Sadako Sasaki was two years old when she survived the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6. 1945. Ten years later, she became gravely ill and was hospitalized with leukemia. She began folding paper cranes in hope of making a thousand, which according to Japanese legend would allow her to be granted one wish — to live. However, when she realized she would not survive, she wished instead for world peace and an end to suffering.
She folded 644 cranes before she became too weak to fold any more, and died shortly after. Sadako’s story has been popularized in books, movies, and music, including a widely translated children’s book in 1965 by an Austrian author and the American children’s book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes published in 1977.
The origami paper crane has since become a symbol of world peace. Paper cranes and lanterns are floated each year to remember those who died from the bombs and to call for peace and disarmament.
“Suicide bombings in Iraq since 2003 have killed thousands of people, mostly Iraqi civilians, and arguably constitute a new phenomenon in the history of warfare. Suicide bombings have been used as a tactic in other armed struggles, but their frequency and lethality in Iraq is unprecedented.” [source]
“The US military is grappling with a record number of soldier suicides. At least thirteen soldiers took their lives last month.… As many as 143 soldiers reportedly took their own lives last year.” [source]
“The true incidence of suicide among veterans is not known, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report. Based on numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the VA estimates that 18 veterans a day — or 6,500 a year — take their own lives, but that number includes vets from all wars.” [source]
The chattering classes are aflutter that the President of Iran yesterday called Israel “a cruel and repressive racist regime” at the UN Conference on Racism. 23 diplomats stormed out, others applauded. While Ahmadinejad has said some pretty outrageous things, in this case I wonder if he saw this latest item in the Israeli daily Haaretz about T-shirt designs Israeli soldiers are ordering for their IDF units. The shirts boast slogans and images of dead Palestinian babies, bombed mosques, jokes about rape, sniping children, killing pregnant women in Hijab, etc. The designs are revealing. This is clearly not a military culture solely preoccupied with defending the integrity of the State.
On February 21, 2009 Bob Herbert published a column in the New York Times calling the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo “The Invisible War.” After a decade of bloodshed, millions killed and displaced, and an active UN peacekeeping force, why is Africa’s World War so invisible? He actually doesn’t speculate.
Perhaps Mr. Herbert should inquire at the editorial desk. Using the NY Times Article Search API I ran a query by year on the term “Democratic Republic of Congo.” The Times averaged 13.5 stories per year on DR Congo from 1998 through 2008. On the face of it, one story per month seems a nice steady focus. But by comparison, the Times published an average 151.6 stories on Darfur per year during the same period — even though the war in Darfur only started in 2003. In January 2008, the International Rescue Committee published a study reporting the war in DR Congo had claimed 5.4 million lives. In March 2008, the UN estimated the number of deaths in Darfur at 300,000.
Here are the counts of New York Times articles by year, as of February 24, 2009:
|On DR Congo||24||24||12||15||13||11||12||14||14||10||11||5|
And a graphic I designed to illustrate it:
I realize one should be wary of comparing casualty data gathered with different methodologies, and that the conflict in DR Congo has a five year lead. But a million here, a million there, the disparity is still dramatic.
So why does Darfur get so much more coverage than DR Congo? Do the Arab Muslim bad guys in Sudan make a more convenient target for Western Islamophobes? Are China’s competing industrial interests in Sudan easier to finger than US corporate interests in DR Congo? Are the deserts of Darfur simply more accessible than the forests of Northeastern Congo? Or is Darfur a simpler story with clearer victims and perpetrators? A story closer to Western ideas of genocide than Congo’s messier regional war? Certainly the celebrity and NGO pressure on Darfur has helped. I should note that I’m emphatically not arguing that Darfur should be covered less, but that the war in DR Congo should be covered more. Much more.
Update 2/26/2009 — Anneke Van Woudenberg, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch sends this response:
“This comparison is both interesting and disturbing. In my ten years of working on Congo I have often wondered why it gets so much less press attention. The difficulties for journalists to get around and the expense of such trips contribute to the problem, but such problems also occur in Darfur or other conflicts that receive more press coverage. The complexities of the Congo conflict - the alphabet soup of armed groups and the constant changing alliances - make it a challenging story to cover. But it is not impossible. So what is it?
I fear that the Congo conflict receives less coverage because many outsiders have bought into the preconception that Congo is the ‘heart of darkness’ as characterized by Joseph Conrad's book by the same title. The book has often been used to refer to Congo’s plight today, as if the country is somehow predisposed to dark atrocities and violence, and hence there is nothing new to report. Yet many have misunderstood the real message of Conrad's book. It is not Congolese barbarism but rather the greed of outsiders that have plagued this country's history. As the narrator of Conrad's book describes, he found in Congo, ‘the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience.’ A situation little changed today. Surely that story is worthy of further press coverage.”
Update 4/16/2009 — Julie Hollar at FAIR points out that The New York Times style does not always refer to DR Congo as “Democratic Republic of Congo,” rather sometimes just “Congo,” which makes the free text search problematic. Instead, I ran an API search for articles by geo tag, comparing documents tagged CONGO (FORMERLY ZAIRE) with documents tagged DARFUR (SUDAN).
By geo tag, Darfur still shows roughly double the coverage of DR Congo. Not quite as dramatic as my first graph, but still disproportionate. Of course this method depends on the Times for accurate tagging of their own articles. It’s unclear why a free text search for “Darfur” turns up so many more results than the geo tag search.
“But does it work?”
It’s one of those frequently asked questions one often hears at discussions of design and activism. That and the whole preaching to the converted thing. It refers to design specifically, but also protest generally.
It sometimes takes a long time to stop a war, but now and then the impact is immediate. Like the time in February 1998 when protestors disrupted an internationally broadcast “Town Meeting” on Iraq at Ohio State University. Students dropped a NO WAR banner in front of an CNN’s rolling cameras and made such a ruckus that the moderator had to allow them a turn at the mic. Their pointed questions about the war embarrassed the Clinton Administration, tipped public and international support, and prevented an invasion of Iraq. “Not even Ohio supports the bombing, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said a few days later. Why should Egypt?”
Of course, it wasn’t this one protest alone, nor solely the banner smuggled into the event. But the action, broadcast around the world via cable news, sealed the deal. Katha Pollit’s March 1998 article tells the story.
Update 3/16/2010: Here’s a transcript of the town hall meeting.