Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A brief history lesson

AP Asks: Why So Many Upset by Iraq Death Toll?

Published: January 01, 2007 10:04 PM ET
PHILADELPHIA The country largely kept the faith during World War II, even as about 400,000 U.S. forces died - 20,000 just in the month long Battle of the Bulge. Before turning against the wars in Korea and Vietnam, Americans tolerated thousands more deaths than in Iraq.

Has something changed? Do Americans somehow place higher value on the lives of their soldiers now? Do they expect success at lower cost? Or do most simply dismiss this particular war as the wrong one - hard to understand and harder to win - and so not worth the losses?

The Associated Press recently posed these questions to scholars, veterans, activists, and other Americans. Their comments suggest that the public does express more pain over the deaths of this war.

A death toll of 3,000 simply sounds higher to Americans in this war than it did in other prolonged conflicts of the past century, for a number of reasons, the interviews suggest.

"As fewer Americans die in war, their loss is more keenly felt, not necessarily at a personal level, but at a collective and public level," says historian Michael Allen at North Carolina State University.

Jeffrey Greenwood, 17, of Plymouth, Mass., though unsure of the exact number of Iraq war deaths, says, "I know it's enough to make people angry."

John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University, calls this casualty sensitivity "the Iraq syndrome." He described it in an influential journal article last year: "Casualty for casualty, support has declined far more quickly than it did during either the Korean War or the Vietnam War."

In the weeks after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, public backing was powerful. But opinion began to shift quickly once the Iraqi army was beaten, its leader was forced into hiding, and chemical, biological or nuclear weapons were not found.


"When is it going to stop? We're losing a lot of youngsters," says former tanker Ed Collins, 82, of Hicksville, N.Y., who survived the assault on Normandy's beaches in World War II. "I went in when I was 18; that was young, too. But we fought for something. Now we have no idea who we're fighting for and what we're fighting for."

First of all, colonial wars are unpopular. In all but name, this is our version of the Boer War or Algeria. Neither one of those wars were cheered on by their publics. One of the great hidden facts of British History is that most of the colonial wars were bitterly opposed by the public. Elections turned on ending them.

The idea that this should be compared to WWII is ridiculous. Our military is a fraction of the 12m man WWII Army or the 9m Vietnam War army. Each death in Iraq is disproportionally more important because of the size of the force, and would represent a much greater loss. If we were talking 27,000 dead and 180,000 wounded, people might understand why the war is so unpopular. This in a war with no regular army.

Second, while fewer Americans are fighting, the age and social status of those in combat have changed. With the large scale use of reserve and National Guard, those wounded and killed have a far more striking effect in their communities. When teachers and policemen, and other members of the middle class are wounded or killed, the effect of that is disproportionally higher than when teenage soldiers die.

Third, outside of the History Channel and the Military Channel, the pace and tempo of combat in Iraq has been hidden. Any episode of My War Diary or Shootout will show an Iraq war of frightening intensity. So the deaths have no context. Bush's lies about Iraq have so poisoned the well that people are shocked when they find out Iraq is extremely dangerous.

Charles Moskos lives in a fantasy world that if only the elite fought, Americans would accept higher losses. When have the elite fought? Most of the wealthy in WWII did not join the Rangers or Airborne, but sought the Navy or Army Air Force. The wealthy in America have never thought carrying a rifle was a sound option.

But the whole premise of the AP article is insane. We are losing this war, any chance we had to win it ended in April, 2003. Why should Americans accept 3,000 dead for a colonial war which we are losing? They shouldn't. This was is illegal and has failed to help US foriegn policy goals. One death is unacceptable, 3,000 should lead to impeachment and trial.