In the widely-praised naval series by Patrick O'Brian, following each engagement, Captain Jack Aubrey would ask ship doctor Stephen Maturin "What is the butcher's bill"?
With broken masts and burned decks still smoldering, the dead still warm, and the wounded being treated on a makeshift operating table, the fictional hero wanted a casualty count.
The butcher's bill from the latest Israeli war against Gaza is subject to dispute. The New York Times reports about differing counts and methodologies:
By Tuesday, this is what they had come up with: 1,865 "martyrs" from "Israeli aggression" since July 6: 429 under age 18, 79 over 60, 243 women. The Palestinian Ministry of Health does not categorize victims as civilian or combatant, but others do: The United Nations -- which had a lower death toll, 1,814 -- said that at least 72 percent were civilians, while two Gaza-based groups put the percentage at 82 (Al Mezan Center for Human Rights) and 84 (the Palestinian Center for Human Rights).
This time around, and far more than in the two previous wars, the butcher's bill should also include other elements.
For example, there should be a quantification of the loss of U.S. credibility. A preliminary assessment is not very positive, given that the administration stood silently for most of the carnage, allowing Secretary of State John Kerry to be skewered by the Israeli media in one of visits and taking with a due dose of docility the "Don't Second Guess me on Hamas" scolding by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
At the same time it was replenishing the Israeli army with grenades, mortar rounds and ammunition.
It wasn't until after the attack on the UN school -- the fifth such attack-- that the State Department finally voiced opposition.
The butcher's bill should also include the political costs of the growing clamor for an investigation of war crimes by the state of Israel.
It should also include the rise in anti-semitism in Europe and how that plays in the hands of extremism. In many cases the calls for an ends to the violence against the Palestinians in Gaza morphed into denounciations of judaism, rehashing ages-old racist accusations.
This latest war will also produce more -- not less -- hatred.
In a piece appropriately called "Israel is Minting the Next Generation of Hate", The Daily Beast's Jesse Rosenfeld tells us that there are some 900,000 people under 18 in Gaza. Some children in Gaza havae survived 3 such incursions.
And concludes that many of these children will face no other alternative but to fight:
It is not Hamas propaganda, the school curriculum or even their parents that make these children see a future where continued resistance is the only option for survival. That was an education taught by the Israeli bombs that flattened their homes and by the bread lines across the street from the school.
Will the butcher's bill include further loss of credibility for the mainstream media. Pulitzer winner Glenn Greenwald gives them an F for their coverage. He sees their reporting as biased and racist. Amen!
Also deserving consideration to be included in the butcher's bill are the effects on Israel claims of a high moral ground. Comments like "Genocide", "slaughter", "brutality" are increasingly used to describe Israel's army. (A blogger talking about "permissible genocide"; a general calling for a blockade reminiscent of the nazi siege on Leningrad support those arguments).
These words from jewish activist Henry Siegman to Democracy Now's Amy Goodman are as profound as it gets.
It's disastrous. ... When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we're watching these days on television, that is really a profound crisis-and should be a profound crisis-in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success."
Another element in the butcher's bill, could be the military moral boost on Hamas, their fighters (not "militants" as the media calls them) inflicting 67 casualties (in 2008 there were 10) on the once-invincible IDF. As the New York Times notes
What Israel was apparently less ready for was Hamas fighters who are willing to engage and are trained to use tunnels, a tool of war whose roots go back to antiquity.
Of course, Patrick O'Brian writes action novels based on historic facts of the Napoleonic era. And today's massacre in Gaza is real: The dead, the terror and the horrifying cost.
And for those who'd like to lower the butcher's bill, perhaps it is time to consider the grievances of all parties involved. With no exceptions.
And that means Hamas.
Photo: Wikipedia Commons