Okay. Last Saturday’s Chicago Tribune (Aug. 7) published a Getty/AFP photo by Elvis Barukcic on the upper-lefthand corner of Sect. 1, p. 3, along with the following caption: War-era mass grave found near Sarajevo A forensic expert collects human remains Friday from a mass grave southeast of Sarajevo. The grave is thought to contain about 160 Muslims killed at the start of the 1992-95 Bosnian war. No news report accompanied this photo/caption. (The two reports that did were entirely unrelated.) Just the simple image of the “forensic expert,” sitting atop a pile of overturned earth and what appeared to be some human skeletal fragments and shredded cloth. And in the background, an American-made piece of heavy earth-moving equipment, a backhoe built by Caterpillar Inc., in fact. The moment I happened upon this particular image, it called to mind a phrase that Noam Chomsky used to love to quote, from the American “intellectual,” Reinhold Niebuhr (Sorry, guys. But I don’t know what else to call him.—As a young man, did he ever box or wrestle? Then I could refer to him as a former boxer or a past wrestler.): “emotionally potent oversimplifications.” (For those of you so inclined, check out the the e-text version of N.C.’s Necessary Illusions some time.) That this wonderful little phrase is a double-edged sword goes without saying. It can work on behalf of causes that you favor. But it can work against you, too. Thus, from what I’ve been able to tell by reading some intelligent reviews (e.g., Robert Jensen’s "Fahrenheit 9/11 is a Stupid White Movie: What Michael Moore Misses About the Empire" (July 5)), the American filmmaker Michael Moore’s much-acclaimed Fahrenheit 9/11 relies heavily on emotionally potent oversimplifications to make its case against the Bush regime. Sadly, this fact hasn’t dissuaded a disturbing number of “leftists” from rallying around the film. (For a case in point, see Katha Pollitt, “Moore 1, Media 0,” The Nation, July 19, . And for an absolutely egregious case of emotionally potent oversimplification gone wild, one involving Michael Moore himself, see the photographic image of Moore bearing alms to us all that appeared on the cover of the July 12 issue of Time Magazine.—If this single image doesn’t take the Emotionally Potent Oversimplifications Award of the Year, nothing can.) But here I digress. Sorry.— Back to my main point: Emotionally potent oversimplifications, not in American filmmaking, but in body-counts for the wars over the breakup of Yugoslavia. Below I’m depositing several articles from the past week on the exhumation of a mass grave to the southeast of Sarajevo. To quote the last two paragraphs of Agence France Presse’s report from Bosnia and Herzegovina (here drawing from the Aug. 4 report): Bosnia’s war claimed more than 200,000 lives and some 25,000 people are still listed as missing. So far some 18,000 bodies have been exhumed from over 300 mass graves throughout Bosnia, most of them Muslims, according to forensic teams. Based on the kind of numbers that AFP cites herein, would anyone care to do the math? I mean, that is, in terms of the number of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina estimated to have died during the wars there, the number of mortal remains estimated to have been exhumed to date, and the number of people listed as missing and still unaccounted for? (In point of fact, AFP’s 25,000 figure for the number of people “still listed as missing” is out of this world. Compare instead the estimate used by the International Committee of the Red Cross in its Annual Report 2003, the section on “Bosnia and Herzegovina,” p. 207, which comes out to 17,230 (or: 21,496 Tracing Requests minus 4,266 Requests Resolved equals 17,230 Tracing Requests Still Open, i.e., 17,230 people missing and still unaccounted for—and the actual number very well may be even lower). Sticking to AFP’s numbers, what does the estimate of 200,000 lives claimed derive from? (Notice that Associated Press here uses a 250,000 estimate for the number of people killed (Aug. 6). Sometimes of late, I’ve seen AP go as high as 260,000.) If a total of 200,000 people were killed, and the mortal remains of 18,000 have been exhumed from mass graves, and 25,000 are still listed as missing, this still leaves us with some 157,000 people who were killed and who do not fall within the category of those exhumed or within the category of those still missing. (Or: The estimate of the total killed minus the sum of the estimate of those exhumed to date and the estimate of those still missing.) To repeat myself: When news agencies report numbers such as these, what do their numbers really derive from? Need I say more?
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FYA ("For your archives"): Am depositing here four recent articles reporting the news from the middle of last week on the exhumation described therein. Agence France Presse — English August 4, 2004 Wednesday HEADLINE: Bosnian mass grave reveals remains of 117 Muslims DATELINE: SARAJEVO, Aug 4 Forensic experts have unearthed 117 complete bodies and numerous partial remains of Muslims killed by Serb forces from a mass grave in eastern Bosnia, an official said Wednesday. "So far we have exhumed 117 completed bodies and some 60 incomplete human remains," Commission for Missing People representative Murat Hurtic said referring to the grave which was found in July. The bodies appear to have been initially buried somewhere else and moved to the site to cover up the crime, he said. The complete bodies were believed to belong to people from the eastern town of Bratunac, executed by Bosnian Serb forces at the beginning of the 1992-95 war in the former Yugoslav republic. The remains were found in bodybags of the type used exclusively by the Belgrade-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) during the war, Hurtic said. Bosnian Serbs backed by the JNA seized mainly Muslim eastern Bosnia, including Bratunac, and persecuted its non-Serb residents leading to an exodus of Muslims and Croats. Among the incomplete remains experts have also found identification documents belonging to people executed in Srebrenica in July 1995. The Srebrenica massacre, which occurred in the closing months of the war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia, was by far the worst incident of mass killing in Europe since World War II. More than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were slain in just a few days after Serb forces overran the isolated eastern enclave controlled by the mainly Muslim Bosnian Army. The 25-by-four metre (85-by-13 feet) grave was found in an abandoned field in the village of Bljeceva after researchers received a tip-off, Hurtic said, adding that exhumations would last for at least another week. Bosnia’s war claimed more than 200,000 lives and some 25,000 people are still listed as missing. So far some 18,000 bodies have been exhumed from over 300 mass graves throughout Bosnia, most of them Muslims, according to forensic teams. Voice of America News August 6, 2004 SECTION: EUROPE HEADLINE: New Mass Grave Uncovered in Eastern Bosnia TEXT: Filed: 15:23 UTC The Bosnian Commission for Missing People Friday announced that 16 bodies have already been exhumed from the grave near the eastern town of Foca. It says most of the victims are believed to be from the villages of Miljevina and Kalinovik. The grave was discovered after a survivor of the massacre contacted researchers. Experts believe the civilians were killed early in the conflict of the 1990’s in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Thursday, the commission announced the recovery of 120 bodies from another mass grave near the eastern town of Srebrenica. Authorities have recovered more than 10,000 bodies from about 300 mass graves from the Bosnian conflict. The Associated Press August 6, 2004, Friday, BC cycle SECTION: International News HEADLINE: Forensic experts find new mass grave in southeast Bosnia DATELINE: SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina Forensic experts found a new mass grave believed to contain about 160 bodies of Bosnian Muslims killed by Serb forces at the beginning of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, officials said Friday. The bodies were dumped into a canyon near the town of Foca, some 45 miles southeast of Sarajevo. Bosnian Serb troops allegedly covered the mass grave with boulders and other material from a nearby quarry. According to Sejid Koso of the Bosnian Commission on Missing Persons, 16 victims have been exhumed from the location so far. He said he believed that most of the victims were from the nearby town of Gacko and the villages of Miljevina and Kalinovik. He said the mass grave site was discovered following testimony of a person who managed to escape the killings. The exhumations were expected to last some two weeks. U.N. and local forensic experts so far have exhumed 16,500 bodies from more than 300 mass graves found since the end of the Bosnian war, when about 250,000 people were killed and another 1.8 million driven from their homes. More than 20,000 people remained missing from the war. Agence France Presse — English August 6, 2004 Friday HEADLINE: Mass grave of over hundred Muslims found in eastern Bosnia DATELINE: SARAJEVO, Aug 6 A grave thought to contain the remains of over hundred Muslim civilians killed by Serb forces at the beginning of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war has been discovered, a forensic expert said Friday. "We already found 16 bodies and are expecting to find over one hundred" in the grave near the eastern town of Foca, said Commission for Missing People representative Sead Koso. The victims, including women and children, are believed to be from the eastern towns of Kalinovik and Miljevina and were executed by Bosnian Serb forces in 1992 during a notorious ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaign. The grave was found after a survivor contacted researchers, Koso said. In order to conceal the evidence, Serbs had covered the grave with garbage and several tons of heavy concrete blocks, which was slowing down the exhumation work, Koso said. Bosnia’s war claimed more than 200,000 lives and some 25,000 people are still reported missing. So far some 18,000 bodies have been exhumed from over 300 mass grave throughout Bosnia, most of them Muslims, according to forensic teams.