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Auditing the butcher's bill

With the milestone passed that more US soldiers have died in 3 years of fighting in Iraq than did in the single bloodiest month of Viet Nam, I find myself pondering a rather heretical notion: should the number of US service members matter in whether or not the invasion was the right thing to do?

I have no conclusion here, just seeing if there's any interest in the discussion. On the one hand, it can be argued that if deposing Saddam and working towards a free and democratic Iraq was right, then the deaths of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands, if one believes the wildest claims of the anti-war movement and include all killed in Iraq) is an acceptable price for the lives, the security, and the freedom of millions in Iraq, as well as in other nations in the area.

On the other hand, if it was wrong, than a single death is too high a price.

And if the argument is rejected, just where does the line get drawn? At what point does the price get too high? Just to pick an abitrary number, when US casualties reach 2,986 (the official death toll of the 9/11 attacks, just to pick a semi-relevant reference point), do a bunch of people suddenly decide to switch sides? A free and democratic Iraq and a world relieved of Saddam's threats is worth 2,986 US casualties, but not that last one?

And how do we do that without giving the other side a clear goalpost for victory? "I know it looks bad right now, with another 39 of our brother holy warriors blown to bits by the evil infidels just last night, but if we manage to kill just five more, they go home and we win! They said so on CNN!"

As I said, I don't have a firm opinion on this one yet. But when I see asshats touting the latest casualty counts and asking "is that enough?," that seems to be the logical extension of the argument.


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Comments (17)

As I said, I don't have ... (Below threshold)
LJD:

As I said, I don't have a firm opinion on this one yet. But when I see asshats touting the latest casualty counts and asking "is that enough?," that seems to be the logical extension of the argument.

Why adopt asshat logic?

Jay Tea:How many dea... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Jay Tea:
How many deaths is too many? I have a simple answer, but it's a pretty damned cold one. The point of "too many deaths" is reached where the cost of those deaths (lost productivity, lost companionship, pain and sufrering, etc.) exceeds the benefit derived from invading and occupying Iraq.

While nobody is willing to admit this particular fact, we're seeing precisely that phenomenon at work in the body politic right now. Americans are turning against the Iraq war not because it is "right" or "wrong."

Rather, the count of dead and wounded -- the gruesome odometer of war -- now indicates to the American public that the cost of waging the war in Iraq exceeds the benefit that the United States reaps.

I feel like an incredible bastard for saying this, but I still feal like somebody has to point it out before this descends into yet another pointless round of partisan barking about the "rightness" or "wrongness" of the Iraq war.

--|PW|--

Something was bugging me ab... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Something was bugging me about this post, and I finally put my finger on it:

On the one hand, it can be argued that if deposing Saddam and working towards a free and democratic Iraq was right, then the deaths of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands, if one believes the wildest claims of the anti-war movement and include all killed in Iraq) is an acceptable price for the lives, the security, and the freedom of millions in Iraq, as well as in other nations in the area.

On the other hand, if it was wrong, than a single death is too high a price.

Some people (myself included) opposed the war not because of a belief that the war was morally wrong, but because of a belief that it was a poor policy choice or that (ahem) the costs of the war would outweigh the likely benefits. Still others were of the opinion that yes, Iraq should be invaded, but that President Bush would probably bungle the job and should not be trusted with it.

Considering a the multiple positions that are not rooted in a moralist frame, your question strikes me as a grossly simplified way to assess the question of casualties and the war itself.

--|PW|--

I believe WWI might be a mo... (Below threshold)
epador:

I believe WWI might be a more interesting comparison than WWII. How did we gauge our horrific losses almost 100 years ago in the Fields of France and elsewhere? How many folks died in Europe BEFORE we committed to that horrible war that might not have died had we entered sooner? If Germany and France had entered the Iraq campaign with us with significant military support (not to mention supposedly moderate Arab countries), would the Iraqi death toll be less or more, and would the insurgency have been crushed by now?

And how do we view the teeth gnashing and trichotilomania of the anti-war movement now to that of Woodrow Wilson's era?

Note that he flip-flopped on the war issue after he was re-elected. And as a Democrat, was strong on both State's Rights and Individualism, while pushing through sweeping federal employment legislation.

This pre-occupation with numbers, such as a death (or wounded) count represents a severe lack of will on our society's part. If we are truly unable to stand by our attempts to impose our will on others, then the reverse will truly be the case, as well represented by history for millennia.

Three years in Iraq vs. one... (Below threshold)

Three years in Iraq vs. one MONTH in Viet Nam? What kind of comparison is that. One may wish to ask some of the Kurds or Shiites that Hussein gassed. Oh, never mind they're DEAD. There is the WMD issue that seems to have conveniently been buried by the media types who have such disdain for Bush that they lose all perspective. Those I've personally spoken with who have returned from Iraq without exception say the vast vast majority of Iraqis are forever thankful to us.

Put a number on it like tha... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

Put a number on it like that and our enemy will put that up like one of the thermometers at a charity drive. Racking up bodycount will become the enemies goal.

You also make chemical, biological weapons that much more attactive.

I'm just not talking about terrorists. If Saddam knew we had a 3000 troop limit. He would have used his conventional forces purely to that end and we would have even more casualties.

You make your best guess be... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

You make your best guess before entering a war. After that, you have to see it through. Otherwise, you will be labelled a "Paper Tiger" and resistence will be even higher next time.

I believe, and I I believe ... (Below threshold)
Faith+1:

I believe, and I I believe history will prove, Bush was right for going to war in Iraq and was right to change the nature of the Middle East. While PW may be willing to try and insist on pointing out we may exceed a cost there is the danger of ignoring the cost if we had not gone to war.

Sorry, but I don't believe Saddam would have sat idly by and done nothing to the rest of the world. He was a ticking time bomb and Bush moved to defuse it.

I think there are certainly some aspects of the war that could have been done better, but overall I believe the growing opposition by the public to the war has more to do with an ongoing and misleading campaign by anti-Bush driven media and Democrat power seekers. I believe there has been a deliberate and concious effort by many in the press and the Democratic party to lie, cheat steal and fabricate falsehoods about what good things are being done in Iraq. The ones seeking to regain their lost power woul have a better fight concentrating on domestic issues like immigration.

Oh, and let's not forget one other cost....I believe that if you took Bush's worst mistake it would pale in the cost of what would have happened if Gore or Kerry had been in charge. We saw 8 years of what the Dems had to offer in terrorism--ineffective action, appeasement and withdrawal that directly led to escalated attacks and ultimately to 9/11.

All I can say is that with several family members (including my 24 year old kid brother) in Iraq the story they see every day is 180 degrees opposite of what is reported to the rest of the world. If people aren't supporting the war it's mainly due to people more obsessed with regaining their power than in what truly happens in Iraq.

It ends up being a horrible... (Below threshold)
andrei:

It ends up being a horrible balance sheet unfortunately.

I apologize in advance for any weirdness in this post.

See when my mother was 12 she was taken from her home in the Ukraine to work in a factory in Germany. Her, (my) family for the most part disappeared without trace (some have been found in recent years). A terrible time.

Years ago now I visited Normandy and saw the graves of brave boys who died there. Graves filled with Americans, Canadians, Englishmen, Australians, New Zealanders. These boys died young. I owe my very existance to these boys. I stood before a marker topped with the the Star of David that marked the resting place of a Jewish Boy from New York. I'm not jewish, I'm russian orthodox and have next to nothing in common with a Jewish Boy from New York who died many years before I was born but his sacrifice help liberate my mother and allowed me to be born and live a relatively good life.

The sacrifices being made today in Iraq and Afghanistan are a price being paid that those who come after us may live in a better world. I believe this in my heart

The question (which we can ... (Below threshold)
Plainslow:

The question (which we can never answer) is how many Americans would of died had we not fought this war? How many have died due to Terrorism since, and how many died before?

pennywit, The rightness or ... (Below threshold)

pennywit, The rightness or wrongness of going as little to do with the cost. The decision to go or not has a lot to do with the cost. It's okay to be a cold hearted bastard and view the whole thing as emotionlessly as possible. I'd even say it's necessary. Don't apologize for that.

Is the prize worth the cost? In cold hearted bastard mode, I have to conclude that even a chance at the prize is worth far more than we've paid or will pay. I think that many people not only don't think the prize or chance of the prize is worth it, they don't even believe the prize exists. How much would you be willing to pay for nothing, even in cold hearted bastard mode?

Counting deaths only makes sense if a person believes there is *no* prize.

The tragedy of death isn't cummulative. It's binary. On or off. It's a totality. It's not "okay" for one soldier to die, or two or three. For those dead the price could not be higher. It doesn't *add*. One is the same as a hundred. If it was worth it, it was worth it. If it wasn't, it wasn't.

It doesn't *add*.

It does matter that we make it as safe as possible for our soldiers. That we don't waste their lives. World War 2 is horrific, yet even most "anti-war" people will claim that it was just. (As opposed to this "illegal" war) But what was the point of Iwo Jima?

The numbers in Iraq don't upset me. They make me proud that we can do so well and that we value our soldiers so much. I googled for numbers of US soldiers killed in action and found a couple good lists. Thousands killed in single battles and scroll down and down and get to 2001 and on and suddenly we're in double digits.

Yet if even victory isn't a prize worth having... it's just Iraqi people, after all, that will benefit most...

So people will count each death and add it together and claim it means something important.

How much is freedom worth?<... (Below threshold)
Omni:

How much is freedom worth?

How much is a human life worth?

How can you compare the 2 if you don't have specific values for them?

I look at it this way; we have to defuse the potential danger from the Arab world to protect our freedom, so that terrorists can't take us apart by inches, and to attain that goal it's reasonable to commit people and funds up to the point where our immediate safety would be compromised if we committed any more.

Omni

Freedom is not free. The c... (Below threshold)
Robert:

Freedom is not free. The cost for freedom is high. I believe that the sole purpose of the federal government is to protect its citizens. The war which began in YEARS ago which is now commonly called the war on Terror or the war against Islamofascism is one that in the long run is going to protect American lives.

If you look at <a href="htt... (Below threshold)
Proud Kaffir:

If you look at my post in RedState, you will see that US Military Personnel are actually not even dying at higher numbers than they have during the past mostly peacetime years and past Presidencies.

Actually, that's not a mile... (Below threshold)

Actually, that's not a milestone: it is mildly interesting trivia. A milestone is a significant event that can be used to gauge progress towards a goal, like adopting a constitution or electing a government or completely eliminating enemy forces in a given area. It has to be relevant to the plan, measurable or observable, and indicative of progress or its lack. This "event" is none of those; it's not even a useful metric.

Pennywit asserted earlier t... (Below threshold)
JD:

Pennywit asserted earlier that...

While nobody is willing to admit this particular fact, we're seeing precisely that phenomenon at work in the body politic right now. Americans are turning against the Iraq war not because it is "right" or "wrong."

Rather, the count of dead and wounded -- the gruesome odometer of war -- now indicates to the American public that the cost of waging the war in Iraq exceeds the benefit that the United States reaps.

In short, bullmuffins. The only people who are maintaining any kind of Carnage Count are those who have decided for one reason or another that the US is the Imperialist Aggressor in this little two-bit morality play.

Now while there may be part of the body politic that objects to the war on a cost-versus-benefit angle, there is also a segment of the body politic that is losing support for the war (primarily from right) because they feel that we are pussyfooting around too much, and should be more aggressive about rooting out and killing the scumbag murdering thugs that have held decent Iraqi citizens virtual hostage.

Also, as I look at the press coverage of this war, I cannot help but think what the press reactions would be were we to take the "body politic" as it stands today and transport it back 62 years or so and look at the ONE DAY body counts at Guadalcanal, at Iwo Jima, at Saipan, at the Normandy beaches during Operation Overlord, and see how the "body politic" would react at the single-day butcher's bills that make every current day in Iraq for U.S. Forces look like just another day in Spanish Harlem.

We are being told 24/7 on the MSM that the Iraq war is wrong-wrong-wrong, with not a trace of anything approaching positive news coming out of the entire nation of Iraq, and Saint Cindy of the Ditch is getting face time and movie deals with Susan Saranwrap while Code Pink is attempting to spread their message of, er, "peace" in front of hospitals containing wounded soldiers, Film at 11, Tomorrow's Headlines Tonight!

I guess the fact that today Saddam Hussein's thugs DIDN'T line people up in front of a ditch and hose them down with full auto AKMS fire isn't newsworthy. And the fact that each day that Saddam DOESN'T gas Halabja or divert the river to drive out the Marsh Arabs is a net victory, well, it's news, but it just doesn't grab ya!

Who are we to disagree with the Fourth Estate?

We really can't answer the ... (Below threshold)
docjim505:

We really can't answer the question "is it worth it" because we haven't got the perspective of history. For example, I think the vast majority of Americans would agree that the Civil War was "worth it" (specifically, 970,000 casualties and a cost of $44 billions of 1990 dollars(1)) because it ended slavery. We forget that many yankees didn't feel this way at the time and were quite bitter that a war started to preserve the Union had (in their eyes) become a war to free the Negro.

Let us also remember that the occupation of Germany in the late 1940s was considered a total failure by many contemporary journalists, policy makers, and common Americans, yet I doubt that many Americans today would agree that we were wasting our time trying to bring democracy to Germany and Japan.

In the late 1960s / early 1970s, Americans decided that Vietnam wasn't "worth it", so we pulled out. Within a few years, the communists murdered several million people in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. How do the lives of 57,000 Americans square with the lives of (let's say) 3 million Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians who almost certainly would NOT have died had we stayed the course?

As pennywit pointed out, some make the argument that the Iraq was is worth it but that "Bush is just bungling it". This is an idiotic argument at best and a cop-out at worst, and is usually made by people who have no more credentials to speak about military policy than I have to speak about agricultural policy in Sri Lanka. Is it possible that the war might be run better? Sure... and it is equally possible that it could be run much, much worse. We've lost about 2,500 men. I seems to recall some pre-war predictions that we'd lose ten or twenty times that many, so I think we're doing pretty well by that measure. We certainly lost that many in a few days (or even a few hours) at other points in our history. Did FDR run World War II "badly" because we lost thousands of men on the beaches of Normandy? Did Lincoln "bungle" the Civil War because thousands died at Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, or Chickamauga?

Ultimately, the decision for whether any war is "worth it" is a moral judgement that must be made by each person. For myself, the Iraq war is worth it, and would be so even if we'd lost 250,000 men. It's a war that we MUST win.

(1) http://www.cwc.lsu.edu/cwc/other/stats/warcost.htm

Note that the cost of $44 billion does not include the cost to rebuilt areas devastated by the war, such as Richmond, Atlanta, and Vicksburg, nor does it account for "foregone earnings" by men who were dead or too crippled to continue in their pre-war occupations.




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