Before I joined the SocialistLibtardIslamofascistHomo Conspiracy (aka the media), I worked for a small public relations firm.
I did PR for commercial real estate companies. I learned a lot during my tenure. I learned two-hour lunch breaks would be socially acceptable if you replaced the word "break" with "meeting." I learned that all good strip clubs bill discreetly to your credit card. I also learned a lot of corporate buzzwords and clichés.
Most of them were silly. I heard a lot about synergy, proactivity and win-win situations. Even a decade later, I'm waiting to hear someone, somewhere describe a deal as a win-lose situation. "Man, they totally ripped us off. Definitely a win-lose situation."
Business life wasn't all eye-rolls and bullshit bingo, though. I spent time around smart people and picked up on the way they think.
Reading several stories in the past week about civilians killed during the War on Terror™, I was reminded of one of the few management clichés I picked up during my PR years – one that actually has meaning: "You can't manage what you don't measure."
In English, this means you can't honestly figure out if you're good or bad at something unless you have an objective measurement – money, time, widgets sold, pageviews, etc.
The Pentagon is the biggest-spending enterprise in our government and produces an endless variety of charts and spreadsheets measuring things like how much money is spent on childcare at Fort Hood, or how much it costs to maintain the shooting range at Fort Stewart.
Money isn't the only thing the Pentagon measures. The Pentagon also keeps a running count of the number of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regardless of what one thinks of America's foreign policy, it's generally agreed that the Pentagon has a duty to keep track of and make public the number of Americans who've died in battle. Human life is the most valuable thing we can measure.
So imagine for a second if the Pentagon refused to disclose how many American troops died in battle. Imagine instead that generals and politicians merely showed up in front of cameras every few months and insisted that, gosh darnit, America is doing its best to keep the casualty count low. End of conversation.
Americans wouldn't tolerate it. Instinctively, we'd know that if the government was refusing to disclose how many Americans died, it certainly would be because the number is very high. Government officials tend not to obscure information that makes them look good.
By that logic, the government must also keep track of how many Iraqi civilians have died in the War on Terror™, right?
The Pentagon insists it manages civilian casualties. According to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, "Gen. [Stanley] McChrystal is doing everything humanly possible to avoid civilian casualties."
But the surprising truth is that the Pentagon doesn't actually measure those casualties. "We don't do body counts" is how Iraq invasion leader Gen. Tommy Franks put it in 2003.
A few people were put off by the general's bracingly literal disregard for innocent Iraqis, but not enough to ever make the government start counting – not even in our new administration. To use another business cliché, you gotta break some eggs to make an omelet. The War on Terror™ is our omelet, and Iraqis, Afghans, Yemenis and Somalis are the eggs. If that's an imperfect analogy, it's only because the Pentagon probably measures how much money it spends on eggs for omelets.
When I saw the WikiLeaks.org video of a U.S. helicopter in Iraq mowing down unarmed civilians, I was left thinking it was a common occurrence. And when I read about U.S. troops in Afghanistan killing two pregnant women and a teenage girl then covering it up – then smearing the journalist who reported it – I could only assume that kind of thing happens a lot.
Why? Because the Pentagon can't offer any objective information to the contrary. They don't measure, which means they're not managing it.
It's funny how Americans reject objective studies showing Obamacare will cut U.S. health care spending, but seem perfectly content with evidence-free declarations that we do our best to avoid killing civilians. And by funny, I mean not funny.
Wikipedia links to several civilian death counts. Check them out and decide for yourself.