War has become so blase that the fact that four more U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan did not make any headlines.
ADD 1: If you really wanted to gauge public opinion of the war on terror, just imagine what it might be if we had casualties on the scale of the Vietnam War. During a two-week period in April in Vietnam in 1968 the U.S. suffered 752 combat deaths. In Iraq in 2007 the U.S. had 334 deaths over a four-month period, and that was considered alarming. In Vietnam that high of a casualty rate with no end in sight turned public opinion steadfastly against the war. I hate to be cynical, but the public seems to be able to put up with lower casualty numbers, regardless of the justification or practicability of a war. I realized that the Democratic party victories in the congressional elections of 2006 and the presidential election of 2008 were seen as a kind of referendum that was negative on our war policy, but I notice that the war on terror continues, seemingly much as it would have under Bush/Cheney if they could have continued or even John McCain (of course the referendum was more related to the economy during the presidential election and Obama did admit in his campaign that he would push harder in Afghanistan). If the public mood was as anti-war as it became in the early 70s, we would be done with the whole thing, right or wrong.
And back to where I began with this blog:
I first read the fact that there had been four more combat deaths in Afghanistan while reading my morning newspaper on Tuesday in the ninth paragraph (on the jump page) down in a somewhat oblique reference in a story. Admittedly, the paper long ago gave up trying to be the latest in news on the national and world front. But you would think the death of four U.S. service personnel would rate a little higher priority. But maybe that was kind of the point of the story. It was something about the military using the latest communication tool for those with short attention spans, Twitter.
News that U.S. and Afghan forces had killed four “militants” (I guess that’s what we call the enemy) was put out via Twitter by the military, according to the story, as a way to reach an audience that gets its news outside the traditional sources.
Let’s cut through the bull here – the military is using news selectively for propaganda to reach young people to ra ra ra the war (and I realize morale is important, but so is honest and complete info). Conveniently, as the story indicates, the fact the four service people were killed was not tweeted. Supposedly, according to the story, that was because, well, I did not get this part, something about that all has to go through NATO command.
But using that story and then searching the internet, I finally gathered that there had been four more U.S. combat deaths.
Now in traditional wars, four deaths in one day is not really big news unless you might turn it around and say that ONLY four were killed. Back in the old-time wars thousands were killed in a day or even less than a day. Then we went to hundreds, and today in our wars we go to things like one, none, seven, four, that kind of thing. But it all adds up and it seems to go on forever.
(The latest figures I got off of Wikipedia show there have been at least 4,296 U.S. combat deaths in the Iraq war since 2003, and 677 in Afghanistan since 2001 (I don’t think this includes the latest deaths, and of course there are deaths from other nations’ forces and the of Iraqis themselves and thousands wounded.)
And maybe too close attention to the negative gets in the way of the mission. Maybe that is why we lost the Vietnam War. We concentrated on our losses and not our wins – that often seems to be the new history (revisionist?) of the whole thing I see these days. I just watched an Vietnam War documentary and that’s partly why I’m blogging this today. But I am not a convert yet. I still think Vietnam was a deadly mistake for us and also a shame because we sacrificed so many without having a clear cut purpose or resolve. I hope we are not replaying history in another part of the world now.
No we probably should not have screaming headlines that say FOUR KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN. But at the same time we should not get so numb or jaded about the war effort that we just put it all out of our mind.
The fact that the Military would see fit to brag that we killed four enemy, but leave out that we lost four of our own reminds me why we need independent reporting so we can get the full picture.
And I go back and forth here because I realize that just as the government and military can be biased and misleading in its reporting, so can so-called independent sources.
I have to admit that the tone of the reporting on television and the newspapers and news magazines for the most part during most of the Vietnam War seemed negative against the war. We were told that we seemed to be meddling in the affairs of a nation that had a corrupt government and had a civil war going on (what would have we thought if England, who leaned toward the confederacy in its feelings, had interfered in our own Civil War?). But the civil war in Vietnam was being aided and abetted by the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent communist China. But the idea of North and South Vietnam was basically an artificial one – after all they were all Vietnamese and it was a Cold War construct that created a North and South, just like the two Koreas. We were told that there were no front lines and that despite our overwhelming fire power (most of the time), the enemy seemed to be inexhaustible, anywhere and everwhere, and could take heavy losses and come back forever. We were also told our own government would not let our forces go all the way (and I guess that was because the public had been convinced that wars could be controlled, as if run by a rheostat device or a light dimmer – escalate, de-escalate, which begs the question, why not just turn them off then?).
Probably our biggest mistake in Vietnam was not to do everything we could to disrupt the supply lines and go to the source of supply in North Vietnam. We finally did do some of that late in the war, but by that time support at home for the war was depleted. I actually have to credit Richard Nixon for some of his actions – but it was too late and not carried far enough, because as I mentioned, public support was gone. I think he must have thought that somehow we could stave off the enemy a little longer and that South Vietnamese forces would fight on their own and in the meantime we could get out and haver “peace with honor” (Nixon’s own words)). But without our continued involvement and with the fact that their government was corrupt, there was no hope.
Okay, so much history. Maybe only useful to history buffs. But could we apply this to today? Do we really know what we are trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan? Personally, as much as I follow current events, I keep asking that question.
(In the beginning – the first Gulf War, it was all about oil, and if we are honest, even though we have 9/11 to consider, doesn’t oil still become the bottom line here? And if does, does that make it wrong? Why do we not want to admit it? And see Add 2 at the end of this blog.)
George W’s (and dark Dick Cheney’s) concept seemed to be of an all-encompassing never-ending war against not a particular force or group or nation, but a concept (U.S. vs. Concept) called “terror,” or as W pronounced in “Terrr”.
President Obama seems to be trying to extricate us from Iraq (ever so carefully), but has vowed to fight on in Afghanistan. He would have never have got the support of the electorate if he had simply just run as an updated version of George McGovern and Vietnam. Americans were nearly always divided on Vietnam and seem to be on this one, but all out surrender is not to our liking (even if we did essentially quit Vietnam).
But even if we were able to subdue those who seem to support terror against us in Afghanistan, who is to say the forces of terror will not pop up somewhere else?
Bottom line here:
The reason we fought in Vietnam was that we had a well entrenched Cold War policy of containment of communism and along with that we followed the “domino theory” that said if one country falls, they all will. China fell, South Korea would have if not for our defense of it, and no one wanted to be blamed for losing South Vietnam (even though in the end we did lose it).
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight we find all these years later that communism, although a terrible form of government as practiced, with its totalitarianism and its police state mentality, crumbled seemingly by itself from its inefficiencies and failure to catch the imagination of the people it subdued. Seems given a chance most of them want capitalism and the goodies and freedom that come with it – although there is some indication that some former communist citizens miss the social safety net – in Russia, the former East Germany, as examples. But the last major power to still have communism, China, seems to be evolving into a capitalist society, with only the old-line government officials holding out.
Had we known all this (and we couldn’t have), we could have avoided conflict and just waited it out, perhaps. Of course the fact that the Soviet Union decided to spend so much of its resources fighting us in places such as Vietnam, which was really a proxy war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, helped lead it to its demise. It essentially went bankrupt (oops, I shouldn’t mention that, a country going bankrupt).
And isn’t it ironic that after another proxy war where we fueled the insurgents in Afghanistan against their Soviet neighbors who also expressed concerns about disruptive forces there, we find ourselves fighting many of those same insurgents we once aided, to include Osama bin Laden, if he is still alive.
A lot of disjointed thoughts here maybe. But I got this idea originally because I was reading a book about Pearl Harbor and the fact that we conducted a policy that led to it (not that we were in the wrong – that can be debated). And I thought about how in World War II we fought a costly war with Japan only to become good buddies later and then for a time we were even threatened by their own prosperity that we helped create (that role has now gone to China, whom we saved from Japan).
It’s all about making sure we really know what we are trying to do and what the consequences might be and deciding whether we should continually try to fight the whole world or whether we should try to live in peace, but keep our defenses strong. The general public can remain in ignorant bliss in all of this and leave it to the politicians, but there are risks.
I made a reference to fighting for oil earlier in this blog. Related to that I recall I blogged some months ago, possibly in August, that here we have been fighting in Iraq and we know it has something (a lot) to do with the fact that most of the world’s oil is in that region and meanwhile China has signed a deal for oil with the government we helped install there after executing Saddam Hussein. I just ran across an article on the web (dated April Fools Day, but it’s apparently too true) that says our main rival for world oil, China, has indeed finalized an agreement to develop an oil field in Iraq that is expected to produce 25,000 barrels per day for the first three years and 115,000 barrels per day for the following six years . China had initiated the deal in the 1990s when Hussein was in power.
So, yes, it is about oil, but whose oil? Seems like if we fight for oil, we should get it all. (I don’t recall China helping us out in Iraq).
But kind of related to the idea of fighting for oil, I ran across this in a history of the Vietnam War on Wikipedia: “Because of the vast Dutch oil discoveries in nearby Indonesia, first the French, then the Americans, wanted to explore the broad Vietnamese contenental shelf.” Today Vietnam is not listed as a top oil exporter, but it is an exporter. It installed its first oil refinery in February.
P.s. It occurs to me in all of this that the thinking of policy makers seems to have been that the U.S. can fight wars if casualty numbers can be kept down low enough that there will be no significant public backlash. We all would like to minimize casualties, but in so doing we run the risk of both prolonging wars (thus raising casualty rates) and being unsuccessful in the long run.