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DECIBELS
&
THE WAR DEAD

 

Let’s say, for the sake of conversation, death has a sound intensity of 50 decibels. Now I understand that some deaths are as violent as roaring traffic, an explosion or a gunshot. But then a large portion of deaths are also quiet aren’t they? A whisper in a hospital, a low sob or a simple release of exhausted breath.

50 decibels is the volume level of a typical conversation; a doctor informing a widow, a husband comforting a wife, the sound of death.

Let’s say we decide to have a conversation about one Iraqi death. And let’s say we want to then take this conversation and magnify it to represent the 100,000 verified and possibly over one million total Iraqis who have died since our country invaded their country. How loud would we have to talk to pay our respects? How loud would we have to talk for anyone to listen?

A decibel is a logarithmic unit, meaning that increases are measured exponentially. An increase of 10 decibels actually multiplies sound by a factor of 10. But since “loudness” is a psycho- physical perception, perceived loudness only doubles every 10 decibels.

If we wanted to take that one conversation about one Iraqi death and magnify it to represent all Iraqi war deaths, we would have to increase the conversation by six factors of ten, because one million has six zeros. This would raise the conversation to 110 decibels, or about the sound of a loud baby crying.

This is increasing the actual sound, from a discussion about one Iraqi who died to a discussion about all Iraqis who have died due to our voluntary war of aggression. This is going from talking with another adult about one death to crying like babies about one million deaths.

Now what if we wanted to increase the perceived sound, what a person interprets as a doubling in sound every 10 decibels? Well, that should be easy. We would just have to figure out how many times we’d have to double one death until it surpassed one million deaths. As it turns out, the 20th doubling brings us to about one million and fifty thousand war dead.

So that means we would have to add twenty increments of ten, 200 decibels, in order to represent the perceived change in volume from a discussion about one Iraqi who died to a discussion about one million Iraqis who died because our country invaded their country in a voluntary war of aggression.

This gives us a 250 decibel conversation, over 100 decibels past the pain threshold for humans. This is about the sound level of the atomic bomb that we dropped on Hiroshima. Sixteen square miles of that Japanese city were disintegrated by the equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT. The blast left a crater in the ground about six football field wide by one foot ball field deep.

That’s a lot of decibels.

And that’s probably why people still don’t hear the Iraqi war dead. Because although to raise a conversation about one Iraqi death to the level required to encompass all Iraqi deaths one would simply have to cry out loud, it would take a nuclear force to overcome the perceptions of

our society. The magnitude of this type of conversation would be far beyond our threshold for painful self-reflection.

I guess that’s why we don’t talk about the war dead.

I guess that’s why they remain unheard.