Civilians Soldiers and the Rules of War

Event Total Dead US Population % of Population Total War Dead
Pearl Harbor 2,388 131,028,000 0.00182% 418,500
9/11 2,752 281,424,603 0.00098% 3,063

On December 7th, 1939, Japan used short-range carrier based planes to bomb Pearl Harbor and kill 2,388 people, most of whom were military personnel (48 civilians). This action in retrospect was an obvious result of our Foreign Policy toward Japan and their alliance with Germany.

On September 11th, 2001, Islamic militant extremists from a terrorist group named Al-Qaeda, took over commercial airliners and used them to attack civilian targets, which resulted in the deaths of 2,752 Americans, most of whom were civilians including some children. This action in retrospect was an obvious result of our Foreign Policy toward the Middle East and telegraphed by a series of other attacks by Al-Qaeda against US interests abroad and in the continental US to include an earlier unsuccessful attack on the World Trade Center.

There is one major difference between these two attacks, and that is that the Pearl Harbor attack was conducted by a Nation State while 9/11 was conducted by a terrorist organization with no Sovereign State. The importance of this distinction cannot be over emphasized.

The mentality of most Americans in 1939, to include the politicians before the attack, was isolationist. It is sadly ironic that Japan’s attack was intended to remove the possibility that we would enter the war, when instead their attack ensured it. Because they were allies, it was very possible that if we did enter the war in support of our British allies that we might not have entered the Pacific theater. As it turned out, in response to the Japanese attack we entered two separate theaters of war simultaneously, and without much hope of success. I can think of no logical reason to have attacked Germany in response to the Japanese attack at Pear Harbor, and yet we did with gusto.

There is very little criticism over the offensive in Afghanistan by journalists or politicians (assuming there is still a distinction between the two anymore). This is because of two main reasons. The first is that success was swift and lasting. The second is that the public at large identified Afghanistan as being a Nation State directly linked to the attacks of 9/11 because the Taliban were in power and there was a direct link between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

There was no one nation behind the attacks, only a terrorist organization that is not bound by territorial borders or a sovereign nation state. There were several countries that were sympathetic the to goals of the Al-Qaeda terrorists and that included Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan (not a complete list by far).

Because there was no specific country to focus our nations wrath and because Al-Qaeda and other terrorists were allowed to move freely and train openly in these countries, it was hard to develop a strategy for response. Claiming Iraq was not allied with Al-Qaeda is like trying to argue that because Germany didn’t supply Japan with equipment and money, that they weren’t allies during WWII. I will not try to debate whether a response to being attacked is justified, for if you don’t believe in the fundamental right for a country or person to defend themselves, there is not point in saying more. There are people who believe that no use of force is ever warranted and there cannot be a reasonable debate with people who have this mindset. I do believe that they only exist in countries like the US where they can hide behind the sacrifices of others, never needing to get their hands dirty while they eat at the table of freedom. Were they to live in a country where all are open to attack and must fight to survive, they would simply be casualties.

People like comparisons, especially with regards to wars. Since Vietnam, every use of force by the US has been compared to the Vietnam. Korea is the forgotten war, the stalemate that cost us dearly but not a complete loss. Vietnam was the first for many things to include live coverage and continuous casualty reports. In WWII, the battle of Iwo Jima alone took a little over a month and 6,891 Marines were killed and 18,070 were wounded. That is more than twice the number killed at Pear Harbor. Where were the journalists then calling for a stop to the war because the number lost exceeded the number killed at Pearl Harbor? 25,000 killed or wounded in less than a month, but there was no live TV coverage of the battle and the newsreels showed only uplifting scenes of victory.

The newsreels were not journalism, but obvious propaganda. During a war, where the moral of the people fighting is so crucial, is such propaganda improper? Would it make sense to interview a Marine about to charge entrenched Japanese position and ask “So, you have lost more than five thousand friends this months, how are you feeling about the upcoming attack?”? I do believe people have a right to know the truth about what there government is doing, but I also believe the incessant editorializing and partisan chest beating damages the United States ability to conduct any foreign policy successfully. Without the threat of force and a belief by other nations that we are willing to use force, not only is there no leverage for negations and diplomacy, but the end result for the entire world could be significantly worse as a result of an isolationist America.

Look back at the example of pre WWII Europe. Germany did not suddenly and unexpectedly attack Poland in September of 1939. Germany had made its desire for expansion clear and tested its theories out on Spain’s civil war as early as 1936. The German rhetoric was open and clear. America’s rhetoric was also clear and projected our desire to remain isolated. In this environment, a war was started and carried to the point where there could be only two results: Germany and Japan would become victorious; or the United States would help its allies defeat them. Once the war began, the death of millions was assured, the only question was whose millions?

Textbook example of what not to do:
The worst thing that a country, any country can do is to give up a fight after sustaining losses. Even if everyone agrees that the country should never had started the conflict, once engaged it must be seen to the conclusion. The lesson learned in blood at Mogadishu was that running after losing soldiers only teaches all of our current and future enemies that we have no stomach for fighting. There is no war without loss. The question is are the losses accetable? Many people in America today believe that the loss of one life is too high. None of these people serve in the compeltely voluntary United States Armed Forces, but the belief is widely held elsewhere. In the battle of Mogadishu, US forces inflicted between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths and wounded another 3-4,000 while suffering only 18 deaths and 78 wounded. Even the most conservative estimate of 1,000 enemy deaths makes that a 55 to 1 ratio of loss. Had we been able to inflict that kind of damage in WWII, the war would have been over in less than a year.

Instead of seeing the battle of Mogadishu as a victory, the shock over the very public death and dismemborment of our fallen soldiers was used as an excuse to turn tale and run. Perhaps we should never have been there, but as soon as fighting began, those discussions are religated to future historical debate. The battle must be fought with full commitment until the enemy surrenders unconditonally or is obliterated. If not, the country needs to decide it has no stomach for battle of any kind and prepare itself for eventual conquest.

Insurgency like many old words has been made new again and become a common household word. Like the term IED (Improvised Explosive Device), it has been around a long time, but ten years ago no one would know what it meant as an abbreviation unless it was spelled out, and most wouldn’t even if it was spelled out. Yet because of both terms overuse in the daily media, both terms have become part of the common vernacular.

Likewise insurgency in a battle torn region, even one where victory is declared is not uncommon. Post WWII Germany and Japan did not turn in a peaceful serene landscape with well-behaved citizenry overnight. Years of occupation by military forces and military governors ruling over the civilian populace were peppered with insurgent attacks again occupational forces (a.k.a. The United Stated military). Similar occurrences happened much closer to home after the alleged end to the Civil War, which by some Southerner’s accounts is not over as much as it is simply on a break.

For some reason, the journalists today point to the very existence of insurgents as a military failure. Unlike post war Germany and Japan, US forces are not allowed to govern even temporarily and the mention of retaining peacekeepers is met will hostility. When people are willing to kill and die because of fundamental disagreements over religion or government, there can be only one way to resolve the issue and that is though overwhelming force until the enemy is incapable of resisting, yet this seems no longer to be an option. Fir Iraq, overwhelming force was not even an option since the military has been gutted over the previous decade.

As a country, the United States pulled together after the tragic events at Pearl Harbor launched and war machine the likes of which the world had never seen. We overwhelmed superior numbers with superior logistics and an unbeatable will and were victorious. The cost in lives was 175 times greater than that of the initial loss, which sparked the war, and the losses in both cases were mostly military. The ratio of civilian deaths to total war deaths was 8,718 soldiers for every civilian killed at Pearl Harbor (48 civilians). Now we are in a war where the ratio of military deaths to civilian deaths was a 1 to 1 ratio. Today this ratio is said to be too costly, and yet we look back at WWII with its horrific losses with admiration for the “Greatest Generation”.

Today, we have no clear enemy and no specific nation at which we can focus our wrath and an army of journalist who seem bent on undermining our forces by analyzing the facts of the war through their own skewed paradigm. Who was it that determined the cost of freedom in numbers directly proportionate to the number of losses of original victims? Were this the case in 1939, America would have turned tale and run after the first major engagement. And since when do any anti war activists value a soldiers life as equal to that of a civilian? One of the sad ironies of this recent war is the insistence from the media that they support the troops while simultaneously undermining the war effort every chance they get.

While not all reporters in the United States supported WWII, or all actions taken by the government, most felt as if we were all on the same side and they fought hard to believe that we (the United States) could and would eventual win. Now it seems to be only a political chip to be played by both sides to push forth their partisan agendas. The goal, which was embraced in the emotional aftermath of the 9/11 attacks couldn’t be sustained longer than the average run of most reality TV shows. Wars must be over in sixteen weeks or less including commercials, and losses of any kind are unacceptable. Also, apparently enemy casualties are not permitted. Do a search on any Internet search engine for insurgent losses, War on Terror Casualties or any variation. US losses will be listed and described in gruesome detail with no account for how many enemy losses the US has inflicted.

The current war is unlike any war ever fought before. We do not have a nation state we can attack, conquer or occupy. There are many countries, which supported our enemies financially or by training or harboring them. Many more are allied with them philosophically. Winning in any traditional sense may not be possible in such a war. The best we may be able to do is put a sword in the ground somewhere in the world and say, “We are here and we will fight”. There seems to be very little appetite in the US to fight such a battle on our soil, so if not in Iraq, then where? Must we pull back to our soil and suffer more attacks for this truth to sink in to our collective consciousness? Would even more attacks inside our borders change the minds of most media?

I believe we have forgotten the basic truths of life and death and replaced it with a fantasy where the United States can keep isolated from the world and through diplomacy without teeth, wont convince our ideological enemies not to attack us. Or worse, by spending enough money on Homeland Security that we can eliminate all risk.

As long as we are a country, there will be people who want to kill us. Either because they want what we have or believe we are evil. We can either decide to accept the civilian losses that will come and be resolved to turn the other cheek at all costs, or we can fight and suffer losses with the goal of inflicting so much damage on the enemy that it makes it too costly for any enemy to even think about attacking us. At 55 to 1 ratio that we “suffered” at Mogadishu, we could kill every soldier from every other army on the planet and not lose more people than we did in WWII.

Either way, the violent death some of our citizens is inevitable. The question is who, how, where and do we still have to internal