January 17, 2005
The left's body count dilemmaBy Douglas Hanson
I was watching the classic WW II movie Bataan the other night, and the questions of faith and duty to country depicted in the film are just as relevant to today's War on Terror as they were during those early, dark days of the War in the Pacific.
I had first watched the movie with my Dad as a kid, something that today might result in charges of child abuse, given the level of violence, even for an old war movie. But it struck me a few days ago as notable: that the stark brutality of a jungle war depicting a US defeat actually made it to the big screen in 1943. We were supposed to be pumped up for the war effort after all, and this show was not exactly a morale builder.
Or maybe it was.
If Bataan had been produced with today's CGI technology, it would have rivaled Saving Private Ryan in all of its gory details. The movie pulls no punches as a handful of surrounded GIs engage in close combat with the Japanese, in a last ditch attempt to holdout in a rear guard action in the Philippines. I can only imagine the reaction of the audience back then as they saw bullets entering bodies, bayonets slashing into stomachs, near—beheadings with a Japanese officer's sword, hand grenade duels, and of course, plenty of blood from maimed and wounded Soldiers. This was pretty strong stuff for a stateside crowd who were protected from the harsh world of war by two oceans.
Yet, for me the critical scene is after a grisly bout of hand—to—hand combat when a young, severely wounded Soldier, played by Robert Walker, staggers back to friendly lines to wait out the last minutes of his earthly life in the company of his comrades. Naturally, talk turned to thoughts of home and how hard it is to die in such an oppressive, far away place. As the young man passes on, the grizzled Sergeant played by Robert Taylor looks to his remaining men, and makes one of those statements that forever reflect our American ideals, and the recognition of a duty to a higher calling:
It doesn't matter where a man dies, just as long as he dies for freedom.
Yet, in opposition to the current global struggle against Islamo—fascism, the left's primary public relations gimmick is to roll out the casualty tote board, and present a phony concern about the numbers of Americans killed and wounded, in an effort to convince us that the war is a failure. When US dead reached the 1,000 mark last year, we might as well have been watching a Jerry Lewis Telethon, as the lights flashed and the drums rolled, seemingly almost celebrating breaking the donation record from the previous year. The peace—at—any—price crowd therefore, seems to think that if we must go to war, success of a military operation consists in having few or no casualties, regardless if the operational or strategic goals are achieved; and, that it's really never worth it anyway, since they wouldn't have died if they hadn't of gone over there in the first place.
So let's play their game for a bit, and see what the numbers actually tell us. Forget for a minute that the term 'body count' originally meant the counting of enemy KIA — not our own. There may be some value to comparing enemy to friendly losses at the both tactical and strategic level, just to get some idea of how individual battles and the war progressed. But comparison of the numbers lost are a meaningless measure of overall victory.
In the early days in WW II, the American people witnessed many setbacks, but for the most part, never doubted the final outcome. The rookie US Army suffered 1,800 killed, 3,700 captured, and lost 200 tanks in one battle at Kasserine Pass in 1943. In the same year, 1000 US Marines and Sailors were killed and 2,000 wounded in a three day battle assaulting a spit of land called Betio in the Tarawa Atoll, a prize that was only 4,000 yards long by 700 yards wide at its deepest point. All told, the US lost nearly one—half million people killed in WW II, to secure freedom for the world, which was the ultimate objective, and, as a US President would remark 25 years later, we would pay any price, and bear any burden for the sake of freedom.
In fact, by the left's rationale, the former USSR should have accepted their defeat at the hands of the Nazis, since it was becoming 'too expensive' to continue the fight. Germany lost over 4 million people in the War, while the Soviet Union lost 20 million—plus (many historians emphasize the plus side of this estimate). But it was worth it for the cause of national survival. If today's left were consistent, they would say we got off more cheaply than any of the major combatants in WW II, and therefore, it was a success, whether we actually secured freedom or not.
Even in Vietnam, where the term body count came into vogue, the numbers indicated just the opposite of the final outcome of the war. The US lost over 58,000 killed while North Vietnam and the Vietcong guerillas lost over 1.1 million people. The left's heroes in North Vietnam should have packed it in way before our exit in 1973, but they understood something that even the anti—war crowd failed to comprehend: that the cause of freedom from the capitalist oppressor (in their eyes, anyway) trumped any simple battlefield calculus of friendly versus enemy losses.
It is not coincidental that our war of national survival, fought over the eternal issues of rights and freedoms, was also our most deadly. The US Civil War resulted in over 600,000 killed on both sides. Even if the Union dead are taken in isolation, the body count nearly matched our total killed in WW II. Both sides in the Civil War took to the field of battle believing in ideals bigger than themselves, even if some of those ideals of one side have since fallen into disrepute.
Of course, the left touts our almost non—existent casualties in our 'pure' and necessary actions in Bosnia and Kosovo as the epitome of complete victories. They proclaim these operations as successful since the bill, in terms of our dead, was cheap. In fact, the pre—condition set by the Commander—in—Chief was no or low casualties, not that any operational objectives be achieved. Interestingly, his military chiefs were enthusiastic with this criterion, since the burden of real and tough decision—making would now be removed from their shoulders. But nine years later, as US forces finally leave the Balkans, there still exists a restive population with the added side effect of a well—established terror base. This proves the old adage: you get what you pay for.
Today, the left would have us believe that the math of the body count ledger shows that our costs have exceeded our benefits in Iraq. We should now leave the field of battle and abandon the entire country to Baathist thugs and Iranian mercenaries, because of nearly 1,400 US killed and 10,000 wounded (of which half have returned to duty). They also conveniently ignore the body count of over 300,000 Iraqis found so far in mass graves, not to mention the 500,000 slaughtered in Rwanda in the 90s while the major press was enthralled with the Balkans. By brushing off these clear—cut cases of mass murder or genocide, while carping about the deaths of 1,400 Americans fighting in the cause of freedom, I'd say the left is suffering from either a severe case of myopia, or a collective case of racism, or a little of both.
In opposing our efforts in the war, the American left has perverted what was an admittedly faulty measure of success on the Southeast Asian battlefield into a means to cover for its own spiritual emptiness and nihilism. On top of all of this, their philosophical underpinnings of this faux concern for the troops in harm's way and the combat deaths that we have suffered have all literally fallen into the sea due to a natural disaster of, get this, 'biblical proportions.'
The legacy media and its Arab reporters on the streets of Baghdad and Mosul continue to promote this false standard of victory based upon the notion that the casualty bill will become too high to pay. True, the unmatched level of domestic peace and prosperity that our country enjoys (paid for by the blood of our ancestors) blinds many of us to the real threats against our freedoms and way of life.
But it's deeper than that. Lost on these secular progressives, both affluent and poor, is that like glory, earthly life is fleeting, and you'd better take the 'long view' of our place in the universe to truly attain happiness in this transient phase of our being.
So, in the space of ten hours on the day after Christmas, the left's body count methodology was washed away in an entirely naturally occurring geological event that our planet has endured an infinite number of times. It is not surprising that, with a few exceptions, the body count rants have ceased in the face of a potential death toll of over 270,000. And these people weren't even sent off to war by a Republican President. 'Bush lied, and people died' does not really explain the massive casualties involving people who were just living their lives at home, or who were vacationing in a tropical paradise.
To those who demand a 100 percent guarantee out of life's experiences, or who slip into deep depression when their favorite sports team loses, yet bemoan our casualties in Iraq, I hope this is a wake—up call. There are no guarantees, and yes, Virginia, there is something more pure, something higher than each of us; but we don't always conduct our lives in accordance with its noble tenets. We all make mistakes, but in this struggle for survival, we cannot afford failure in the fight for freedom.
Of course there are those who will never see beyond the corporeal world. The next time someone comes up and starts spouting off about the number of Soldiers and Marines killed, or that Arabs will never adopt democracy, and all of the usual leftist platitudes, tell him to go to hell.
On second thought, don't bother — he's already living it.
Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent.