Monday, May 31, 2010

Statecraft 101

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."

-- Salvor Hardin

Memorial Day, 2010

Iraq: 4400 US war dead

Afghanistan: 1087 US war dead


Citizen Joe said...

American Civil War: 620,000 dead (two thirds from disease).
Deaths on American Highways in 2001: 42,116

Anonymous said...

The Battle of Tarawa:
3 days.
1000 USMC Deaths.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, some wars (no matter how unpopular), are unavoidable.


Citizen Joe said...

"A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."
-- Joseph Stalin

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
-- Thomas Jefferson

Anita said...

"I was very careful to send Mr Roosevelt every few days a statement of our casualties. I tried to keep before him all the time the casualty results because you get hardened to these things and you have to be very careful to keep them always in the forefront of your mind."

General George C. Marshall

Rick said...

Just so. The fact that we are losing fewer troops in recent wars is good, but small comfort to the families of the ones we do lose. Or indeed the families of everyone else caught up in the miserable, bloody business.

I am no pacifist. Indeed I am a 'realist' about power politics. But criminy, even that pious moralist Sun Tzu said that the top of the game is winning without a fight.

War is never better than the lesser of evils, which is to say, still evil. And it is also fundamentally stupid.

War is an Olympics level competition for the Darwin Award.

Gridley said...

War is sometimes necessary to prevent something even worse.

The fact that there are things worse than war is a sad commentary on the character of the human race.

The fact the individuals willingly risk, and often loose, their lives to protect others is a much happier commentary on the character of the human race, and that's what we're supposed to remember on Memorial Day.

To Absent Companions.

Citizen Joe said...

The objective of war is to be so horrible of a concept that any other solution would be more tolerable. Lessening our losses actually makes war more palatable. Fortunately, we have all those crippled and having to live with the destruction of their bodies to remind us every day how horrible war is.

Freedom isn't free, you pay for it with blood.

Unknown said...

Was talking with a fella from Afghanistan yesterday. Interesting fact: the perception here is that the war is unwinnable. The perception there is that we aren't even trying.

Thucydides said...

Just raw numbers are meaningless.

Canada lost more people in the D-Day invasion than we have lost in Afghanistan since our arrival there in 2002, but very few people will argue that the losses in 1944 were unjustified, or even question why Canadian soldiers were there in the first place.

The reason that the wars we are fighting today are more controversial lies mostly in the fact there is no clear existential threat like the Axis powers or global thermonuclear war to focus our perceptions. A great deal of historical revisionism also colours our view, we are often reminded of the American "Banana wars" of the early part of the 20th century, but few know or understand the strategic rational behind fighting in Cuba, Nicaragua or Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic); controlling the approaches to the Panama Canal, the only way to project US sea power between the Atlantic and the Pacific in the early part of the century. This obscure bit of strategic calculus is lost or ignored in favour of interpretations that wars were being fought for the benefit of the United Fruit Company, and similar charges against current operations are popular in some circles today.

As some of us know, war is often the alternative to something far worse. This is particularly telling given the interest many of the posters here have in discussing space warfare; even in far distant environments in the future, humans might need to decide what is the "least worse" alternative, and resolve to take action.

I'll leave you with the thoughts of Pericles on the qualities of citizenship from the "Funeral Oration", so we can understand and remember better:

"What I would prefer is you should fix your eyes every day on the greatness of Athens as she really is, and fall in love with her. When you realize her greatness, then reflect what made her great were men with a spirit of adventure, men who knew their duty, men who were ashamed to fall below a certain standard. If they ever failed in an enterprise, they made up their minds that at any rate the city would not find their courage lacking to her, and they gave to her the best contribution that they could. They gave her their lives, to her and to all of us, and for their own selves they won praises that never grow old, the most splendid of sepulchers- not the sepulcher where their body is laid but where their glory remains eternal in men’s minds, always there on the right occasion to stir others to speech or to action."

Jean-Remy said...

"Was talking with a fella from Afghanistan yesterday. Interesting fact: the perception here is that the war is unwinnable. The perception there is that we aren't even trying."

The sad truth is that the brave men and women who are doing the soldiering part of the war usually are:

a/ utterly convinced of the rightness of their cause ad the strength of their moral or religious convictions.

b/ absolutely certain of their advantage, either in terms of superior tactics, superior understanding of the terrain, superior intelligence (as in reconnaissance,) or superior technology,

c/ completely in the dark as to the real objectives and plans concocted in wood-paneled rooms by men smoking cigars who never held a weapon, and think of said soldiers only as plastic figurines on a map to be shuffled around by a croupier's rake.

Battles are almost always "winnable" in tactical terms. Someone has better equipment, better-trained men, better positioning.

But wars are not about discrete tactical engagements, they are about Grand Strategy. Can Afghanistan be reduced to a state at which it no longer is a military threat to anyone? Maybe. The resentment, the religious fervor, the conditions that were in place to create the situation in the first place will not vanish and can only be exacerbated by defeat. The US is the third invader in the last hundred and fifty years finding out the hard way that military victory in Afghanistan is meaningless. The British, the Russians, and now the US have discovered that the Afghan people are resilient, and they do not take kindly to foreign troops on their soil. Who does?

The soldiers, the men and women who throughout history, have stood in the line of fire, from arrows to bullets to bombs, have to be honored, no matter their uniform, creed or ethnicity. The Mujaheddin as every bit as honorable and courageous as the Marines. The only ones that should be reviled as the old men on both sides, bearded or not, who use the word "honor" when they have none to throw these young men to their deaths to satisfy their egos or their wallets.

War is not the fault of the soldiers, they are just the victims.

Rick said...

Pericles was a brilliant statesmen in most respects, but he committed Athens to a fundamentally unsound strategy, goading the Spartans into war, their one real strength. Which did not work out well for Athens.

Suppose Pericles had instead chosen a 'containment' strategy aimed at marginalizing Sparta?

Politicians screw up, and soldiers die. Along, usually, with lots of other people. That's basically all the point I am making.

Jean-Remy said...

"Politicians screw up, and soldiers die. Along, usually, with lots of other people. That's basically all the point I am making."

Said far more concisely than me =)

VonMalcolm said...

'Violence solves everything.'
-Homer Simpson

Though I love reading this blog it has always nagged the back of my mind that what we are usually talking about is war and conflict (in a realistic futuristic sense) -but I guess fictional Star Wars are better than nonfictional World Wars.

-Yet the only way to tell if futuristic military technology is truly realistic/viable is to test it out on the battlefield: which means young (future) soldiers will die.

I often wonder if the astronomical distances are that way on purpose so we can have Interstellar Wars. . . but only in our minds, in print, on film, or in a video or board game. . . It's like space is a big canvas 'God' created for us to play with, but too big for anyone to really get hurt.

Though conflict is ultimately interesting (WWII, though heartbreaking, is endlessly fascinating) I am curious as to James White's pacifistic take on Sci-Fi in his Sector General series. (Does anyone else have the problem that you read, reread, and proofread your own stuff so much that you don't have the time nor desire read anyone else's stuff? All of my extra reading consists of blogs like this one, news stories that pertain to sci-fi, and encyclopedic research. I know I should read more and I am ashamed that I simply don't!). Now back to proofreading, for the umpteenth time, a novelette I wrote inspired by this blog!

Thucydides said...

Pericles seems to have had a maritime strategy in mind, and worked hard to avoid confrontation with Sparta on land, even to the point of evacuating Attica and keeping Athenian Hoplites confined to the city.

This is much harsher than it sounds in today's environment, in classical Greece, Hoplites were landowners who's wealth was derived from farm income; Pericles had essentially disenfranchised an important segment of the citizen population of the city.

The downside of this strategy was the overcrowding of Athens itself, which contributed to the plague which devastated the population and resulted in the death of Pericles as well, leading to the rise of a new generation of demagogues in leadership positions, who were able to whip Athenian voters into supporting many unsound activities.

In the end, the most impressive thing is despite these handicaps, the loss of much of the Delian league to revolt, the loss of the flower of her army and fleet in the Sicilian campaign and Persia funding many of of her enemies, Athens was still able to persevere and fight on for almost a decade after the Sicilian debacle.

The relatively free institutions and economy of Athens was able to continue to create and inspire those "men with a spirit of adventure, men who knew their duty, men who were ashamed to fall below a certain standard."

Lets continue to hope for those people to rise up in times of peace and war to lead and inspire the rest of us.

ushumgal said...

Politicians screw up, and soldiers die. Along, usually, with lots of other people. That's basically all the point I am making.

I agree 100%. Though I would add that sometimes, the politicians don't even try, and eagerly pursue war (it is, after all, very, *very* profitable for some people, as well as stroking the imperialist fantasies that people in positions of power sometimes develop).

War is certainly necessary sometimes, but I find that in most of the cases where the politicians say 'they made us do it,' it is just blame-the-victim.

I don't think anyone would argue (including most Germans) that the Nazi government needed to be stopped. But I suspect that is just about the only war one will find anything like consensus on.

Consider the North American Indian Wars in the 18th and 19th centuries. The English and then US governments saw them as necessary because colonists were being attacked by those dirty 'savages'...and neglecting the fact that the settlers would not be attacked if they weren't in the process of encroaching on Indian land.

That is, for me, one of the most depressing things about war: to see people delude themselves into justifying it, even patting themselves on the back for it, when it was in fact absolutely preventable.

Rick said...

Athens indeed showed astonishing resilience, which is just raises the question of what options it might have followed. Plague was not predictable, but the problems of packing all the Athenians behind the Long Walls were broadly predictable, and called for some more robust strategy of indirection.

On strategy in general, I'll quote what I said on the tactical level a few posts back:

Space fighters, like the patrol craft / corvettes they often escort, are in fact not primarily weapons of destruction. They are weapons of coercion. If they open fire, things have already gone pear shaped, and you're in a scramble to keep them from getting entirely out of hand.

But isn't that pretty much always the case, anyway?

Essentially the same thing is true on the grand strategic level.

Nate said...

The US war dead is one factor - a relatively small one. But what about the civilian casualties, and the other side's? If all human lives are born equal (a fundamental tenet of American-style democracy), then shouldn't we be ranking the absolute costs of a war in terms of the total dead caused by it - and judging the cost/benefit ratio of the war accordingly?

The Iraq Body Count - currently a spread of 96739 to 105,485 - doesn't include Afghanistan, and it is only based on documented deaths (not the inferred total early deaths due to violence and disease evaluated as orders of magnitude higher by, eg, the Lancet). But even then, it's got a couple more zeroes than just the US military dead.

Granted not all of these casualties were caused directly by US action, but they most likely wouldn't have occurred if the invasion hadn't destabilised the regime. So they were predictable and quite preventable by the easily-taken action of not doing anything.

I find this statistic far more sobering.

Citizen Joe said...

Again, I point out the 42 thousand traffic fatalities in one year. If we can ignore 42K in one year, its easy to ignore 100K over 10 years.

Rick said...

No disagreement that the overall human toll of the Iraq war, however estimated, has been much, much higher than the US war dead. For Memorial Day I chose to cite the latter figure, just as I showed the US flag at half mast, but my overall point about the folly of war is all too universal.

Traffic accidents are also, largely, a demonstration of human folly, but warfare is striking as a deliberate folly, with much effort going into producing exactly the slaughter that results. Again, I am no pacifist whatsoever, but war is a somewhat questionable display of human intelligence!

Anonymous said...

Conceit is the quicksand of success.