10-fold portrayals of the costs of non-war so that the actual cost/benefit analysis can be opened for public scrutiny.



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1 Her citation to Galtung is dated 1998, but she had no reference to such a publication and this author has not been able to find one independently.

2 She cites Hackett (1989) and Iggers (1998) specifically as two of those who agree with her.

3 The website www.iraqbodycount.org listed 211,000 deaths as of April 2015 since the 2003 start of the Iraq War, and includes current deaths being caused by IS insurgents who are massacring villages again in Northern Iraq.

4 The website www.icasualties.org listed just over 4800 deaths by April 2015.


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