Has the US public gone soft?
A thought hit me this morning as I listened to a news story on the Afghanistan war. They had just relayed the statistic about the 66 servicemen killed in the month of July, the deadliest month of the war, they followed up this number with a review of how incredibly unpopular the war is and related it to the high levels of loss of life. You can find the numbers at:
The popularity of the war has certainly not been enhanced by the recent release of thousands of documents from the war that were leaked by a soldier on Wikileaks and various media reports of what’s in the documents are not flattering to the US military and possibly downright dangerous according to others. A couple of interesting views:
And of course the fact that the Afghan War is now the longest declared war in American history can’t help. In thinking about these reports I started wondering about the previous American wars and the casualty numbers from each of those wars. The older wars in the US were the biggest, World War I cost the US 116, 708 lives, World War II 407,316 lives and the Civil War 623,026 lives. Particularly given the size of the US population at the times of these wars these are huge losses. By comparison our most recently completed war, the Vietnam War cost 58,169 lives, and in comparison we’ve lost 4,400+ lives in Iraq and 1,084+ lives in Afghanistan. Even combined for Iraq and Afghanistan this is one-tenth the loss of life that occurred in the Vietnam War and yet, the public seems only marginally more behind these wars than Vietnam. You can see the numbers at:
Our enemies believe that since the Vietnam War, the American public no longer has the stomach for seeing dead American soldiers and this was given some validity by President George W. Bush not allowing the press to photograph returning US caskets. Is this true; has the American public gone soft as our enemies believe?
I don’t believe this to be true, I think there are a lot of reasons why America is not behind the Afghan or Iraq wars. First, without a doubt Vietnam has had a major impact on the American psyche and particular the generation that is currently in power. Like Vietnam, the public is often confused about why we are fighting this war. Americans initially supported the war in Afghanistan because of its direct connection to the tragedy of 9/11. We believed that driving both the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan would happen quickly and actually be fairly easy, perhaps naïve but initially that is exactly what happened. However, then came the Iraq War and the full weight of history that reminds us that no one has ever won a war of occupation in Afghanistan. American’s were even more distrustful of the beginning of the Iraq War and the hunt for the infamous weapons of mass destruction. Even more disturbed when these weapons were never found and we felt like we had been lied to in order to start a war. What also sets these wars apart, is that on a day-to-day basis American’s do not feel like we are at war, it has almost no consistent or severe impact on us unless of course you have a loved who has been killed or injured. This is what sets these wars apart the most, there is no day-to-day impact, there is no single easily definable villain like the Kaiser, Hitler or Emperor Hirohito. Our villains are shadow groups who hide from us in different countries, they have no large armies to face off against on the battle field, there is no territory to gain and keep, and worst of all they hide in and amongst civilians causing us to shed the lives of innocents right next to and sometimes instead of the enemy.
We often call the Vietnam War a quagmire, the fact is Afghanistan is much more of a quagmire than Vietnam ever was due to the civilian deaths and the lack of a defined enemy. How do you possibly leave Afghanistan and not watch either the Taliban or multiple war lords take over and take that country right back to where it was before the Taliban’s first takeover? I don’t know and I’m not sure anyone else does. It seems for both Iraq and Afghanistan we have forgotten the largest lesson we learned in that conflict, don’t go in unless you know how to get out and I can see no defined exit strategy in either war.