T Nation

Warning: Political Stuff to Follow

You talk about war in a cold detached numbers kinda way… a lot like Ann Coulter, or Sean Hannity,
I seriously wonder if you saw a person get their head blown off in front of you, if your perspective might change? Just wondering!

Very well put, ScottL. Thank you.


I’m sure I would. I’ve never served because there was no compelling need for me to serve when I was younger, and it doesn’t make sense now in terms of my career. I was in high school during Gulf War I, and was already a working lawyer at the time of Gulf War II.

However, I have utmost respect for those who volunteer to serve and put their lives on the line.

That said, I think you need both types of analysis to make good decisions. You need both the detached analysis of the overall situation, as well as the empathetic understanding of the situation of individual soldiers.

It would be a mistake to dismiss the analysis of those who haven’t served, simply on that basis. Abraham Lincoln and FDR were great war presidents, despite lack of service experience.

On the main point of the post, I wanted to point out the the UNICEF estimate of Iraqi casualties per year was only based on those who died due to lack of food/medicine. It did not include any of the people Saddam eliminated. Thus, the actual comparison, given the methodological problems at iraqbodycount.net and the undercount from the UNICEF #, is even greater.

This is from today’s LA Times:

Reality Check – This Is War
Recent low-casualty conflicts have spoiled the U.S. In fact, the Iraq loss rate is among our smallest ever.

The panic gripping Washington over the state of Iraq makes it clear we have been spoiled by the seemingly easy, apparently bloodless victories of the last decade. From the Persian Gulf War of 1991 to the Afghanistan war of 2001, we got used to winning largely through air power. There were casualties, of course, but few of them were on our side. In Kosovo, we managed to prevail without losing a single person. We forgot what real war looks like. Iraq is providing an unwelcome reminder of how messy and costly it can be.

By comparison with the wars of the last decade, what’s happening in Iraq appears to be a terrible failure. Things look a little different if you compare it with earlier conflicts.

Look at three key indicators:

? Casualties. As of Wednesday, we’ve lost 800 service people in Iraq (666 of them from hostile fire), and more than 4,500 have been wounded (of whom 1,769 returned to duty within 72 hours). At least 200,000 soldiers and Marines have served in Iraq ? including many who have since left ? so that amounts to a total casualty rate of about 2.5%. If you add Air Force, Navy and logistics personnel supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom (at least 150,000), the casualty rate drops to 1.5%.

How does that compare with previous U.S. wars? By my calculation, using data from Information Please and the Oxford Companion to American Military History, the losses we’ve suffered in Iraq are so far among the lowest of any of our major conflicts. Comparing the number of U.S. wounded and dead with the size of the force deployed, in Vietnam the casualty rate was 6.2%; in World War I and World War II, just above 6.5%. On D-day, June 6, 1944, more than three times as many servicemen were lost as died in Iraq in the past year.

The Iraq war rate seems high only because our unstated benchmark is the 1991 Gulf War (total casualty rate: 0.14%). This is not meant to deprecate the sacrifices of our soldiers; for friends and family members, no statistics can assuage their grief. But, from a historical vantage point, what’s remarkable is how few casualties we’ve suffered, not how many.

? Nation-building. No, we haven’t established a liberal democracy in Iraq. But it’s only been a year. We occupied West Germany for four years after 1945, Japan for seven years. We occupied the Philippines for almost half a century after the Spanish-American War. More recently, Bosnia is still occupied by the international community nine years after the end of hostilities, as is Kosovo five years later.

It takes a long time to bring order out of chaos. The most successful examples of nation-building, such as the British in India, required hundreds of years. No one is suggesting that the United States should occupy Iraq nearly that long, of course, but it’s unrealistic to expect too much in only a year. The fact that an interim Iraqi government will be established June 30, and elections held by Jan. 30, is actually pretty speedy by historical norms.

? Abuses: I make no excuses for the sadistic creeps at Abu Ghraib whose misconduct deserves the harshest possible punishment. But let’s be serious. For all the media’s coverage, this is no My Lai (1968) or No Gun Ri (1950) ? both instances in which innocent civilians were gunned down by U.S. troops. Nor is this comparable to the abuses that occurred during the Philippine War (1899-1903), when Brig. Gen. Jacob Smith instructed his men to turn the island of Samar into “a howling wilderness” and kill “all persons ? who are capable of bearing arms.”

In Iraq, there is no evidence of the kind of systematic torture employed by the French in Algeria (1954-62) or the kind of “concentration camps” invented by the British in the Boer War (1899-1902). U.S. troops haven’t simply leveled whole towns, as the Russians did in Chechnya (1994-95) or the Syrians in Hama (1982). Even in World War II ? the “good war” ? there were numerous instances of Americans shooting enemy soldiers trying to surrender, to say nothing of the carpet-bombing of German and Japanese civilians.

On the historical scale of abuses, the misconduct of a few soldiers in Iraq ranks pretty low. Most soldiers and Marines actually have exhibited great restraint in the face of an enemy that hides behind civilians and fires from mosques.

I don’t mean to imply that everything is going great in Iraq. There are huge problems, especially the lack of security, and the Bush administration has badly bungled many aspects of the occupation. All I’m suggesting is that we keep a sense of perspective: Mistakes and setbacks occur in every war. At least in every war before the 1990s.


Chronicling the Casualties

Percentages of personnel injured or killed among the totals that served in major American conflicts (in descending order):

Civil War (Union forces): 29%

Mexican War: 22%

War of Independence: 11.6%

Korean War: 7.8%

World War I: 6.8%

World War II: 6.6%

Vietnam War: 6.2%

Philippine War: 5.6%

War of 1812: 2.3%

Iraq war: 1.5-2.5%

Spanish-American War: 1.3%

1991 Persian Gulf War: 0.14%

Sources: Information Please, Oxford Companion to American Military History

I’m going to post this internally here, rather than starting a new thread – it’s sort of on-topic, in that it is attempting to put something about Iraq in perspective – this time, foreign criticisms. James Lileks is a journalist, but this is from his personal weblog – I love the way he turns a phrase:

[scroll down about half way if you follow the link]


I wonder if I?m alone. I love current events and politics, I?m fascinated to see history roll along before my eyes, and I?m sick to death of it. All of it. I turn on the radio in the morning, and it takes about three minutes before the waddling parade of canards begins.

Here?s a good question to gauge whether you?re sane or not. Which would you prefer: four more years of Bush, or a military coup that put Kerry in power? If it takes you more than 2 seconds to reply, and you follow your answer with any sort of amplification that contains the word ?but,? seek help. The other day, for example, I was listening to Medved. He played a clip of Bush stumbling over ?abu Ghraib.? Fun with talk radio: find the exact moment in this call to Medved?s show where the people who liked the caller?s point suddenly said ?aw, crap.?

?Yeah, why don?t you play Bush trying to pronounced Abu Ghraib over and over again like you played that sound from Howard Dean? You?re such a Zionist hypocrite.?

You can?t tune out completely, of course, and while I would love to have addressed Gore?s curious peroration, life is too short, particularly when the speech practically autofisked itself. I looked for any note of it in the paper; sure enough, last item, eleven lines, in the ?Iraq Briefs? section. And what was the first item? A reminder how helpful the UN really wants to be:

“Four key nations proposed major changes Wednesday to the US-British draft resolution on Iraq, moes that would give the new Iraqi government thhe right to decide whether the multinational force remains in the country while limiting the force?s mandate in January.”

Multinational? I thought we were alone over there. We continue:

“The UN Security Council amendment by China ? which diplomats said was supported by Russia, France and Germany ? focuses on how much power the new interim government will have to control the foreign military focres on the ground in Iraq once it takes over June 30. (snip) The amendment would determine ?that the interim government of Iraq shall exercise full sovereignty, in political, economic, security, judicial and diplomatic areas.”

The US-British draft endorses the formation of a sovereign interim Iraqi government that will ?assume the responsibility and authority? for governing the country by June 30 but doesn?t spell out its powers.

The US-British authorizes the multinational force currently in Iraq to continue to maintain security under a unified command. It would review the force?s mandate in 12 months or at the request of the transitional government, to be elected by early next year.

China wants the UN to give the new Iraqi government authority over the American troops."

Well, that didn?t take long, did it? You can argue about the idea itself, whether it has merits, gives the new government more legitimacy, et cetera ? moot points all, to me. China. Do you think they?re doing this out of concern for the Iraqis? I tell you what, lads: we?re going to set a nice example by beginning our exit June 30. How about you follow our lead and take your thumb off Tibet’s carotid artery, eh? How about free elections over there? How about we send in the Blue Helmets to supervise that transition?

China. France. Germany. Russia. But I can understand, really. Given the horrible abuses at the prison, there?s no reason to trust America. Have you read the latest? Steel yourselves:

"Detainees were met by two lines of baton-wielding guards forming a human gauntlet, and received a punishing beating before entering the facility. At least one detaineedied at the facility on January 11, 2000, when an earlier head wound was aggravated during the intake beating.

Detainees were beaten both during interrogation and during nighttime sessions when guards utterly ran amok. During interrogation, detainees were forced to crawl on the ground and were beaten so severely that some sustained broken ribs and injuries to their kidneys, liver, testicles, and feet. Some were also tortured with electric shocks.

At night, guards were given free rein for wanton abuse and humiliation. Often drunk and playing loud music, guards would subject detainees to beatings and humiliating games. Some of the most severe beatings took place at night: detainees report being beaten unconscious, only to be revived and beaten again. Detainees were forced to crawl across rooms with guards on their backs, and were beaten if they performed too slowly. In their cells, detainees were ordered to stand with their hands raised for entire days, and guards used teargas if their orders were disobeyed. Convincing evidence exists that men and women were raped and sexually assaulted with police batons.

Detainees were also met with a gauntlet of soldiers who beat them with batons, and suffered continuing severe beatings while at the detention facilities. Dwere sodomized with batons, forced to walk between ranks of guards while being beaten and kicked, and beaten in their testicles. A doctor in reported receiving a patient who had severely swollen genitals and appeared to have been raped, as he suffered from internal injuries to the colon.

Detainees were often kept in overcrowded prisoner transport vehicles, even during the bitter cold of winter. A nineteen-year-old woman who was believed to be mentally retarded was raped for three days by numerous soldiers at. Men were severely beaten there, including during interrogations, and at least one was tortured with a soldering iron. In April, two badly disfigured corpses were recovered, and it is likely that the two men were tortured and executed at the facility."

Did I say ?latest stories?? My bad. That?s the Human Rights Watch report on Russian prisons in Chechnya. Does that excuse what we did? Not at all. Just balance the world’s reaction. We all remember how they dealt with the problem, how Putin called up foreign leaders and apologized, how there were trials, a never-ending global firestorm of publicity and public Russian self-recrimination:

"The Ministry of Justice issued a press release stating that “cases of violence, harassment, torture, and even shootings of persons kept in the investigation ward located in the residential area of Chernokozovo?do not correspond to the [sic] reality and grossly distort the real state of affairs.” On March 1, after Andrei Babitsky had been released and made public the treatment to which he was subjected, Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Rushailo responded with snide skepticism. “All of [Babitsky’s] stories about 250 blows with a baton–I seriously doubt them, as I think we all do.”

China, France, Germany, Russia. France: say, how?s that Ivory Coast occupation going? The Australian government warns travelers to exercise extreme caution:

“Australians are advised to defer non-essential travel to the Ivory Coast. Although a comprehensive ceasefire was concluded following the attempted overthrow of the government by force in September 2002, the peace process remains fragile. Several thousand French and west African peacekeeping troops remain in the country and small-scale armed skirmishes between Ivorians and peacekeepers, particularly French troops, continue to erupt periodically. While rebel forces control most of the north, government forces control the capital, Yamoussoukro, and the commercial capital, Abidjan.”

From Strategy Page, May 20 of this year, news that the government is in trouble, and rebels are regrouping, the country is the equivalent of Lazurus and Anti-Lazurus fighting for all eternity in a transdimentional space conduit, despite ? sooth! ? the presence of UN peacekeepers:

“May 20, 2004: The government has fired three rebel leaders who had jobs as government ministers. The rebels in the Moslem north claim that the government is hiring foreign mercenaries fro Liberia and Chad for a planned reconquest of the north. This is unlikely, as there are 4,000 French troops and several thousand (of an eventual 6,000) UN peacekeepers in the country. But the government only controls the southern part of the country and reunification is not likely to come without compromise. Neither the government nor the rebels have very effective military forces. Each side has thousands of men with guns and some heavy weapons. But there is no competent military leadership or logistical support system. The national economy has collapsed because the war has halted the lucrative cocoa trade.”

Well, no doubt the French will build a big cocoa pipeline once this is all over, since they?re only in it for the resources. Things in Iraq seem to be going better, but I’m sure that’s just propaganda.

China, France, Germany. Russia. Germany: I don?t have any example of Germany ruining another country. Well, no recent examples. But thanks to a commenter in Blair?s blog, I found this interview with Roland Emmerich interesting. He?s the director of ?Independence Day,? which I liked, and the upcoming eco-shriek ?The Day After Tomorrow.? This is a German interview. I don?t think he?ll be saying this for American interviewers. I wish he would. After noting that everyone he knows in Hollywood drives electric cars, he weighs in on American politics.

"Emmerich: The intelligent Americans are so appalled by what their president does, you cannot imagine it.

Q: Are these things really communicated in the open?

A: Yes, for the first time there are now open discussions.

Q: Whereas the infamous Patriot Act has even succeeded in muzzling media.

A: That is a giant problem."

Priceless. Just priceless. Two clueless twits who actually believe that the Patriot Act ? the Infamous Patriot Act ? empowered government to ?muzzle media.? No specifics given; no specifics are necessary. But things are looking up; for ?the first time there are now open discussions.? Because we’re Americans with short attention spans, and we’ve forgotten all about the mass graves filled with local TV anchormen, NPR hosts, and newspaper editorial cartoonists.

I looked for ?newspaper? in the Patriot Act, and got one hit in Title X:

“The Inspector General of the Department of Justice shall designate one official who shall–
(1) review information and receive complaints alleging abuses of civil rights and civil liberties by employees and officials of the Department of Justice;
2) make public through the Internet, radio, television, and newspaper advertisements information on the responsibilities and functions
of, and how to contact, the official; and
(3) submit to the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives and the Committee on
the Judiciary of the Senate on a semi-annual basis a report on the implementation of this subsection and detailing any abuses described in paragraph (1), including a description of the use of funds appropriations used to carry out this subsection.”

The media is mentioned, all right ? in a section requiring the government to publicize the means by which abuse of the Patriot Act can be reported.

The director of the only Godzilla movie that was both laughable AND boring continues:

“As soon as you criticize something, you are no longer a patriot. What about that? America is the oldest democracy in the world. Since then they have totally developed backwards.”

Emancipation of slaves, votes for non-whites, female suffrage, lowered voting age, alien amnesties ? all backward steps, says Mr. German! Noted. At least he’s hopeful:

“Europe was most of the time under monarchic influence, but is today three or four times as democratic as America. I hope this will soon change. I think that will work out.”

As Briton Graham Danton put it on an English libertarian website:

“A while ago I was asked to visit North Devon to speak about ?DEMOCRACY AND THE EU? for 10 minutes. Had I been free to attend I told them one minute would have been ample time. EU Commission: unelected. EU Court of Justice: unelected. EU Court of Auditors: unelected. EU Investment Bank: unelected. EU Economic Committee: unelected. EU Committee of the Regions: unelected. European Bank: unelected. EU Council of Ministers: we have 10 votes out of 87. EU Parliament: we have just 13.9% of the votes. Democracy? My mistake - it took only 26 seconds. Out of those 1189 people we can DE-ELECT just 88 Britons - one Minister and 87 MEPs. Just how many of the other 1101 does the Leader of the Conservative Party think have the ?interests and values of the British people? on their agenda?”

You can make similar claims about Supreme Court justices and the like, I suppose, but we have nothing like the supranational EU structure. If anyone thinks Europe is ?three or four more times as democratic as America? he is living in a dream world. A world where Russia lectures us about treatment of Muslim detainees, France is a model of nation-building, the Patriot act muzzles the press, and China is deeply concerned about the sovereignty of conquered nations.

August is evil. She wants to ruin the world.

Hell, my four-year-old has a better grasp on reality than this man.

Thank you for responding. I don’t mean to imply everyone with an opinion must have served even though it may seem that way. However, I do find it troubling when many of the voices calling for war have never had the true human experience of suffering it. You must agree its one thing to say yes me must go kick ass when we are sitting in the comfort of our den’s typing on our keyboards then it would be searching for your arm in the rubble after an RPG went off!

To use an analogy if a burglar were breaking into my home and I thought I was in imminent danger… I would have no hesitation in pulling my .357 out of the night stand and perforating him! In the bigger picture I don’t feel we were in danger to the extent of sending our men and women to go die. That is why I have the trouble I have with this war!

There are other ways to consider this issue of military sacrifice and domestic comfort.
How much responsibility did you feel, sitting in your den, while YOUR government continued sanctions that–as BB has noted–caused 5000 children to die unnecessarily per month?

These sanctions were meant as punishment in an armistice that Saddam NEVER abided by, shooting DAILY at American and British planes while they protected the Kurdish and Shiite peoples in the North and South who we abandoned during 1991.

Do you feel partly responsible that instead of ousting Saddam for his violation of the armistice, we allowed him to deliberately create famine in Iraq for greater control, and to siphon off all of the money he received for food to bolster the fascist regime?

Out soldiers who have died in Iraq did not fight for nothing, if our nation takes responsibility for lives lost in the status quo we developed with this dictator.

Brian Smith
I feel just as bad for those children as the ones dying now from getting caught in the cross fire!

And as cold as this may seem Brian, those 5,000 children in Iraq are not on the top of my list to worry about. The thousands if not millions in the USA that are living and dying in poverty conditions are!

Well okay, if Russia got away with it, being the bastion of all good and decency that it is, obviously it should be okay for the US to do the same.

No amount of pointing to other wrongs changes the fact that the US ascribes to higher standards. If you are going to ascribe to higher standards you must hold yourself to higher standards.

Times are changing. The code of conduct acceptable in past military campaigns does not appear to apply anymore. Things change. It happens and it makes it harder to do what you used to do and get away with.

This isn’t my wish or my imposition on the situation. The ability or expectation that behavior is more visible now is simply a reality. Anyone, friend or foe, can use digital recording equipment and get the facts out to a hungry public.

Given that this is the new reality, simply act accordingly. This post, taken by itself, says nothing about an administration, right or left, simply that times have changed and that the military and its leadership needs to adjust itself to these changing times.

And yes, the military does change, we no longer line soldiers up in convenient array so that they can shoot at each other with muskets. Tactics change. Public perception must be recognized as an important asset during a conflict. It cannot be manipulated for long, so the alternative to propaganda is to truly uphold higher standards.

No amount of whining and complaining about justifications will change the reality of current levels of military inspection in an open society. The good 'ol days are over I’m afraid.

Elk - are you wearing those sandals again?

“The thousands if not millions in the USA that are living and dying in poverty conditions are!”

I understand, Elkhntr1. Human feeling can be a limited resource sometimes on the world market, like oil for example.

But don’t worry, less Iraqi children will dramatically die in the crossfire than we’re invisibly dying before. You may keep the TV in the den on the American Poverty channel.

But turn to the Sudan channel sometime, Elkhntr1. Interesting things have been happening there…

(I find it peculiar from your last posts that you could accuse BB of adopting a “cold detached numbers kinda way”)


I agree with you that standards have changed – unfortunately, it seems to me, and the point of the post above was, that those standards are not being uniformly applied. And criticisms are coming from those who are not even holding themselves to those standards.

I think you can see a lot about the U.S. by how we are reacting to the criticisms and problems, with investigations and trials. Other places don’t even acknowledge problems. Yet we’re being held out as the big villians.

Actually I’m barefoot, but I do have my patchuli(sp?) oil on. Does that count?

Brian Smith
I could be wrong, but I don’t feel you care or care a great deal about those children in Iraq. If I’m wrong and you really think about those children I apologize now! I think many of the neo conservatives use points like that people dying and suffering to bolster their agenda. There cry’s to end the suffering mysteriously vanish when its North Korea who doesn’t posses oil or countries in Africa!

I just say lets take care of our own children before we start saving everbody else’s.

Elkhntr1, you seem to think “neoconservative” is a magic word that can banish any opposition on issues of global intervention!

Here’s a tip: no matter how just the cause, don’t fight a war for an objective you cannot win. All sane people from across party lines agree on this, then go on to argue about whether the objective is realizable.

If you want a quick brief on North Korea (talk about starvation…). It is not a good place to interfere militarily because, believe it or not, military action would be much more complicated and more difficult than it was in Iraq. Also, they have nuclear weapons and there should eventually be a diplomatic solution with its neighbors, who are our allies. (The people of NK and SK expect re-unification in the next 50 years.) Plus, there’s the question of benefits. Replace the communist dictatorship with a democracy and you get another Asian democracy. Replace the fascist dictatorship in Iraq with a democracy and you get an ARAB DEMOCRACY (there are so far none) and an Arab free press.

BTW, Sudan is in Africa and does not have oil. They do have chattel slavery (just like our antebellum days), with Arabs owning Christian and Animist blacks! They also have forced conversion and Sha’ria law and regular massacres and a massive refugee crisis!

See Nat Hentoff’s column in the Village Voice: http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0421/hentoff.php

Lastly, Elkhntr1, were you in favor of interfering in Bosnia or was the costly plight of the American poor also your priority then?

Elkhntr1, you also wrote:

“I just say lets take care of our own children before we start saving everbody else’s.”

But the point made was that we were party to HARMING another country’s children.

What would YOU have done to Saddam instead of the sanctions? And to protect the Kurds and Shiites we abandoned?

I was for our intervention in Bosnia, When I would see the information on the rape camps and the ethnic cleansing it did anger me and I was glad to see us intervene there. I think a difference was and you know the intricacies better then I, but wasn’t it an air campaign with a very limited number of casualties on our side? With no gain politically or economically, solely to end the human suffering? Wasn’t the UN backing us up? Or did Clinton just do that to take attention away from his blow-job?

Elkhntr1 writes:

“When I would see the information on the rape camps and the ethnic cleansing it did anger me and I was glad to see us intervene there.”

Why would you turn away from the same things (and sometimes worse) in the case of Iraq?

“wasn’t it an air campaign with a very limited number of casualties on our side?”

That’s how it began, then we put down troops.

“With no gain politically or economically, solely to end the human suffering?”

If the “political gain” in addition to ending suffering is to spread democracy and human rights in other countries, I don’t see how the rightness of intervention is lowered by possessing a “political gain”

“Wasn’t the UN backing us up?”
Actually, Clinton chose to intervene without the UN. They came in later. (In case you’re wondering, while he was delaying on the bombing, your dreaded neocons had been writing articles for MONTHS urging that he do something about it and for the “purely humanitarian reasons” you champion.)

But I’m still interested in what your alternative was to our sanctions, which were suffocating the Iraqi people under Saddam.

Brian, does this mean the US is on a one country crusade to democratize the world, but only when it isn’t painful when doing so?