In our valley of tears
When we read stories, like this one in the Catholic News Service, comparing deaths from chaos in a Third World country to Iraq, what should we make of it? More people are dying from starvation and disease in Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe than are killed in the war in Iraq or the conflict in Darfur, said Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He claimed about 3,500 people are dying each week in his country from a "unique convergence of malnutrition, poverty and AIDS."
"Cemeteries are filling up throughout the country, but no blood is being spilt," he told a private meeting of politicians and church leaders in London Nov. 22. "People are just fading away, dying quietly and being buried quietly with no fanfare, and so there is little media attention."
As many people die prematurely in Zimbabwe in one week as in one month in Iraq when the violence is at its worst, he said. In October, 3,700 people died in Iraq.
The mortality rate in Zimbabwe is also a thousand per week higher than the Darfur region of western Sudan, where a genocidal campaign by government-backed militias against local tribes has claimed an average of 2,500 lives a week since 2003.
Archbishop Ncube said World Health Organization figures reveal that life expectancy in Zimbabwe is the lowest in the world -- 34 years for women and 37 years for men.
Well, any number of trite and snarky observations can be made, some of which may nonetheless be true.
- That you can kill more people with a well intentioned peace than with a well intentioned war
- That Zimbabwe was all about transferring power to a dictator and Iraq about taking it from him
- That you can't compare Zimbabwe and Iraq until you can compare apples and oranges
- That Zimbabwe is a strategic backwater while Iraq is in the world's fuel dump
- That Bush isn't so bad
- That Bush isn't so bad only compared to Mugabe
- That Mugabe has and had friends in all the right liberal places but Bush does not
- That we've already withdrawn from Zimbabwe. Why not try Iraq?
- and so forth and so on
But I think it is fair to observe that both cases represent problems to which a satisfactory solution has not yet been found. Zimbabwe represents the kind of death by benign neglect which descended on Rwanda, Darfur and the Congo. A kind of silent catastrophe that was largely left to the AID agencies, the UN and the NGOs to solve. Iraq represents something different; the challenge of asymmetrical warfare to West. Bishop Ncube thinks the "international community" has already withdrawn as far as it possible to go from Zimbabwe. So far we don't even think about it any more. That's how far we've gone. But he rightly points out that simply because we don't hear the tree fall in the forest doesn't mean it doesn't fall. And the question is why it should be any different with a problem like Iraq. The challenge of terrorism forming within the chaos of the Third World will remain with us until we learn to meet it. We haven't learned how to yet. And it's not clear that solving this problem is optional.