Sunday, May 09, 2004

Do Facts Make a Difference in Building an Anti-War Movement?

Tom Zeller of the New York Times reports:
A recent poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland appears to support that view [that the Americans have received a sanitized vision of the Iraq war]. Asked to estimate the number of Iraqi civilians killed in the war in March and April of last year, 41 percent of respondents guessed below 500. Nearly 75 percent said 2,000 or below. No official toll exists, but even the lowest estimates put the number of Iraqi civilian deaths in the month after “major combat” began at more than 3,000. Last June, The Associated Press guessed that 3,240 Iraqi civilians died in March and April of last year. Iraq Body Count, an independent group tracking reports of civilian casualties, puts the number at more than 7,000. ("All News Is Local, Too," May 9, 2004)
Looking at the PIPA's own report, we also learn that "[o]nly 16% of the sample gave estimates of 3,000 to 7,000 -- the range of fatalities that corresponds with researchers' estimates" -- the median response was 800 ("US Public Beliefs on Iraq and the Presidential Election," April 22, 2004). The gap between reality and common perceptions among Americans, as well as that between common perceptions of Americans and other peoples, is disturbingly large. According to the PIPA report, however, "Perceptions about the number of civilian fatalities had no significant effect on support for war" (April 22, 2004). Neither did knowledge of US troop casualties: "On average, Americans are fairly accurate in estimating the number of US troop fatalities to date, but there is substantial variation in these estimates. Contrary to common assumptions, those who perceive higher levels of US military fatalities are no more likely to oppose the war or to say they will vote against the President than those who perceive lower levels of fatalities" (April 22, 2004). Perhaps, it is conviction based on habits, norms, and principles of communities (such as the habit, norm, and principle of opposition to imperialism), rather than knowledge of facts (about the numbers of Iraqi and US troop fatalities, for instance), that counts in the making of an anti-war movement.