Counting Casualties: A Framework for Respectful, Useful Records

Counting casualties in conflict zones faces both practical and ethical concerns. Drawing on procedures from risk analysis, we propose a general approach. It represents each death by standard features, having either essential value, for capturing the social and cultural meaning of individual casualties, or instrumental value, for relating patterns of casualties to possible causes and effects.We illustrate the approach with the choices involved in attempts to record casualties in Iraq and the Israel-Palestine conflict, and with natural disasters, as exemplified by Hurricane Katrina. We advocate institutionalizing the approach, so that recording casualties increases understanding, rather than suspicion.