A Forgotten War
Commentary by Aslan, 10.30.2008
[Editor’s Note: As always, I hesitate to analyze military death statistics. Such analyses cannot but trivialize the human cost of war, especially when it is the very best people in our society who are making the ultimate sacrifice. To be enthusiastic about low casualty rates in war is to inadvertently minimize the heroic life and tragic death of those soldiers whose sacrifice is no less noble for its relative rarity. In this context of respect for every soldier who has made extraordinary sacrifices, I offer the analysis below.
On another note, there has been inaccurate information put forth on military fatalities that suggests that military deaths during the presidency of George W. Bush have been lower than military deaths during the peacetime presidency of Bill Clinton. This is not true. Such false information is unhelpful and obscures the larger statistical reality that describes a uniquely efficient military and a heroic effort on the part of our armed forces during the time that George W. Bush has been commander in chief.]
Battle of the Somme
Comprising the main Allied attack on the Western Front during 1916, the Battle of the Somme is famous chiefly on account of the loss of 58,000 British troops (one third of them killed) on the first day of the battle, 1 July 1916, which to this day remains a one-day record. The attack was launched upon a 30 kilometre front, from north of the Somme river between Arras and Albert, and ran from 1 July until 18 November, at which point it was called off.
During the attack the British and French had gained 12 kilometres of ground, the taking of which resulted in 420,000 estimated British casualties, including many of the volunteer ‘pal’s’ battalions, plus a further 200,000 French casualties. German casualties were estimated to run at around 500,000.
Fifty-eight thousand casualties in one day. Ninety years ago, war was very different, as was the world’s ability to endure human carnage on a scale this generation cannot comprehend. The evolution of Man’s regard for human life is laudable, but part of that evolution includes a dangerous amnesia regarding the high cost of liberty as measured by the sacrifices of past generations.
This historical myopia has, in part, permitted the brilliantly efficient War on Terror to be characterized as a military disaster accompanied by an unacceptably high cost in American lives. If not for the success of the surge in Iraq, there is no doubt that the issue of American military casualties and the war in Iraq would now be trumping even Fannie and the stock market this election season. As it stands, the War on Terror is an afterthought; a soft electorate has forgotten a war that it desperately hoped to win seven years ago and the party that has engineered a triumph.
What has been the cost of the War on Terror in terms of the most precious coin America possesses: the lives of our soldiers? To make this assessment, the casualties of the last seven years must be placed in context:
What is remarkable to anyone viewing these statistics for the first time is the massive number of non-combat deaths in the military. That over 13,000 military personnel died from accidents in the 1980s alone is shocking. Clearly, effectively training to kill and destroy is a dangerous and sometimes lethal business.
However, the conclusion one must draw from these statistics is simple: the military fatalities over these past seven years of war are stunningly low. While the urban myth of claiming that more soldiers died under Bill Clinton than George W. Bush is untrue, the numbers are close, and that statement is staggering when you consider two difficult wars fought over seven years halfway around the globe. Fewer soldiers have died under George W. Bush than under Ronald Reagan, and there is slight comparison to past wars:
It is unlikely that anyone – reporter or news magazine anchor, activist or Hollywood celebrity – would have, in the absence of the War on Terror, even noticed if 10,742 military personnel had died these past seven years by non-combat causes. Perhaps an investigative journalist hard-pressed for news might have observed that accidental fatalities in the military had recently increased, but it is certain beyond a reasonable doubt that rallies such as these would never have come to pass:
The reality is that the propaganda value of military deaths is what moves liberals to action, not the deaths of the soldiers themselves. A soldier killed on the practice range is apolitical and therefore not useful or interesting. That same soldier dying in Iraq is an antiwar, anti-Bush, anti-Iraq statement waiting to be made.
Again, all military fatalities are tragic. But war has objectives, and the question remains: has the military objective been worth it? The objective in the War on Terror has been to cripple world terrorist organizations and to stop this:
The war has accomplished these important tasks and John McCain gets credit right along with George W. Bush. And for all those conservatives, Republicans and rational independents who nowadays cringe at the mere mention of the name of our Commander-in-Chief during this election season, the shame and failure is yours. Shame because you dishonor a military achievement for which you begged seven years ago. Failure because your silence has allowed a complacent electorate the luxury of indulging in a socialist experiment at a time when an anti-military globalist in the White House will likely spell disaster.
Copyright © 2008 Dan Hallagan. All Rights Reserved.