The Atlantic Monthly | July/August 2003
Selections from recent reports, studies, and other documents. This month: evangelicals and prostitutes; 3.3 million "excess deaths" in Africa; a code-yellow privacy-threat alert; the Subcommittee on Total Force
The Deadliest War
What conflict has taken more lives than any other since World War II? Don't look to Asia, the Balkans, the Middle East, or even Rwanda for the answer. According to a recent mortality study released by the International Rescue Committee, the record breaker—by far—is the ongoing and under-reported war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). The IRC estimates that since the conflict began, in 1998, some 3.3 million "excess deaths" have occurred—that is, deaths from combat and from "easily treatable diseases and malnutrition, linked to displacement and the collapse of much of the country's health system and economy." (The rate of deaths in the second category rises and falls proportionally with the rate in the first.) Young children in particular have suffered: in three of the ten zones described in the IRC report, more than half of all children born since the conflict began have died by the age of two. As a result of the conflict the DRC now has a mortality rate of at least 2.2 people per thousand per month—the highest in the world, according to UN figures, and twice the African average.
—"Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Results From a Nationwide Survey," International Rescue Committee
How Bad Was Jenin?
The battle of Jenin—an eight-day clash that took place at a West Bank refugee camp in April of 2002 between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants—was a notoriously bloody one. According to the United Nations, twenty-three Israeli soldiers and fifty-two Palestinians, including many civilians, were killed, and many of the camp's houses were destroyed or seriously damaged in the fighting. Visiting Jenin shortly after the battle, Terje Larsen, the UN envoy to the Middle East, described the scene as "horrific beyond belief" and added, "We have expert people here who have been in war zones and earthquakes, and they say they have never seen anything like it." In an article to be published this summer in the Israeli journal Azure, the military historian Yagil Henkin puts the battle of Jenin in context, however, by focusing on "how other armies have acted in similar circumstances"—namely, in urban warfare. The most horrifying example (pace Larsen) came in Chechnya, in the 1994-1996 battle of Grozny, where in the first days alone the Russian army lost 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers and responded with a bombing campaign that at its peak struck the city with 4,000 shells an hour. Half of Grozny, which had been home to more than 300,000 people, was reduced to rubble, and many thousands of civilians were killed. But Henkin lists other examples, too—among them NATO's 1999 bombing of the Serbian village of Korisa (which NATO argued was "a legitimate military target," although about a hundred civilians were killed) and the UN's own action in Mogadishu in 1993 (which cost the lives of scores of UN soldiers and a much higher but undetermined number of Somalis). He concludes by noting that although Israel's behavior in Jenin was "not flawless," the number of Palestinian civilians killed—twenty-two, according to Human Rights Watch—was nowhere near the several hundred that Palestinians initially claimed. In fact, he writes, it was "smaller than the number of losses among the Israeli force that moved into the camp—a ratio unprecedented in the history of urban combat, reflecting an unparalleled policy of self-restraint in hostile territory."
—"Urban Warfare and the Lessons of Jenin," by Yagil Henkin, Azure
Each year the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics publishes a study on the population of America's correctional institutions. This year's study—which looks at numbers from midyear 2002—highlights a time of firsts. The proportion of African-American men aged twenty to thirty-four who are incarcerated, for example, has never been higher: the figure, which has been rising in recent years, reached 12 percent in 2002 (as opposed to just 1.6 percent among white men in the same age group). That's the percentage behind bars at just one time, of course; the BJS has estimated that black men have more than one chance in four of being incarcerated during their lifetimes. The report also reveals that in 2002 the number of prisoners in the United States exceeded two million for the first time. The five states with the highest rates per 100,000 residents (ranging, in descending order, from 799 inmates to 593) were Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama; those with the lowest rates (ranging, in ascending order, from 137 to 197) were Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.
—"Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2002," Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin
Draining Your Reserves
Recently a bipartisan congressional delegation—led by Representative John M. McHugh, of New York, the chairman of the deliciously named Subcommittee on Total Force—visited the U.S. military's European Command in order to assess the new and increased role that U.S. reserve forces are playing around the world. After the Vietnam War, which was fought with very little help from reservists, the United States developed its Total Force Policy, which, according to the delegation's report, "stipulated the close integration of the active and reserve components to ensure that the American military would never again go to war without the reserve components." At the time of the policy's inception, however, nobody anticipated just how much and how rapidly the role of the reserve forces would grow. During the past seven years, for example, reservists have supplied the military with annual peacetime support equivalent to 33,000 active-duty soldiers, and have replaced full-time soldiers in the kind of active-duty missions from which reservists were once excluded. Now, of course, there's also the open-ended and global war on terrorism, for which more than 50,000 reservists have been called to active duty, with thousands already moving into their second year of service. Finally, add to that the approximately 100,000 reservists called up for the recent Iraq war, along with the possibility of call-ups for other short-term military mobilizations in the coming decades. It all adds up to what the report refers to as "extraordinary management and resource challenges" for the military and "significant stresses on the individual members of the reserve components, their employers and their families."
—Report to Duncan Hunter, chairman of the Committee on Armed Services, delivered by Representatives John M. McHugh, Robin Hayes, Mike McIntyre, and Jeff Miller
The Privacy Threat Index
Everybody is familiar with the Homeland Security Advisory System—the color-coded hierarchy of terror alerts devised by the Office of Homeland Security in the aftermath of 9/11. Now a new alert system has been announced: the Privacy Threat Index. As one might expect, it's not a federal initiative. The idea comes from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an influential privacy-rights organization based in Washington, D.C., which devised the index in response to what it worries is the government's growing use of surveillance as part of the war on terrorism. EPIC uses the same color scheme and threat levels the government does—green (low), blue (guarded), yellow (elevated), orange (high), red (severe)—and put its initial privacy threat at yellow. That was an assessment based on "developments during the past year," which include (to quote from EPIC):
Expanded use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which permits the government to conduct surveillance without the general safeguards required by the Fourth Amendment
EPIC concludes its announcement on a positive note, pointing out that Admiral John Poindexter's controversial Total Information Awareness project has been suspended pending a review; that CAPPS II, the airline passenger-profiling system, is under increased scrutiny; and that the United States has yet to develop a mandatory national ID—which would be a code-red development for privacy activists.
The decision of the FBI to relax the legally mandated accuracy requirement for the National Crime Information Center, the nation's largest criminal justice database
Required use of biometric identifiers for routine identification documents without associated privacy protection to assure personal information will not be misused
Ongoing efforts by the FBI to extend the application of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which requires the development of wiretap friendly communications services, to Internet telephony
—"EPIC Announces 2003 Privacy Threat Index," EPIC press release
The Ritalin Generation
A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine has revealed that the number of youths in this country taking prescribed psychotropic drugs—in other words, drugs that alter behavior, emotion, or perception—increased by as much as 300 percent overall from 1987 to 1996. Youths (defined by the study as being under the age of twenty) used psychotropic drugs almost as often as adults do now. The most pronounced increases— 700 percent among youths on Medicaid, and 1,400 percent among youths enrolled in HMOs—came in the use of amphetamines (mainly dextroamphetamine sulfate, which is used to treat attention deficit disorder). Antidepressants were the second most commonly prescribed medication. More anti-anxiety medications were prescribed for young people in HMOs than for those on Medicaid, which may suggest either that more-affluent children have the luxury of being anxious or that poorer children are being undertreated.
—"Psychotropic Practice Patterns for Youth: A 10-Year Perspective," Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Vol. 157 [This article is not publicly available on the Web.]
Evangelicals and Prostitutes
A recent survey by the Barna Research Group—which provides "information and analysis regarding cultural trends and the Christian Church"—asked "adults who do not consider themselves to be Christian" to give their impressions of the following categories of people: born-again Christians, Democrats, evangelical Christians, lawyers, lesbians, military officers, ministers, movie and TV performers, prostitutes, real-estate agents, and Republicans. Non-Christians, it turns out, have a low regard for evangelical Christians, whom they view less favorably than all the above-mentioned groups except one: prostitutes. The survey did not, however, reveal a general anti-Christian bias among the non-Christian population: ministers and born-again Christians ranked at the top of the favorability list, below only military officers. Real-estate agents did surprisingly well, ranking just under Democrats and higher than movie and TV performers, lawyers, Republicans, and lesbians. The study concludes that prejudice against evangelicals may reflect ignorance rather than actual dislike: few of the respondents were able to identify any difference between born-again and evangelical Christians, despite their considerably less favorable view of the latter.
—"Surprisingly Few Adults Outside of Christianity Have Positive Views of Christians," Barna Research Group
Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; July/August 2003; Primary Sources; Volume 292, No. 1; 38-40.