Thursday, March 20, 2008


Since the relative drop in violence in Iraq, the yammering among my newsroom peers has turned to other issues on the anti-war talking points sheet, such as the cost of the war, and the refugee problem. Well, just because blind, bitter people complain about things, that doesn't mean they're not problems. I, too, have written a lot about the refugees from Iraq.

As I always try to get things some context, I looked up some refugee numbers from other wars. I know not everyone will agree with this, but I think the ongoing Iraq war bears some structural resemblance to the American Revolution, which was both a civil war and an invasion/occupation, and a foreign-aided national liberation. I wouldn't push that identification much farther, but I think it makes the Revolution a more suitable comparison to Iraq than some other wars people have tried to compare it to, such as World War II.

So according to UNHCR some 2 million Iraqis have fled the country since the war began. If you take the 2003 Iraq population estimate of 25 million as a base, that puts the refugees at about 8 percent of the Iraqi population.

Historical data on the American Loyalists is extremely vague, but the round number usually bandied about as representing the refugee population is 100,000. That would mean about 5 percent of the American population fled the country as a result of the war's outcome.

So, higher number for Iraq, but given the vagueness of the colonial data, perhaps not beyond comparison.

Along the way, however, I visited the Wikipedia entry on the American Loyalists and came across one of the reasons I still dislike it.

The British had been forced out of New York in March 1776 but they returned later that year in August to convincingly defeat the rebel army at Long Island and in doing so, captured New York City and its vicinity, where they remained until 1783. From time to time they also liberated other cities such as Philadelphia (1777), Savannah (1778–83) and Charleston (1780–82), together with various slices of countryside.

Emphasis added. It is not the outright spoofing, or the factual boners that make Wikipedia a problem. It's the spin and tint of too many of the people who put the entries together. The article itself makes it clear that the Loyalists were a minority among the colonials. While plenty of Philadelphians (to use the case I know best) welcomed the British occupation of the city in 1777, many opposed it, many fled or were driven out as a result.

Some historians describe the city as "split down the middle" between rebels and loyalists, but this is a false dichotomy, especially in a conservative Quaker city in a land that had been at war for some time already and felt its consequences. The majority in the Delaware Valley, if I had to give my guess, neither cheered nor fought the British occupation, but fervently wished it would go away.

Howe drove out the city's civilian authorities and put it under military rule. He never restored or attempted to restore crown authority, or turn the city over to its loyal element (which included many prominent families who had helped run it before). It was the rebel capital, and he captured and occupied it, plain and simple, in a bid to crush the rebellion.

Liberated is not just the wrong word there. It opens that otherwise innocent text and emits a foul smell.