"The first casualty of war is truth." Kipling could have easily said the same about opposition to and coverage of war. Of course, the second and third causalities for those two outspoken companions are reason and history because once truth is done away with, things like facts and perspective really are just optional and get in the way. Perhaps the most overused and in many ways abused absurdity of the opposition to the war on terror is the demagogic mantra about how the losses in Iraq are somehow equivalent to the losses suffered in Vietnam and therefore we need to cut and run as soon as possible. This in many ways is insulting to both groups of young men and women who have and continue to give the last full measure of devotion during both of these conflicts. In addition to this rhetorical attack being simple pandering to the fears of some and the pathetic romanticism of others who somehow hope to recapture the misspent youth operating as the useful idiots of the KGB in the anti-war movements, it is also just plain wrong on the facts.
Of course the best antidote to this type of assertion is to look at history in as dispassionate and analytical way as possible so as to gain a proper perspective on the sacrifices that this nation, especially its youth are making. It should be understood before preceding that the analytical method presented here is not intended in anyway to take away from the magnitude or nature of the individual sacrifices of either the living or the dead from any of our nation’s conflicts. Indeed, this great country has sacrificed some of its most precious blood in these very causes. It is instead intended to debunk the growing mythology that was created by those who choose to distort reality for their own purposes.
As of September 12, 2005, exactly four years after 9/11, and the beginning of war on terror the United States has lost 1,585 military personnel to combat. That is only 53 percent of the number of people killed in 4 hours on 9/11. This represents and average loss of 396 military personnel per year. To put it another way at this rate it will take until sometime around February 2009 to equal death toll of September 11th. At the current rate it will take almost 147 years to equal the losses suffered by the United States in Vietnam, 85 years to equal Korea, 295 years for World War 1, 1,028 years to equal the number of those lost in World War 2 and 1,409 years to match the total casualties from the American Civil War. In fact, the United States has yet to pass the total number of Americans killed in the first year of occupation in Germany and at current rates we won’t pass that mark for at least another year to year and a half. In terms of some of the great battles in American military history it will take 129 years to equal Gettysburg, 66 years for Antietam, 48 years for the Battle of the Bulge, 31 for Okinawa and around 17 years for the D-Day invasion. To place this into even greater perspective, for the last five years of available statistics (1998 – 2002) the average number of non-combat related deaths within the US military was 840 per year, which is over double the average losses suffered in combat in the war on terror. This means that it continues to be statistically speaking, as it has been since Desert Storm, safer to be in a combat zone than on base. Of course, those under fire do not and should never view it that way.
This should not be seen for a moment to lessen the individual sacrifices being made daily by our brave fighters and their families. If anything these numbers should be seen to highlight their level of skill, training, and professionalism that our military possesses as they continue to fight an ongoing insurgency in a heavily urban environment. This is the very war that planners and analysts for years have said that we could not fight. However, our soldiers every day are proving those "experts" wrong as they do it better than anyone thought they could and without suffering the heavy casualties, that everyone predicted. To perhaps put this into a more direct comparison in the six years since the beginning of the second war in Chechnya Russia has lost 3,459 solders which averages out to about 577 soldiers a year or 42 percent more casualties than the United States suffers. The comparisons are even starker when one considers that Chechnya, which is part of Russia and directly accessible by overland travel, is about the size of Connecticut with a population of a little over 1.1 million people. Whereas both Iraq, which is the size of California and a population of over 26 million and Afghanistan which almost the size of Texas and a population of almost 30 million are on the other side of the globe. Furthermore, Iraq and Afghanistan have far more complex geographies and social stresses, in addition to hostile neighboring regimes openly aiding the terrorist, making both theaters of operations far more complex and dangerous than Chechnya. These comparative operations highlight just how impressive and professional our young men and women are. In addition, most Americans, including those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, would clearly rather have improvised explosive devices going off over there rather than here in America, which is in keeping with our stated strategy to take the fight to the terrorists.
Perhaps even more importantly, there has not been a significant successful terrorist attack outside of an active combat zone against the United States or its interests since 9/11. However under the 8 years of the Clinton administration there were at least 4 large-scale attacks, including the first World Trade Center, Khobar Tower, the United States Embassies in Africa, and the USS Cole following each of which there was no appreciable damage inflicted upon al-Qaeda. However, since 9/11, we have been informed, that the United States together with its international partners have killed or captured approximately 75 percent of the al-Qaeda leadership including some of its most senior members.
To put that into perspective, it would be the equivalent of an enemy killing or capturing 160,217 U.S. military officers. To break it down further, it would be equal to our military losing:
- 26 4-star Generals/Admirals;
- 93 3-star Generals/Admirals;
- 204 2-star Generals/Admirals;
- 328 1-star Generals/Admirals;
- 8,743 Colonels/Captains;
- 21,497 Lt. Colonels/Commanders;
- 33,122 Majors/Lt. Commanders;
- 52,703 Captains/ Lieutenants;
- 23,422 1st Lieutenants/Lieutenant Junior Grade; and
- 20,079 2nd Lieutenants/Ensigns.
This figure of 75 percent should also be seen as the elimination of the political leadership of al-Qaeda which in terms of the United States government would represent the death or capture of 75 Senators, 326 Member of the House Representatives, 16 cabinet or cabinet ranking officials and 38 individual state governors.
Now many might say that this is comparing apples to oranges but the reality is that although al-Qaeda is a far more nebulous organization than the United State government or military it is still an organization that cannot long survive such losses, that is unless it has significant state sponsorship and protection. However, al-Qaeda itself has never been the sole issue within the Global War on Terror. This may be shocking to some but because 9-11 illustrated the vulnerability of the United States homeland and more importantly because al-Qaeda represents only one branch within the international terrorist family tree, the United States must take a larger view rather than just one organization or one man. That is why President Bush was correct in defining the target of our war as being all terrorist organizations, and the states that sponsor them, with a global reach.
As for those who try to claim that the war in Iraq has only created more terrorism than it has prevented, one very positive impact should be noted. In the 16 months between 9/11 and the liberation of Iraq there were 79 suicide attacks in Israel; in the 16 months following the downfall of Baghdad there was only 31 or in other words a 67 percent decrease in these horrific attacks which were mostly directed against innocent civilians.
In the end each sacrificed life of young man or woman placed upon the, as Lincoln put it, "the alter of freedom" is cause for individual, family and even community morning and to the survivors every American no matter their personal or political views would surely extend their own sympathies. However, as a nation, we cannot long survive in the real world if we allow personal pain, to be used as a political instrument, to create strategic paralysis in our national policies. Unfortunately, many with both good and questionable intentions seek to highlight each of these individual losses as a reason to cut and run. In reality to do such would be a dishonor to their sacrifice and the sacrifices of so many others. In truth any early withdrawal would only encourage greater aggression in the future, as many of our existing and would-be enemies, including Iran and Communist China, believe as al-Qaeda, that the United State because of our conviction in the importance of the individual and reverence for life cannot withstand combat. Bin Laden himself has highlighted Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia as proof of American weakness, which was one of the reasons, that he felt they could attack the United States without fear. Interestingly this same incorrect view of America’s character, based in part on the media’s own misrepresentations, has been a consistent factor behind the views of those who would challenge the United States on the international stage. Perhaps Winston Churchill’s observation on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor says it best:
Silly people -- and there were many, not only in enemy countries -- might discount the force of the United States. Some said they were soft, others that they would never be united. They would fool around at a distance. They would never come to grips. They would never stand blood-letting. Their democracy and system of recurrent elections would paralyze their war effort. They would be just a vague blur on the horizon to friend or foe. Now we should see the weakness of this numerous but remote, wealthy, and talkative people. But I had studied the American Civil War, fought to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins. I thought of a remark which Edward Grey had made to me more than thirty years before -- that the United States is like "a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate". Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.
It is the willingness of America’s young men and women since our founding to risk everything that has ensured freedom for countless millions here at home around the world. It is that same sacrifice of the true hero’s, and the ideals that inspired it (and not the rhetoric of the outspoken elites) that we must remain dedicated to if America is to remain safe and a beacon of hope to the entire world for now and for our posterity. It is in fact to those future generations that the sacrifices of today are dedicated.
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