An NPR story has noted that the Iraq War has now gone on longer than World War II. That’s a fact and an interesting one. Even more interesting, of course, is how NPR spins the story:
Monday, Nov. 27, marks the day when the Iraq war becomes longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II. Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales notes that he is surprised that the U.S. military has held out this long, considering that it is an all-volunteer service. A veteran of Vietnam, Scales credits the country’s sergeants for holding things together.
Of sergeants, Scales says, “They are the soul of our army, the glue that bonds fighting units together. They bring young soldiers along, inure them to the frightfulness they are about to witness, and teach them the practical things that keep them alive in the heat of battle.”
Scales says that today’s sergeants’ willingness to stay in the service contrasts to 1972, when many of the NCOs left the service, dissatisfied with the war in Vietnam.
Cause and effect seems to be something that eludes the NPR-niks completely. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that the military’s resolute stance isn’t despite the absence of draftees, but because of their absence. The military is no longer made up of reluctant, ill-trained conscripts. Instead, it’s a tightly trained force whose members are there because they want to be there, whether because they’re natural warriors who need an outlet, because they see it as good professional training, because they were bored, or for any other of a thousand possible reasons. With all due credit to sergeants (and I have a lot of respect for them), it’s utterly fatuous to denigrate the troops in this way by saying that it’s the sergeants who hold together America’s entire military enterprise.
This whole line of thinking reminds me of those reporters who constantly express surprise at the fact that, even as the prison population rises, crime actually drops. Who’d ‘a thunk it? I guess you need an Ivy League degree to avoid the primitive man’s mistake of making rational connections between cause and effect. (For a nice take on this point, read the first story in yesterday’s Best of the Web.)
By the way, the same NPR story has a nice little chart at the bottom pointing out how long various American wars lasted. I thought it would be useful to augment that chart with casualty statistics (in red) for those wars as compared to the current war:
As of Monday, U.S. troops have been in Iraq for 3 years and 8 months. A comparison to other wars:
The Revolutionary War lasted for 8 years and 2 months. (4,435 died, out of a population of 3.5 million.)
The American Civil War lasted 4 years, ending on April 9, 1865. (558,000 died, more than half from disease, out of a population of 34.3 million.)
The Spanish-American War began on February 15, 1898, and ended in the same year, on July 17. (2,446 died, almost all from disease, during a six week long war, out of a population of 74.6 million.)
World War I lasted 4 years and just under 5 months. (116,700 died, out of a population of 102.8 million.)
The U.S. role in World War II started in December of 1941; it ended with the Japanese surrender in 1945. (407,300 died, out of a population of 133.5 million.)
The U.S. involvement in Vietnam lasted well over a decade, until Saigon fell to North Vietnam on April 30, 1975. (58,000 died, out of a population of 204.9 million.)
For more information on the rate at which American’s participated in her wars, the numbers of wounded and dead in each war, and the relative value of each casualty to the total population, check out this fascinating website, which is where I got the numbers I used above. Just to put everything in perspective, 2,883 military men and women have given their lives in Iraq out of a population of 300 million. Each loss is a tragedy but, for Americans, this is a low-casualty conflict, which may also account for military resolve.
UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg tackles the same topic, only with more information and a much better point.