Much has been made of the American casualty count in our war in Iraq. U.S. forces have suffered more than 2,300 deaths and over 17,000 wounded. Some refer to these figures as the "horrible human price" of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Others sneer at these numbers, and consider them a trifling compared to the casualty counts of earlier U.S. wars.
To a large extent, the debate over war casualties is moot. Body count is seldom an accurate measure of success in war, nor is a low own force casualty rate a reason to support one. You can have no casualties and still lose a war; you can have millions of casualties and still win. Likewise, some wars justify millions of casualties and some wars don't justify a single one.
There's a tendency for many military thinkers to compare World War II to all the wars that followed it. In most cases, such analogies are flawed.
America did not join the allied side to "liberate the freedom loving peoples" of Germany and Japan from their oppressive political leadership. Either actively or through passive acquiescence, the German and Japanese populations supported their totalitarian governments. We were not merely fighting Hitler and Tojo. We were at war with their entire nations, nations that were better prepared for war than we were at the outset of hostilities. While in retrospect we view attacks on civilian populations like the air raids on Dresden, Nagasaki and Hiroshima with mixed moral judgments, we need to modulate those judgments by considering the context in which we took those actions. Never before had an alliance of nations engaged another one in a truly global war with a stated objective of unconditional surrender of the enemy. Such a war has not occurred since, and hopefully never will.
Some estimates peg the total deaths incurred during that war at over 62 million. The total property loss is likely incalculable, as is any attempt to determine whether the results of World War II justified its cost. It did, after all, lead to a half-century of Cold War between the victors with the U.S. led western coalition on one side and the Soviet bloc on the other.
But at least we can say of World War II that it began with formal declarations of war and ended when formal documents of surrender were signed by recognized authorities of the vanquished belligerents.
The "third world" proxy wars that the Cold War spawned were undeclared and produced indecisive results at best. Hostilities in the Korean Conflict ended in a tie with the signing of a cease-fire agreement. North Korea still gives us security fits. Our Vietnam terminated in a scramble to catch the last plane out of Saigon and a bitterly divided United States.
Examine later U.S. military incursions in Grenada, Lebanon, Somalia, the Arabian Gulf, and elsewhere, and you won't find a single decisive "victory" or achievement of long-term American political goals in the bunch.
Many might argue that America's persistent pursuit of arms superiority and willingness to apply it in key hot spots was the "constant pressure" that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
But what good did that really do? From all indications, the Soviet's demise only served to let the cats out of the corral, and America has shifted from a generational war against the Evil Empire to another one against the Axis of Evil, the evil doers, the evil ones, the forces of evil, those who would perpetrate evil, evil geniuses and all the other minions of Doctor Evil.
How many casualties does America need to sustain to counter all that evil?
The answer is very, very few. Despite what the Rovewellian mind control machine would have us believe, terrorism is not a military problem, it's a law enforcement and diplomatic issue.
Al Qaeda doesn't have an army, or a navy, or an air force, or a state department. Nobody's facing an April 15th deadline to file tax returns with the Islamo-fascist Revenue Service. Nobody elected Osama bin Laden to power, and his strategies weren't crafted by a think tank called the "Project for the New Islamic Century." Radical militant groups are sustaining far greater casualties that U.S. forces and whatever remains of our "coalition of the paid off" are, and yet who has a recruiting problem and who doesn't?
Who's doing something right in the Global War on Terror, and who isn't?
Can more Americans killed or injured in a misdirected military effort turn the tide?
I seriously doubt it.
I also seriously doubt whether more terrorists killed or injured or captured can make much of a difference either.
But guess what? I've spoken with more than one influential retired senior military officer who thinks war serves the purpose of keeping the world's population in check. Seriously.
I've asked these characters if they think maybe proliferating modern birth control methods throughout the third world might not serve the purpose of keeping the global population in check as well, but they shake their heads no.
That would be encouraging immoral behavior among primitive peoples, they say.
And besides, if we controlled population through modern birth control rather than war, what would happen their high dollar retirement jobs in the military industrial complex? What, they're going to make the same kind of money they're making now lobbying for the condom industry?
The Next World Order Series:
Part I: America's 21st Century Military
Part II: Network-centric Warfare
Part III: America's Military Industrial Complex
Part IV: The Revolt of the Retired Generals
Part V: What Good is War?