A brief (and incomplete) overview of America’s involvement in WWIV (WWIII was the Cold War. We won that one, too.)
Nov. 4, 1979: The U.S. embassy in Tehran is taken over by Iranian “students.” The hostage situation goes on for 444 days.
April 18, 1983: A suicide truck bomb destroys the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, killing 17 Americans and 46 others.
Oct. 23, 1983: A suicide truck bomb destroys the Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241. A few minutes later, another explodes near the French barracks in West Beirut, killing 58 French paratroops.
Dec. 12, 1983: Multiple suicide vehicle-born bombs target multiple locations in Kuwait City, Kuwait, including the U.S. Embassy. Five die.
Sept. 20, 1984: Beruit again. A truck bomb is detonated outside the U.S. embassy annex. The death toll is 24.
Dec. 3, 1984: Beirut one more time. A Kuwait Airways flight is hijacked to Pakistan. Two Americans working for USAID are killed.
June 14, 1985: A TWA flight en route from Athens to Rome is hijacked. Navy Seabee diver Robert Dean Stethem was extensively tortured and then shot to death.
April 5, 1986: A Berlin disco popular with off-duty American service members was bombed by Libyan-backed terrorists. One Turkish woman died, about 200 people were wounded.
Dec. 21, 1988: Islamist terrorists with Libyan backing put a bomb on board a Pan Am flight. It detonated over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259 on board, and 11 on the ground.
Aug. 2, 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait. January 17, 1991 the Coalition air campaign against Iraq begins. The ground campaign commenced on Feb. 24, and was over in 100 hours. U.S. losses are reported 147 combat and 325 non-combat deaths, the non-combat deaths mostly traffic and aircraft accidents. Iraqi military casualties are estimated at 20-22,000 dead.
Feb. 26, 1993: The first attempt to bring down the World Trade Center towers with a truck bomb, killing 6 and injuring over 1,000.
Oct. 3 & 4, 1993: Task Force Ranger attempts to capture Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid and get caught up in a running firefight that lasts two days. One hundred and sixty U.S. combatants are involved in the initial assault. A joint task force enters the city on the following day to rescue the trapped members of the assault force. The U.S. forces suffer 18 dead, 73 wounded. Somali losses are estimated at as much as 1,500 dead, 4,000 wounded.
June 25, 1996: A massive truck bomb explodes outside the Khobar Tower apartments in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia where U.S. military personnel are billeted. Nineteen service members die, hundreds are wounded. Osama Bin Laden is suspected as one of the planners of this attack.
Aug. 7, 1998: Simultaneous truck-bombings at the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania kill 224 and injure about 4,500.
Oct. 12, 2000: A suicide boat-bomb explodes next to the U.S.S. Cole in port in Aden, Yemen, killing 17 sailors and heavily damaging the ship.
Sept. 11, 2001: Everybody knows about that.
Oct. 7, 2001: Air strikes against Afghanistan begin. Small Special Forces groups are already on the ground in Northern Afghanistan. By Dec. 6 the Taliban was no longer in control of any major area. As of June 22, 2006 there have been 306 American fatalities and 84 other Coalition dead in Operation Enduring Freedom. About 775 American service members have been wounded. I can’t find reliable stats on Taliban casualties. They’re in the thousands.
March 20, 2003: The U.S. begins its assault on Iraq. So far, 2500 or so American service members are dead, tens of thousands of Iraqi and foreign jihadists.
What’s stands out in this?
That we didn’t get serious until a lot of American civilians got killed, and got killed here on our own soil. We seem to expect that our service members and government employees face violent death on a regular basis, but not our civilians. We seem to accept that being in a foreign land is risky, but we’re supposed to be safe here. Nick Berg was kidnapped in Iraq and beheaded. We were outraged, but restrained. Four Blackwater contractors were murdered and mutilated – again, we were outraged, but restrained. Just this week two soldiers were kidnapped, tortured, murdered, and mutilated, and still we are restrained.
Restrained? Hell, the Senate is discussing surrender.
But restrained or not, when our military kicks ass it does it far out of proportion to its size.
A while back I found a tremendously thought-provoking essay, The Jacksonian Tradition by Walter Russell Mead, which discusses the primary philosophies extant in the American polity; Jacksonian, Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian and Wilsonian – named, of course for their respective politicians. The Wilsonians are described by Mead as crusading moralist transcendentalists, Hamiltonians as commercial realists, Jeffersonians as supple but principled pacifists. Jacksonians, however, are described as follows:
Suspicious of untrammeled federal power (Waco), skeptical about the prospects for domestic and foreign do-gooding (welfare at home, foreign aid abroad), opposed to federal taxes but obstinately fond of federal programs seen as primarily helping the middle class (Social Security and Medicare, mortgage interest subsidies), Jacksonians constitute a large political interest.
In some ways Jacksonians resemble the Jeffersonians, with whom their political fortunes were linked for so many decades. Like Jeffersonians, Jacksonians are profoundly suspicious of elites. They generally prefer a loose federal structure with as much power as possible retained by states and local governments. But the differences between the two movements run very deep — so deep that during the Cold War they were on dead opposite sides of most important foreign policy questions. To use the language of the Vietnam era, a time when Jeffersonians and Jacksonians were fighting in the streets over foreign policy, the former were the most dovish current in mainstream political thought during the Cold War, while the latter were the most consistently hawkish.
One way to grasp the difference between the two schools is to see that both Jeffersonians and Jacksonians are civil libertarians, passionately attached to the Constitution and especially to the Bill of Rights, and deeply concerned to preserve the liberties of ordinary Americans. But while the Jeffersonians are most profoundly devoted to the First Amendment, protecting the freedom of speech and prohibiting a federal establishment of religion, Jacksonians see the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, as the citadel of liberty. Jeffersonians join the American Civil Liberties Union; Jacksonians join the National Rifle Association. In so doing, both are convinced that they are standing at the barricades of freedom.
I’ve recently read James Webb’s Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, and I’m nearly finished reading David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, which does a deft job of detailing the cultures that spawned these four very different men and their philosophies. I’m also reading Victor Davis Hanson’s Ripples of Battle: How Wars of the past Still Determine how We Fight, how We Live, and how We Think (I tend to read more than one book at a time, especially when I’m reading non-fiction.)
One interesting common thread throughout all four of these works is America’s military, and its unique combination of lethality and compassion, of general decency in action, but ruthlessness when unrestrained. The first chapter in Ripples of Battle is concerned with the battle for Okinawa in WWII. Hanson points out the absolutely horrendous casualties suffered by both sides, and the military tactics employed to produce them, such as Japan’s massive kamikaze attacks and the U.S. tactic of firing flamethrowers into enemy-occupied caves before sealing them up with satchel charges.
…American ground and naval forces suffered 12,520 killed and another 33,631 wounded or missing in the three months between the invasion on April 1 and the official end of the Okinawan campaign on July 2.
The defenders… suffered far worse — at least 110,000 killed or nearly ten soldiers lost for every American slain, at a sickening clip of fifty men dead every hour of the battle, nearly one per minute, nonstop for three months on end. Perhaps 100,000 civilians may have been killed — how many of them were active combatants is not known. Nor do we have any accurate idea of the number of wounded and missing Okinawans; some estimates put the number of soldiers and civilians who were sealed in caves at over 20,000. Fewer than 7,500 Japanese soldiers were taken prisoner. All in all, nearly a quarter of a million people were killed or wounded in the fighting on Okinawa…
Mead notes in the opening of his essay:
In the last five months of World War II, American bombing raids claimed the lives of more than 900,000 Japanese civilians — not counting the casualties from the atomic strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is more than twice the total number of combat deaths that the United States has suffered in all its foreign wars combined.
On one night, that of March 9-10, 1945, 234 Superfortresses dropped 1,167 tons of incendiary bombs over downtown Tokyo; 83,793 Japanese bodies were found in the charred remains–a number greater than the 80,942 combat fatalities that the United States sustained in the Korean and Vietnam Wars combined.
Both James Webb and David Hackett Fischer note that America’s military muscle is made up mostly of the descendants of Scots-Irish immigrants – a people with a long history of military service and martial pride, and no politician better exemplifies the Scots-Irish temperament better than Andrew Jackson. Mead explains:
Many students of American foreign policy, both here and abroad, dismiss Jacksonians as ignorant isolationists and vulgar patriots, but, again, the reality is more complex, and their approach to the world and to war is more closely grounded in classical realism than many recognize. Jacksonians do not believe that the United States must have an unambiguously moral reason for fighting. In fact, they tend to separate the issues of morality and war more clearly than many members of the foreign policy establishment.
The Gulf War was a popular war in Jacksonian circles because the defense of the nation’s oil supply struck a chord with Jacksonian opinion. That opinion — which has not forgotten the oil shortages and price hikes of the 1970s — clearly considers stability of the oil supply a vital national interest and is prepared to fight to defend it. The atrocity propaganda about alleged Iraqi barbarisms in Kuwait did not inspire Jacksonians to war, and neither did legalistic arguments about U.S. obligations under the UN Charter to defend a member state from aggression. Those are useful arguments to screw Wilsonian courage to the sticking place, but they mean little for Jacksonians. Had there been no UN Charter and had Kuwait been even more corrupt and repressive that it is, Jacksonian opinion would still have supported the Gulf War. It would have supported a full-scale war with Iran over the 1980 hostage crisis, and it will take an equally hawkish stance toward any future threat to perceived U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf region.
In the absence of a clearly defined threat to the national interest, Jacksonian opinion is much less aggressive. It has not, for example, been enthusiastic about the U.S. intervention in the case of Bosnia. There the evidence of unspeakable atrocities was much greater than in Kuwait, and the legal case for intervention was as strong. Yet Jacksonian opinion saw no threat to the interests, as it understood them, of the United States, and Wilsonians were the only segment of the population that was actively eager for war.
In World War I it took the Zimmermann Telegram and the repeated sinking of American ships to convince Jacksonian opinion that war was necessary. In World War II, neither the Rape of Nanking nor the atrocities of Nazi rule in Europe drew the United States into the war. The attack on Pearl Harbor did.
To engage Jacksonians in support of the Cold War it was necessary to convince them that Moscow was engaged in a far-reaching and systematic campaign for world domination, and that this campaign would succeed unless the United States engaged in a long-term defensive effort with the help of allies around the world. That involved a certain overstatement of both Soviet intentions and capabilities, but that is beside the present point. Once Jacksonian opinion was convinced that the Soviet threat was real and that the Cold War was necessary, it stayed convinced. Populist American opinion accepted the burdens it imposed and worried only that the government would fail to prosecute the Cold War with the necessary vigor. No one should mistake the importance of this strong and constant support. Despite the frequent complaints by commentators and policymakers that the American people are “isolationist” and “uninterested in foreign affairs”, they have made and will make enormous financial and personal sacrifices if convinced that these are in the nation’s vital interests.
This mass popular patriotism, and the martial spirit behind it, gives the United States immense advantages in international affairs. After two world wars, no European nation has shown the same willingness to pay the price in blood and treasure for a global presence. Most of the “developed” nations find it difficult to maintain large, high-quality fighting forces. Not all of the martial patriotism in the United States comes out of the world of Jacksonian populism, but without that tradition, the United States would be hard pressed to maintain the kind of international military presence it now has.
It is the Jacksonians who fight our wars, and the Jacksonians who are willing to pay for them, and – to date – it has been the Jacksonians who make up a majority of the public, or at least the part that votes.
But there is one other important component of the Jacksonian philosophy. Mead again:
Jacksonian America has clear ideas about how wars should be fought, how enemies should be treated, and what should happen when the wars are over. It recognizes two kinds of enemies and two kinds of fighting: honorable enemies fight a clean fight and are entitled to be opposed in the same way; dishonorable enemies fight dirty wars and in that case all rules are off.
An honorable enemy is one who declares war before beginning combat; fights according to recognized rules of war, honoring such traditions as the flag of truce; treats civilians in occupied territory with due consideration; and — a crucial point– refrains from the mistreatment of prisoners of war. Those who surrender should be treated with generosity. Adversaries who honor the code will benefit from its protections, while those who want a dirty fight will get one.
Although American Indians often won respect for their extraordinary personal courage, Jacksonian opinion generally considered Indians to be dishonorable opponents. American-Indian warrior codes (also honor based) permitted surprise attacks on civilians and the torture of prisoners of war. This was all part of a complex system of limited warfare among the tribal nations, but Jacksonian frontier dwellers were not students of multicultural diversity. In their view, Indian war tactics were the sign of a dishonorable, unscrupulous and cowardly form of war. Anger at such tactics led Jacksonians to abandon the restraints imposed by their own war codes, and the ugly skirmishes along the frontier spiraled into a series of genocidal conflicts in which each side felt the other was violating every standard of humane conduct.
The Japanese, another people with a highly developed war code based on personal honor, had the misfortune to create the same kind of impression on American Jacksonians. The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the gross mistreatment of American POWs (the Bataan Death March), and Japanese fighting tactics all served to enrage American Jacksonians and led them to see the Pacific enemy as ruthless, dishonorable and inhuman. All contributed to the vitriolic intensity of combat in the Pacific theater. By the summer of 1945, American popular opinion was fully prepared to countenance invasion of the Japanese home islands, even if they were defended with the tenacity (and indifference to civilian lives) that marked the fighting on Okinawa.
Given this background, the Americans who decided to use the atomic bomb may have been correct that the use of the weapon saved lives, and not only of American soldiers. In any case, Jacksonians had no compunction about using the bomb. General Curtis LeMay (subsequently the 1968 running mate of Jacksonian populist third-party candidate George Wallace) succinctly summed up this attitude toward fighting a dishonorable opponent: “I’ll tell you what war is about”, said Lemay in an interview, “You’ve got to kill people, and when you’ve killed enough they stop fighting.”
Hanson makes a similar point:
The American military and public also came away from Okinawa with a number of perceptions about land warfare in Asia, some of them accurate, some racist, a few entirely erroneous — but all fundamental in forming the American way of war in Korea and Vietnam in the next thirty years. After the startling array of suicides on Okinawa, Americans were convinced that Asians in general did not value life — theirs or anyone else’s — in the same manner as Westerners, and when faced with overwhelming military power and sure defeat would nevertheless continue to fight hard in their efforts to kill Americans. Because territory was not really as important on Okinawa as body counts — the fight would end not with the capture per se of strategic ground but rather only with the complete annihilation of the enemy who was trapped on the island — Americans developed a particular mentality that would come to haunt them in both the Korean peninsula and Southeast Asia.
Because Okinawa was the major engagement in the Pacific where civilians sometimes fought on the side of the enemy, Americans experienced the dilemma of determining which woman, child, or old man was harmless, friendly, or a killer. And because Okinawa was out of view, little reported on, and fought against a supposedly repugnant and fascist enemy, Americans left the island with the assurance that when stranded in such a hell, they should blast indiscriminantly any civilian in their proximity on suspicion of aiding the enemy — also with disastrous consequences to come in the suddenly televised fighting of the 1960s and 1970s when victory hinged not on enemy body counts alone, but also in winning the hearts and minds of supposedly noncombatant civilian populations in an arena broadcast live around the world. Japanese veterans of the rape of Nanking might murder thousands of Okinawan civilians — 40,000 adult males alone were shanghaied into the imperial army. But in such a messy battle, jaded American GIs — as purportedly more liberal Westerners — who either mistakenly or by intent shot a few hundred would incur far greater moral condemnation both at home and far abroad.
And here we are again. This time we’re engaged in combat with enemies that wear no uniform, that blend with the civilian population, that use that population as a shield as well as a target, and who embrace their own deaths. Our soldiers, once again, are in the unenviable position of having to determine which woman, child, or old man is harmless, friendly, or a killer. Sometimes we make mistakes. And, as before, sometimes they might not be mistakes.
But still, we’re restrained. No carpet-bombing. No nukes. In fact, we’ve gone so far as to drop precision-guided bombs filled with concrete in order to minimize the risk of killing innocents or destroying important infrastructure. However, we’re willing to unapologetically kill women and children when the target requires it.
The question is, “How much longer will this restraint last?”
The Wilsonians want us out for diplomatic reasons. The Hamiltonians don’t want to keep paying the financial bill. The Jeffersonians don’t want to keep paying the bill in blood.
The Jacksonians want us to take the gloves off.
One of the reasons I support the present war is that killing 50K of the jihadis now may keep them from mounting the city-killing attack that will really enrage the U.S.. Because if that happens, millions on millions of Arabs will die and my country will be transformed by its rage into something I won’t like.
In that same comment, he also said:
These are not civilized people…. They’re barbarians — howling fanatics with a world view so close to psychopathology that I still find it difficult to comprehend even after having studied Islamic history for 31 years. Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, OBL’s mentor, once wrote of infidels: “There can no dialogue with them, save by the sword and the rifle.” Mainstream Salafists and Wahhabis and Deobandis really believe this! It’s not just posturing.
Being “reasonable” with barbarians like these doesn’t work; you have to make them fear you, and if you can’t make them fear enough you have to kill them as you would put down a rabid animal. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is.
Sounds remarkably close to Hanson’s “Americans were convinced that Asians in general did not value life — theirs or anyone else’s — in the same manner as Westerners, and when faced with overwhelming military power and sure defeat would nevertheless continue to fight hard in their efforts to kill Americans”, doesn’t it? Just yesterday Ace at Ace of Spades HQ posted this:
If the majority of Muslims do in fact believe that an apocalyptic conflict with the west is inevitable, then 1, it is indeed inevitable, and 2, let the apocalypse begin.
If genocide is unavoidable, I choose genocide against my enemies rather than myself.
There will be one more massive outrage from the Religion of Peace, and then things are going to go rather badly for them.
Okay, let me not be so coy and cute. I am just about ready to give my blessing to a genocidal nuclear strike on the majority of the Muslim world, and I suspect many of my countrymen are similarly itchy-fingered.
One more. One more fucking mass-murder. Go for it, boys. Give us the excuse. Some of us suspect it’s inevitable and the only way to finally get it through your primative heads that we will no longer put up with being murdered by savage animals, but we need the moral pretext. We need the hot anger of fresh provocation.
So do it. If you are incapable of sharing the earth peacefully, then we will have to absent you from it. And when the nuclear fire rains down on you, you can cry out to your God and ask him “What have we possibly done to deserve this?”
In 50 years Americans will look back in horror at what we’ve done, just as they did 50 years after Hiroshima; but then, we’ll have peace for 50 years. I’ll exchange some guilt for safety.
Ace is obviously Jacksonian in philosophical outlook – and he’s quite right, many of his countrymen are similarly itchy-fingered. Francis Porretto offers a slightly less dark analysis:
Another strike with a hijacked aircraft would be terrible, but it would be a scale of destruction with which we’re already tragically familiar. It would probably precipitate a new expedition by our conventional military forces. But a terrorist act involving a biological agent, poison gas, or a nuclear weapon would reap many more lives, perhaps in the hundreds of thousands. It would evoke demands that the Islamic world be punished with supreme brutality — demands that could not be denied.
Americans aren’t enthusiasts for the shedding of innocent blood, and either of the above scenarios would guarantee the destruction of an unthinkable number of lives, among which some innocents would surely be numbered. Yet one or the other would be unavoidable should Islamic lunatics perpetrate an atrocity with WMD. Were Washington to balk at such a response, the American people would scrape Washington hollow — and we wouldn’t wait for the next election to do it.
No, indeed. And the Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians will join us. The Wilsonians never do.
All it will take is a little bit more convincing. September 11, 2001 was enough to get the Jacksonians on board to fight the war against our attackers – correctly identified as Islamic extremists, not just Al-Qaeda, and not just Osama Bin Laden. It was, to us, another Pearl Harbor. As usual, the Jacksonians are worried only that the government is failing to prosecute the war with the necessary vigor.
As Admiral Yamamoto is credited to have said after the Japanese naval air strikes on Pearl Harbor, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Okinawa, if nothing else, fulfilled that fear. If the Islamists manage to pull off a truly major strike involving thousands or even tens of thousands of American civilian casualties, the world will once again see what we moral, liberal, civilized Americans are willing to do when the gloves finally come off.
The difference between us and them is, once we’re finished we’ll pick up the pieces and wearily go home to our lives again, because we’re really not interested in running the world. As Eric Raymond so eloquently stated in American Empire Redux:
I was traveling in Europe a few years back, and some Euroleftie began blathering in my presence about America’s desire to rule the world. “Nonsense,” I told him. “You’ve misunderstood the American character. We’re instinctive isolationists at bottom. We don’t want to rule the world — we want to be able to ignore it.”
That, too, is a Jacksonian characteristic.