Thursday, September 20, 2007

Giuliani and Past Casualties

Being in Manhattan on 9/11, I know that the part of Rudy Giuliani's reputation earned that day is legit. For anyone who didn't lose someone (or just temporarily lose track of someone) that morning, everything became really sad starting the day and night after, but the day of, it's more accurate to say that things were surreal. And Giuliani did seem like the only person who was reacting immediately like a level-headed adult, with the right combination of grief and fortitude. Early that afternoon, while my girlfriend and I sat at a diner on the east side of midtown, looking at the smoke on television where the towers used to be and feeling too stunned to process much, he was the only person who occasionally appeared on screen and attempted to talk to us.

Still, I'm shocked -- given how the six years since have played -- that he's the front-running Republican candidate for president. I've always thought his controlling personality and reliance on tough-love techniques made him much better suited to run a city like New York than an entire country like the U.S. And given that Bush's approval ratings are so low, it surprises me that someone who frequently echoes his talking points on the war is in the lead. But then, Romney, Thompson, Huckabee and Paul (not a law firm) don't seem like very stiff competition. For that reason, I still think McCain will have his say before the curtain falls, but others more knowledgeable than me are unconvinced of that.

This is all a roundabout way of getting to a column by Niall Ferguson, in which he argues against a Giuliani candidacy. I'm with him on that (though not strictly for the reasons he lists), but I was more struck by this statistic, during Ferguson's comparison of the current conflict with the years 1941-42, emphasis mine:
The Islamists have thousands rather than millions of trained warriors. Their most dangerous weapons are land mines and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, not aircraft carriers and guided missiles. The total number of American fatalities that can be attributed to this supposed world war is about 6,000 (adding together 9/11 victims with U.S. passports and the service personnel killed in action in Iraq). On average, the Axis powers killed about 20,000 Allied soldiers and civilians a day.
I don't place that emphasis in order to make some connection between the two wars, or our feelings about them, but because it always astonishes me to consider casualties in past battles. Born in 1974, I've only known an America in which war fatalities cause ... not more suffering in the people directly affected, certainly, but presumably greater consternation in the public at large. Maybe because of my birth date (could it be that arbitrary?), I share that feeling. I just wonder if the perceived justness of the cause alone made it "easier" to accept such statistics before Vietnam (if it's even true that it was somehow easier), or what role the mass media plays, or what role the more encouraged emotionalism of men plays, etc.

Again, I bring it up because I find it thought-provoking, not because I have any illuminating thoughts of my own about it.

(Ferguson's column via Andrew Sullivan)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The statistical comparison is a bit odd. Notice he says 20,000 "allied" instead of "American". The Allied powers include the Soviets, who lost millions upon millions during WWII, so that statistic is skewed greatly because of Soviet losses. The vast majority of Allied losses in WWII were not American. That is another reason it didn't effect us as much. American lives are more valuable to us than all them foreigners.

The media has a huge role to play in all of this. During WWII times, it took days or weeks for accurate reports to filter back through the papers, and the media was much more respectful of the wishes of our politicians as to how they reported anything. In many ways, the media was simply the propaganda machine of the president during that time. Just as it is today in some totalitarian regimes around the world. I am being obvious here, but now in the U.S., the media thrives on bad news and on being contrary to the powers that be. It is absurd how they dwell daily on, say 5 or 6 soldier deaths in a day, when more people die daily in car accidents. You can't fight a war effectively if our confidence is shaken or we have to pause to reassess our position just because we loose an average of 5-10 soldiers a day. Honestly, for war, that is a pretty damn low casualty rate.

It is continually frustrating how the media refuses to report or at least focus on much of the positive that has been achieved over there. I've got a good friend in the military who has served in Iraq already, and he is returning for another tour at the end of the year. He has been in many of the "hot spots" that you hear all about. He tells me about many of the improvements in the lives of every day Iraqis that have occurred, and in his experiences with the Iraqi populace, they are by and large grateful for much of the progress. But all we get from CNN is our daily death count and poll ratings here. Poll ratings in large part created by our media's choice on what to focus on.

Isn't it interesting that the Democrats have staked their immediate political future on a plan of failure? The Democrats depend on our failure in Iraq for their own successes. If we succeed in Iraq, that is the worst thing that could happen for them. Would anyone really want to support a political party that is hoping for our military to fail?


11:46 AM  

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