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January 30, 2006

Sixteen Thousand Bob Woodruffs
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

In case you're feeling that Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt's injuries in Iraq are receiving too much media attention, go read this NYT piece about some of the relatively anonymous veterans trying to recover from catastrophic injuries that would have killed them in any prior war.   

The story (clearly written before Sunday's attack on the newsmen) explains that Woodruff's injury - shrapnel lodged in the head and brain from an IED - is actually the "signature wound" of the Iraq war.   Depending on how their paths to recovery unfold, Woodruff and Vogt's stories, including the impact on their careers, families and futures could do a lot do draw attention to the plight of others in similar or worse condition.   The availability of adequate resources to care for these veterans and their families over time is a question. 

Some analysts suggest that the number of deaths so far in the Iraq war is too low to elicit a strong public backlash against US participation.   Reading the Times story makes me wonder whether understanding more of what's faced daily by each individual wounded veteran might change that.


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If one views the war as wrong then it's wrong no matter how many die- would it be less wrong if there were less dead? Conversly if one views the war as right then it's obscene for the war to later become wrong based on specific milestones of dead. One small reason reason it's obscene is that it allows our enemies to know exactly at what point they can break our collective will and make the deaths of all our soliders ultimately pointless.

Losses in war do not equate to the war being wrong, period- full stop. If this war is wrong it's not wrong because a certain number of people die. If someone supports the war but then ceases to support it after some magic number of dead Americans then our Republic can not endure. How would we ever have gotten through the Civil War (when 20,000+ Americans could die in a single day) or WWII in the 24/7 news cycle? The way the media covers war by reporting numbers without context is often, at best, a diservice.

Is it better to "lose" and have 2,000 dead Americans or "win" and have 5,000 dead Americans? It is better to not fight and lose nobody or decide to fight and do what is needed to win. Anything else is very bad for the long term health of our nation. Part of the reason we had 9/11 was our retreats from Lebanon (marine barracks), Somalia, etc, and our failure to respond adequately to many attacks over the past 30 years.

Lane Brody

Part of the reason we had 9/11 was our retreats from Lebanon (marine barracks), Somalia, etc, and our failure to respond adequately to many attacks over the past 30 years.

You might be right, but then the Israelis stayed in Lebanon for almost 20 years, and what did it get them?

In any case, the Iraq war is lost -- not because of who we're fighting but because of who we're defending. Several of those terrorist attacks carried out against us in the 80's were executed by Al Dawa. This group now happens to hold an important position in the current Iraqi gov't. (Iraq's Prime Minister is a member of Dawa.)

The party with the most seats in the Iraqi parliament is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is every bit as extreme as its name would indicate, and has been heavily supported and trained by Iran.

So yes, Iraq is lost, no matter how much "will" we have, no matter how many more American lives we're prepared to lose, no matter how many schools we build.

Lane, you're right in principle that if it's wrong it's wrong no matter the losses, and if it's right it's right no matter the losses.

However, that isn't the way americans feel about it. Americans on average are perfectly willing to accept a wrong war provided it doesn't have consequences that look too bad. Were we right to invade panama to detain Noriega and bring him to this country on drug charges? It's hard to find a rationale for it under international law etc. But we did it easily and with essentially no casualties. It was a fine success. We went in, achieved our wrong mission that many of us felt served a higher good, and got out with no bad results for americans. So who should grumble?

On the other hand, if one were to argue that we were right in vietnam, it might follow that we should have kept fighting to the point of national bankruptcy and extreme casualties. But a lot of americans decided that right or wrong, it wasn't worth it.

I agree that we get into trouble because we take on projects that we eventually fold on when the bidding gets high. It's a problem. When we first bid in we don't know how high it will go, so we don't know whether we'll have the support it will take. I'm not clear how to solve that.

We'd win more if we had the resolve to win. If we agreed that we'd take any amount of casualties whatsoever without ever quitting. If we agreed that if necessary we'd wreck our economy aiming at victory. If necessary we'd draft all the schoolteachers and let the next generation teach themselves in the public libraries and over the internet. If necessary we'd sell the White House to the highest bidder and run the administration out of a trailer park. If necessary we'd kill six million civilians before we accepted defeat. If necessary we'd nuke the whole foreign nation we were trying to save, rather than give it to the enemy. If necessary we'd nuke ourselves and the whole world rather than let an enemy claim they won.

If we had that resolve more enemies would be too deathly afraid of us to try anything. But we don't. And so an enemy that's willing to accept 100,000 casualties when we aren't willing to accept 10,000, can win a local war. An enemy that's willing to see all its cities nuked when we aren't willing to accept even 20 of our cities nuked in exchange, can win minor concessions.

I don't know what to do about it. If we were to become so crazed for victory that everybody knew we'd do whatever it took, no matter the sacrifice, then we'd win with great sacrifices. If for example we got in a war that killed 90% of our civilians and 99% of the enemy civilians, and we thought that was better than negotiating away some small advantages, and then our remaining population was just as willing to win the next war -- then the world would respect us for what we were. But that isn't what we are.

It makes no sense to pretend we're the sort of people who never count the cost. We can't pretend that, we'd have to become what we claimed we were.

Face it, we're opportunists. We'll support a wrong war if it looks easy and profitable. We'll dump a right war if it costs more than we want to spend. Since that's the kind of people we are, we'd better plan with that limitation. Don't start a war that's likely to get out of hand. Caribbean islands are fine. Little countries in central america are fine. Small island nations in other parts of the world might be OK. Things where we can get in and out quick are probably OK, provided it doesn't start something we don't know how to stop.

Because that's what our voters will accept.

J Thomas you are simply viewing history through a very recent lense. We waged WWII to the bitter end of unconditional surrender and lost hundreds of thousands of Americans. We fought the Civil War year after year in battles that make WWII look tame.

Both Korea and Vietnam were proxy wars neither of which we ever going to go "all out" to win. I'm not sure the current citizens of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) are happy the US Congress stopped funding the war that saw the South overun in 1975 by about as many tanks as Germany had against Poland and France.

We fought and won the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and World War II from the premise that we would do whatever it took to win. We then did exactly that over periods of very bloody years. JFK told our enemies we would do the same in the Cold War and thus reminded us what it actually takes to win- the will. That is why it's Ho Chi Minh City now- will.

In any case your hyperbole is not needed nor warranted. "Opportunists" did not found this nation, nor wage it's bloody wars, nor strengthen it during the Civil Rights campaign. Nor did they wage a Cold War for 50 years, at great cost after liberating Western Europe and rebuilding it. "Opportunists" is what much of Europe has become by recieving the gift of freedom and then doing little to pass that gift on.

Perhaps this is really not your view of America and you just chose to speak in hyperbole for effect. If so I would suggest is simply undercuts any rationale arguement you wish to present. If it is your sincere beliefs than I pity you, your family, and anyone you can influence.

Lane Brody

Lane, I have failed to make my point clearly. Agreed, the US public has not always been completely opportunistic. We did fight the civil war, and the south hung out as long as they possibly could. And we fought WWII with pretty good unity, for the duration.

But in between and since, we have fought a collection of wars we didn't really believe in -- because we thought we could.

We invaded the dominican republic more than once with essentially no justification -- because we could.

Before the civil war we trumped up a reason to invade mexico, because we wanted california etc. "American blood has been shed on american soil." It was a lie, and we pretended we believed it.

Our conquest of the philippines took longer and cost more than we expected, but we held out because we needed the port and the wealth etc. Perhaps some americans actually believed we were fighting for democracy. A sad lie. Our "democracy" there was worse than mexico's, we didn't fight for democracy in the philippines until the japanese occupation. Then we started to supply the same rebels we'd been putting down until then, against the japanese -- and after the war we sold them out. The philippines got democracy when they were ready to throw out their dictator and have a democracy for themselves. "No slave was ever freed, unless he freed himself."

El salvador. Honduras. Nicaragua. We've had over a hundred little opportunistic wars that we hardly bothered to find justifiction for. When you say it's wrong regardless how expensive it is, you're right. But usually it's been cheap and we haven't minded at all.

We had two rather large wars to stop communism. They were both expensive. We decided to discontinue both of them.

Korea we accepted a stalemate. We *could* have won. We had a few nukes, china had none. We could have drafted 50 million men and beaten the chinese. It might have taken 10 years, every year we killed 8 million soldiers they'd have a fresh crop of 8 million 18-year-olds to replace them. But we could have done it. Nuke Peking and their 5 largest ports. Anthrax and incendiaries on whatever other cities looked worth it. We could have won that war but we just didn't have the will.

Likewise with vietnam. We weren't that convinced it was right. The Gulf of Tonkin incident didn't sustain us. Especially when it was faked. What the hell were we doing taking over for the french colonialists? A lot of the viet cong would have quit if they'd just had some land reform. But we were supposed to mobilise the peasants in favor of the plantation owners and landlords. We wanted to be supporting democracy, but we actually supported a series of strongmen who occasionally faked elections.

And the economics were mismanaged. Johnson didn't want to just be a war president, he wanted to spread the wealth. But we weren't rich enough to do both. And Johnson left the war offbudget because he didn't want to admit how much it cost. Would we have been willing to pay that if he'd asked? Pay for vietnam and Great Society both? I dunno, Johnson didn't think so. But lying about the spending gave us an inflationary crisis. Nixon didn't know what to do. He did price controls. Nixon! Price controls! Because he didn't have a handle on the problem, which was Johnson's offbooks spending for the war. Would we have paid it if they told us what it would cost? Maybe. But when it hit the fan we knew underneath why it was happening, even though they didn't admit it.

If they'd only told us. "This war is the right thing to do. It might cost half a trillion dollars and 20 years, we might lose a hundred thousand casualties before it's over, but it's the right thing. Are you with me?" Maybe we'd have gone along. But dammit they were lying to us and they were in over their heads, it looked like they didn't have much of a plan.

But we could have won! We could have drafted an army of 50 million, and marched across north vietnam to the chinese border. If the chinese bothered us we could have nuked every chinese city and probably taken out their 2 nukes while we were at it. We could have spread rice blast and starved them out. And the USSR wouldn't have interfered, they were having their own problems with china. If they had we could have faced them down.

Likewise lebanon. We sent a few troops into lebanon without a clear mission. (Actually, I think it was just that we didn't want to admit the mission. We tried to set up negotiations. The israelis moved tanks all around our negotiating-hall with their turrets facing in. They tried to intimidate our diplomats. We didn't want to put up with that so we sent in the Marines. There were a few "shoving matches" between israeli soldiers and Marines, but the media managed to play that down. We kept control of the airport so the diplomats could get out. And then after the diplomats got out we'd announced a cover story for why the Marines were there, and we left them longer as part of the cover story.) So anyway, we didn't have to pull out. We could have moved a million troops into lebanon. We could have drafted 50 million troops and some of them would be combat-ready in less than 6 months. We could have occupied lebanon and ... and ....

What was that mission again?

And we could have won in somalia the same way. Move in with all available combat troops, build roads and railroad lines, whatever it took to do the transport, kill off everybody who opposed us, draft enough additional troops to handle the requirements, and ... what was that mission again?

Here's my plan. Don't send troops anywhere unless we're ready to back them up. Make sure the mission is clear. Make sure the mission is something the american people will back to the hilt. And if any of that isn't clear, don't do it.

The problems you complain about are situations where we sent troops into things that didn't make sense. And they got in trouble. And then people like you blame people like me for not fully supporting the idiocy. Like, "We have to go in there and *win* now so the next time we do something this stupid the enemy will know he'd better give up." It's stupid.

Before we fought the civil war we went through 70+ years of political maneuvering. We established that there was no workable compromise. Then we fought. And when we fought WWII we held back until it was obvious we had no real choice -- and then we held back longer. Our ships were sinking Hitler's submarines all across the atlantic but we didn't mobilise the troops until after Hitler declared war.

We won't bankrupt the nation for a war unless the alternative is worse. We won't take significant casualties for a stupid goal. We will go along with sending in the Marines into any little insignificant country the President feels like, provided it's something the Marines can take care of pretty quick and get out. That's what kind of people we are.

I don't think it's so bad. What's bad is Presidents who try to sucker us into a war that wasn't worth fighting in the first place, and then they get in trouble and want us to bail them out without even admitting they made a mistake in the first place.

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