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August 11, 1982 - Image 6

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Michigan Daily, 1982-08-11

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Opinion

4

Page 6

Wednesday, August 11, 1982

The Michigan Daily

The Michigan Daily
Vol. XCII, No. 59-S
Ninety-two Years of Editorial Freedom
Edited and managed by students
at the University of Michigan
Nuclear poker
THE DEFEAT OF the proposal for a nuclear
freeze by the House of Representatives
was hardly a surprise. The real surprise of last
week's vote was that it was so close. The op-
position won by a scant 204 to 202 margin.
What those 202 votes represent is growing
discontent, both within the Congress and among
voters throughout the country, with President
Reagan's feeble attempts at reducing the
threat of nuclear war. The other segment still
clings to President Reagan's hardline stand
with the Soviets.
As former Secretary of State Alexander Haig
recently stated, however, the United States
need not pursue a strictly confrontational
relationship with the Soviet Union. Americans
may have little in common with the Russians,
but at least the two groups have a overh-
welming interest in reducing the threat of
nuclear war.
The president has insisted that he opposes the
nuclear arms race as much as anti-nuclear ac-
tivists, but has a different, more effective way
to stop it. In light of that assertion, should the
nation abandon the nuclear freeze movement
and jump on the president's bandwagon? Cer-
tainly not, for two reasons.
First, the president's proposals for reducing
nuclear weapons are unworkable. In the
nuclear poker game, he has asked the Soviet
Union to throw out its strongest suit, while the
United States only throws out its weakest. The
rest is supposed to be negotiated later, but in
the meantime the United States keeps all the
big chips. The Soviets, of course, have declined
to play by these rules.
Secondly, while the game is being played at
the negotiating table, both nations can continue on
a perilous course of building more weapons.
And if past agreements are any indication of
the future, the game will end up as a draw, just
as the situation stands now.
That is why the nuclear freeze option is so
attractive and has received the endorsement of
199 city councils, 10 state legislatures, and 202
Congress members.
A freeze would stop the arms race right
where it is, providing that such an agreement is
verifiable. And in spite of the president's asser-
tion's, most independent analysts rate U.S. and
Soviet nuclear arsenals as being roughly equal.
What the nation need snow are congressional
leaders who see through Reagan's rhetoric.
While the president's plan for reducing nuclear
weapons stands dead in the water, the nuclear
freeze movement is the only game in town that
can move the world out from under an ominous
nuclear cloud.

Warring bynumbers

By Anthony Astrachan
One child torn apart by a
cluster bomb is a tragedy. Ten
families with some members
killed, some wounded, some;
homeless, barely surviving in a.
war that none of them chose, is a
nightmare. Thousands of civilian
casualties is a disaster.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon
has produced a disaster. The vic-
tims are insulted by the numbers
game played by both sides in a
war fought almost as much on the
propaganda field as on the
military field. Worse, the victims
are betrayed and dehumanized.
THE propagandists try to stir'
the guilt and anger of the Western
world, particularly the United
States, hoping that public opinion
will either force or. prevent a
change in the U.S. policy of sup-.
porting Israel.
One is struck by the same acrid
odor as' in the propaganda battle
over the Biafran struggle for in-
dependence from Nigeria.
Nigeria blockaded Biafra, and
from 1968 to 1970 the two sides
disputed how many Biafrans
would die of starvation. The
Biafran numbers stirred many
Americans to demand changes in
U.S. policy, which favored
Nigeria. The policy did not
change. When the war ended in
Nigerian victory, the number of
deaths turned out to be con-
siderably less than the Biafrans
had claimed and considerably
more than the Nigerians had ad-
mitted.
As a reporter in Nigeria and
Biafra I felt the same anger that
rises today as I observe Lebanon
from a distance. The propagan-
dista on both sides are equally oh-

scene in pretending there is some
moral difference between the
deaths of 600 people (the latest
Israeli estimate of civilians
killed) and the deaths of 14,000
(the estimate of Arab lobbyist
James Zogby in Washington).
Both figures add up to disaster.
BUT AMERICANS must share
responsibility with the propagan-
dists for this kind of obscenity.
Americans are fascinated by
numbers, and sometimes at-
tribute a morality to them that is
hard to understand. Perhaps it's
a byproduct of being a
democracy, with a constant need
to count and attribute rightness
or brightness to the majority of
the moment. Perhaps it's an
outgrowth of an old belief,
probably also related to
majoritarian democracy, that
bigger is better, or at least more
significant. Perhaps it's a notion
that facts are more important
than dogma-and what could be
more of a fact than a number?
Some statistics turn out to be
less a measure of reality than a
way of avoiding it. Frances Fit-
zgerald noted that for many
American military officers in
Saigon in 1966 the Viet Cong body
count was a way to "transcend
doubts about the identity of the
dead and the ambiguities of the
words 'war' and 'winning.' " In
the United States the incredibility
of the body count became a
weapon of the anti-war
movement.
Our unhappiness over the
Lebanon figures, our willingness
to believe the worst, is a way of
expressing dismay over Israeli
policy and the Reagan ad-
ministration's basic support for
it. You don't have to be an Arab to
recognize what has happened in

Lebanon. If one is a Jew or an
American who believes that
Israeli survival is necessary to
keep the world fit to live in (I am
both), one can still proclaim
Lebanon a disaster. We scream
because it's our side, our outpost
of democracy, our survivor of the
original Holocaust, that is killing
civilians and lying about the
figures.
WE WOULD do better to
separate morality and emotion
from statistics. Attempts at ac-
curacy are important for rational
efforts to relieve suffering and
for the recording of a history
truthful enough to help both sides
live together. Neither goal seems
a high priority in the Middle
East.
Some Israeli officials admit
that the figures exclude
Palestinians. (The Israelis often
talk as though all Palestinians,
including women and children,
are "terrorists" rather than
civilians, which stirs further
echoes of U.S. statistics about the
Viet Cong.) Foreign correspon-
dents have reported that the
original Lebanese government
figures of 10,000 dead and 600,000
homeless, accepted at first by the
Red Cross, were gross
exaggerations. The Red Cross
relieved its Beirut chief, Fran-
cesco Noseda, of his post after he
used those figures; it later came
down to 200,000 homeless. The
Israeli figure for the homeless,
which nobody believes, is 20,000.
But 20,000 or 200,000, it's a lot of
housing to find. That's what we-
should keep in mind. You can't
builda home with statistics.
Astrachan wrote this article
for the Pacific News Service.

4

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