Monday, January 03, 2011

Both Sides of War

I've looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose, and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall.
I really don't know life at all.
~ Joni Mitchell
Every war has multiple sides. Not just the opposing forces on the battlefield but each side has its own balance sheet, its own win and lose. Even for the victor the debit is often weighted in the tons of innocent flesh destroyed while the credit is an illusion. Here is how the United States has fared in its conflicts in the last century.
  • Iraq War (both) - A former uncooperative ally (Saddam in the 1980's) has been changed into an uncooperative dependent colony. For that we gave up 4500 dead and over 30,000 maimed, spent $800 billion, and strengthened an enemy (Iran). Iraqis lost a brutal dictator at the cost of over a half million lives (Lancet).
  • Afghan War - Our targets (Taliban and al Qaeda) have successfully moved to safe havens a few hundred miles to the south and the US has gained an expensive and dysfunctional colony. The cost in flesh (about 1500 dead) and cash ($400 billion) is less than in Iraq but both are growing. 
  • Vietnam War - Debit: 58,000 dead, 350,000 wounded, caused the rise of Pol Pot in Cambodia. Credit: delayed Vietnam's independence from colonial rule by two decades.
  • Korean War - Debit: 170,000 US casualties (killed and wounded); South Korea had about 2 million casualties (civilian and military, about 10% of the population). Credit: prevented Korea's "fall to communism" which lead eventually, 35 years later, to South Korea becoming a prosperous democratic country. This, in turn, lead to Samsung televisions and Hyundai cars. We also got a really good TV series (MASH) out of the war. And the war, technically, has never ended.
  • World War II - Debit: total dead, all countries and all reasons, 50 to 70 million; rise of the Soviet Union as a world power; invention of nuclear weapons. Credit: ended a Holocaust of Biblical proportions; removed from Germany, with extreme prejudice, one of the most horrific government ever to rise to power; ended Japanese militarism which had brutalized the countries it had occupied.
  • World War I - Debit: 37 million casualties (military and civilian), the Armenian genocide, the invention of weapons of mass destruction, the communist revolution in Russia, fueled the later rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Credit: growth of airplane technology (That's it. That's all the good that came out of the first World War.).
Weighing the balance sheets
World War II was worth the horrific cost. Only Koreans can tell us if the Korean War was worth the millions of casualties, although I think we can agree that if North Korea drops atomic bombs on Seoul the war was a wasted effort. As for the other wars, they have been nothing but a useless loss of blood and capital. They have brought nothing but senseless tragedy.

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