John Leo

The most publicized analysis came from Marc Herold, a professor of economics and women's studies at the University of New Hampshire, who claims that between 3,700 and 4,000 Afghani civilians died in the war. Herold, an anti-war leftist, said the U.S. military is mostly white and willing to drop bombs on populous areas, thus "sacrificing the darker-skinned Afghans." Admirers credited Herold with meticulous and original analysis of many sources during 12- to 14-hour days on the Internet. Some people loved Herold's numbers because they were said to show that the U.S. killed more innocent people in Afghanistan than Osama bin Laden killed in New York. But several analysts accused Herold of questionable and ideological treatment of the numbers: double counting, confusing combatants with non-combatants and, in the words of one commentator, "blind acceptance of deliberately inflated Taliban accounts."

Other less publicized estimates of civilian deaths in Afghanistan are far lower than Herold's. The Los Angeles Times put the number at 1,067 to 1,201. The Project for Defense Alternatives said 1,000 to 1,300. Reuters estimated 1,000 dead.

A similar numbers game developed after the Gulf War -- large estimates scaled down by calmer analysis. The radical group Greenpeace claimed as many as 15,000 Iraqi civilians died, Saddam Hussein's government said 20,000 to 50,000, and the American Friends Service Committee/Red Crescent went way overboard and claimed 300,000 civilians died. Accepted estimates are far lower. Human Rights Watch estimated 2,500 to 3,000. A long analysis in Foreign Policy magazine put the number of Iraqi civilian dead at 1,000.

Now the numbers game will resume. The Iraq Body Count Project ("the worldwide update of civilian casualties in the war on Iraq") will be counting deaths for us in what the project calls "the onslaught on Iraq." It is endorsed by Marc Herold and says it will be using his methods. Don't say you haven't been warned.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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