Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Wars and Attrition in the Next World Order

The argument has been around for years. That America can now fight wars without suffering high casualty levels makes it too easy for us to engage in unnecessary wars. There's something to that philosophy. If we were absorbing casualties in Iraq at the rate we suffered them in World War II, million person marches on Washington would likely be a familiar occurrence.

However, the idea of increased own force casualties being a good thing contains a number of profoundly flawed assumptions, the main one of which is that suffering attrition is either an effective or efficient way to conduct warfare. Like George S. Patton said, "Nobody ever won a war by dying for his country."

Munitions and Attritions

It's almost unanimously accepted that World War II was a magnificent victory of free peoples over fascism, imperialism, and dictatorial regimes. But that victory came at a cost. By some counts, 62 million people perished in the war, and roughly 60 percent of the casualties were civilians. What's more, 80 percent of the war deaths occurred on the Allied side. That kind of friendly attrition may have been a necessary price to win "the good war", but few will seriously argue that suffering an unfavorable 8 to 2 attrition ratio is a "good" way to conduct armed conflict.

What's more, to discuss the contemporary security environment in the context of World War II is to compare apples and elephants. To start with, the global balance of military power has completely changed. Today, the United States spends as much on armed force as the rest of the world combined. Things were quite a bit different when Hitler unilaterally annexed the Sudetenland and conducted his blitzkrieg invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain has suffered much criticism over the decades for "appeasing" Hitler as Nazi Germany's aggressive tendencies emerged. But in truth, neither the British nor the French were in much of a position to deter or block Hitler militarily.

Britain and France were still recovering from the fiscal and human cost of World War I. Over the objections of Charles de Gaulle and others on the French general staff, the French had decided to forgo the expense of creating a mobile, air power supported force like the one Hitler was developing and opted instead to invest in the Maginot Line, a static, defensive system of steel and cement fortresses that spanned the trench warfare front of World War I. Britain, an island nation and a traditional sea power, did not have the kind of land forces necessary to deploy to the continent and fight a moving, offensive ground war on its own.

America, still mired in the great depression, was in no position to stop either Japanese or German aggression in the early stages. It's eventual decisive role in defeating the Axis Powers required a complete mobilization of industry and a comprehensive draft of able bodied citizens into military service. That took a considerable amount of time. Two and a half years of full time war production and elapsed between the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) and the U.S. led D-Day invasion of Europe (June 6, 1944). Victor in Europe (VE Day) didn't occur until May of 1945, and Victory over Japan (VJ Day) came about in August of that year.

Much of the rationale behind today's standing, rapidly deployable, all volunteer force revolves around avoiding three key deficiencies in our World War II experience.

1) Maintain sufficient force to deter not only major conflict, but to economically deter other nations from developing the kinds of standing force required to defeat ours.

2) Maintain a high technology force that can defeat any other conventional force in "major combat" operations rapidly and decisively.

3) Maintain a force that can quickly redeploy from major combat operations, reconstitute, and be prepared to engage in other major conflicts overseas.

Thinking With the Wrong Head

World War II America may have brought itself out of an economic depression by putting itself on a wartime footing, but that's not a solution to today's fiscal conundrums. America has been on a wartime footing ever since, and the military industrial complex is no longer an economic engine. It's a gaping hole in our national purse. Pundits and scholars who argue otherwise do so under the motivation of six figure salaries and generous neoconservative think tank stipends.

So no, high casualty, high attrition wars won't make America stronger, or make us seem stronger in the eyes in the rest of the world.

A long-standing argument of many of our "war intellectuals" says that a willingness to sustain attrition illustrates our "resolve" to the rest of the world.

Pardon me if you've heard this before, but getting in a bar fight over a girl you just met shows "resolve." Waking up in jail the next morning with a black eye and two broken ribs shows how stupid you are.

One would like to think that the mightiest nation in human history would be wise enough to wield its power without needing barroom attrition to keep it from throwing its fists foolishly.

One would like to think that, anyway.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Anonymous8:23 AM

    In my history books, it was the Maginot line.

  2. Anonymous8:26 AM

    Any analysis of the state a nation that doesn't bear Mencken's quote that "as democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron," cannot do reality justice.

  3. It's "Maginot" in mine too. Thanks for the catch.

  4. The complete insanity of the current U.S. regime is demonstrated (yet again) when its chief "diplomat" refuses to countenance an Israel-Lebanon cease-fire because she wants something more "enduring." To hell with all the extra lives lost; she's more engaged with the principle of the thing, and those lives simply do not matter. All those additional people dying and maimed in honor of her line in the sand are of zero consequence to her.

    Only a fool would argue that the terms and conditions must be hammered out before a cease-fire can begin; anyone else, anyone with a nanogram of compassion, would work to institute the cease-fire first and detail the conditions of compromise later.

    I must give up being astonished by the insanity of this administration. It is simply criminally insane and there is nothing they would not do, for any reason or for no reason. Trying to understand them is an exercise in complete futility.

  5. I too am agog with the "reasoning" that an immediate cease-fire will block a "lasting peace."


  6. Qustion: neo-rationality = no-rationality????

  7. Yes, as best I can tell.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. The same as in 'neo' conservative...'neo' is the only word usage that the regime uses that consistently has the same meaning from one usage to the next: 'neo' ≡ 'non.'

  10. Anonymous8:49 AM

    My interpretation of an old and venerable Chinese saying is that an obscure book by the name of "Thy Will Be Done" by Gerald Colby will bring much enlightenment and perhaps new vistas to the most exalted author of this illustrious blog.

  11. winterbear2:53 AM

    I have enjoyed reading your site for about a year... well written and well thought out. good work.

    However, sometimes I think you kind of miss whats going on here...

    Compareing the occupation of Iraq with WWII is a fools errand. the "war" was over in a few weeks and we suffered almost no casualties. The occupation is what has been bungled and even that hasnt turned into anywhere near a real war.

    There is no way to compare that to WWII or most other modern wars for that matter. There is only one army in Iraq... ours. The war was over in 2003. There is no Wermacht, No North Korean army, No NVA, or even Iraqi Republican guard. It aint a war unless your fighting another country.

    Another big difference is that we are the aggressor. We can stop this war any time we want.

    The neocons wanted dominance and Hegmony of the region. They wanted Bases from which to project power. They wanted a puppet government which would never restrain what can be done from their soil. They also like to muzzle any decent or opposition by claiming we are still at war. (hell, GWB has been claiming to be a war president since right after 9-11 when he declared war on a tactic.) They find it useful and politically rewarding as well as lucretive to keep us on a war footing. Keeps them in power, keeps their supporters swimming in war profits, keeps the poor and ignorant full of patriotism, keeps the left at bay... helps elect the war supporters.

    If we had a government that was not dominated by neocons we could just declare peace and begin to come home. But that is not what those in power want to do... the US presence in Iraq is perminent. This whole thing makes sence if you just remember that fact. It is part of a greater strategy to dominate the Middle East and keep the USA in a dominate possition in the region. Repeating the lie that we are still at war is useful to the neocons ends.

    But you dont have to take my word for it... read the documents at the project for the new american century. http://www.newamericancentury.org/ At this website they publish their plans. They dont hide what they are up to at all. They provide the intellectual underpinnings for this strategy as well as a road map for going forward... They talked about invading Iraq at the first opportunity and establishing perminant bases in documents written in 1997. They are writing today about going into Iran.

  12. Winterbear,

    Thanks for following the site over the last year.

    I'm not sure what you're getting at, though. I've been pounding home darn near every point you've made here since I started publishing on the web.

    Re: PNAC: if you haven't seen it, this was the piece I wrote that traced the major PNAC documents on Iraq, "The PNAC Paper Trail."


    And as you say, the same crowd--Kristol, Krauthammer, etal--are making the same noises about Iran now.

  13. Winterbear5:00 PM

    Wow.. I had not seen this article and I did not know about this site. Thanks for burning up the next couple of days for me... I will be digging around this site a lot.

    The point that got me writing last night was the foolishness of comparing this to WWII.

    I kind of got sidetracked into talking about the PNAC plans.. and based on the link you provided your way on top of it.

    Thanks. Keep up the good work.

  14. WB,

    Thanks for the encouragement, and enjoy what you find on the links.