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"War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men."
~ Georges Clemenceau, French premier during World War I.

"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." ~ Winston Churchill

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U.S. war fatalities
in Afghanistan

Month Monthly deaths Cum. deaths
Oct. 2001 3 3
Nov. 2001 5 8
Dec. 2001 4 12
Jan. 2002 10 22
Feb. 2002 12 34
Mar. 2002 9 43
Apr. 2002 4 47
May 2002 1 48
June 2002 3 51
July 2002 0 51
Aug. 2002 1 52
Sept. 2002 0 52
Oct. 2002 5 57
Nov. 2002 2 59
Dec. 2002 1 60
Jan. 2003 4 64
Feb. 2003 7 71
Mar. 2003 11 82
Apr. 2003 2 84
May 2003 1 85
June 2003 3 88
July 2003 1 89
Aug. 2003 4 93
Sept. 2003 2 95
Oct. 2003 3 98
Nov. 2003 6 104
Dec. 2003 1 105
Jan. 2004 9 114
Feb. 2004 2 116
Mar. 2004 3 119
Apr. 2004 3 122
May 2004 8 130
June 2004 5 135
July 2004 2 137
Aug. 2004 3 140
Sept. 2004 4 144
Oct. 2004 5 149
Nov. 2004 7 156
Dec. 2004 1 157
Jan. 2005 2 159
Feb. 2005 1 160
Mar. 2005 6 166
Apr. 2005 18 184
May 2005 4 188
June 2005 27 205
July 2005 2 207
Aug. 2005 15 222
Sept. 2005 11 233
Oct. 2005 7 240
Nov. 2005 3 243
Dec. 2005 3 246
Jan. 2006 1 247
Feb. 2006 17 254
Mar. 2006 10 264
Apr. 2006 1 265
May 2006 11 276
June 2006 18 294
July 2006 9 203
Aug. 2006 10 213
Sept. 2006 6 219
Oct. 2006 10 229
Nov. 2006 7 236
Dec. 2006 1 237
Jan. 2007 0 237
Feb. 2007 14 251
Mar. 2007 5 256
Apr. 2007 8 264
May 2007 11 275
June 2007 12 287
July 2007 14 301
Aug. 2007 17 318
Sept. 2007 9 327
Oct. 2007 10 337
Nov. 2007 11 348
Dec. 2007 6 354
Jan. 2008 7 361
Feb. 2008 1 362
Mar. 2008 8 370
Apr. 2008 5 375
May 2008 17 392
June 2008 28 420
July 2008 20 448
Aug. 2008 22 470
Sept. 2008 27 497
Oct. 2008 16 513
Nov. 2008 1 514
Dec. 2008 3 517
Jan. 2009 15 532
Feb. 2009 15 547
Mar. 2009 13 560
Apr. 2009 6 566
May 2009 12 578
June 2009 25 603
July 2009 45 648
Aug. 2009 51 699
Sept. 2009 40 739
Oct. 2009 59 798
Nov. 2009 18 816
Dec. 2009 18 834
Jan. 2010 30 864
Feb. 2010 31 895
Mar. 2010 26 921
Apr. 2010 20 941
May 2010 34 975
June 2010 60 1035
July 2010 65 1100
Aug. 2010 55 1155
Sept. 2010 42 1197
Oct. 2010 50 1247
Nov. 2010 53 1300
Dec. 2010 33 1333
Jan. 2011 25 1358
Feb. 2011 20 1378
Mar. 2011 31 1409
Apr. 2011 46 1455
May 2011 35 1490
June 2011 47 1537
July 2011 37 1574
Aug. 2011 71 1645
Sept. 2011 42 1687
Oct. 2011 31 1718
Nov. 2011 10 1728
Dec. 2011
*

NOTE: "There have been 533 U.S. combat deaths to date in Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes Afghanistan and other areas." SOURCES: Washington Post, July 2, 2008; Apr. 9, 2009; icasualties.org

June 6, 2022 [LINK / comment]

Russia's invasion of Ukraine: How to respond?

As had been anticipated for several months, on February 24 the Russian army launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, unleashing destruction and terror not seen in Europe since World War II. Motivated by a deep craving for revenge against the West, President Vladimir Putin seemed to expect that Ukraine would capitulate within a few weeks, but instead he elicited a heroic rally that will go down in history books for many decades to come. Putin has often dismissed the idea that Ukraine is even a real country, but their own people have made a loud affirmation of their nationhood.

As a first step toward formulating a more thorough proposal for U.S. policy-makers, here are my preliminary reflections, written and posted on Facebook several days before the invasion actually began:

It's hard to pick on the Biden administration for its woefully inadequate response to Russia's campaign of aggression against Ukraine thus far, since it's only a reflection of the American foreign policy establishment's obsolete toolbox. Every time some rogue regime threatens its neighbors or commits atrocities against its own people, it's always the same routine: stern talk, economic sanctions, and displays of military might.

What makes the current situation different is that Vladimir Putin is on the verge of outright conquest of a neighboring country in direct violation of the 1945 United Nations Charter and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. It's more than just a matter of forcibly changing borders, as when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Whether Vladimir Putin gives the order to attack or not is not really the issue here. The very fact that Putin is able to use the threat of invasion and conquest as a means to subdue the free and democratic government in Kyiv is itself a sign that the underpinnings of world order have already come undone. For an ambitious and calculating despot such as Putin, the threat of economic sanctions by western democracies (assuming that the United States can get its allies to go along) is laughably lame.

Given the vast disparity between Ukraine's strategic value to Russia vis a vis its value to the United States, there is no sense in pretending that we might escalate this confrontation in order to dissuade Russia from attacking. Doing so would only highlight the awkward fact that the United States bears a solemn obligation to defend the sovereignty of three former Soviet republics: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. (Does the average American high school student even know where they are located?) Putin's obvious long-term plan is to erase NATO's security umbrella from eastern Europe and restore as much of the old Soviet empire as he can. We may eventually have to choose between upholding our treaty commitments by fighting in the streets of Tallinn and Riga as the first phase of World War III, or retreating from Europe altogether.

The choice facing the Biden administration is clear: either acknowledge that Russia's campaign of aggression signifies the deathknell of the current world order, or downplay its significance and pretend that nothing much has changed. Granted, facing up to harsh dilemmas is not exactly a strong point of the complacent experts in post-Cold War Washington, DC. But if Antony Blinken, Lloyd Austin, Jake Sullivan, and other Biden officials really want to make Russia pay a price for its naked aggression, they will recommend that -- if worse comes to worse -- either Russia be expelled from the United Nations or that the United Nations be expelled from the United States. Perhaps such a threat will serve a purpose, and perhaps it won't. But what's the use of pretending that the U.N. serves any purpose if one of its five founding members gets away with doing exactly what the U.N. was created to prevent? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and like it or not, that's where we are today.

Obviously, the Ukrainians have done much better defending their country than most people expected. Two of the most pertinent reasons are: superior morale and leadership relative to the Russians, and possession of large numbers of advanced weapons provided before the war by the United States and other NATO nations. (Ironically, the presence of such weapons served to validate Putin's claim that Ukraine was serving as an arm of NATO, menacing Russian security.) Anti-aircraft missiles (e.g. Stinger) have kept the skies over Ukraine relatively free of Russian fighter-bombers, and Javelin anti-tank missiles have impeded the advance of Russian mechanized forces.

In the early weeks of the invasion, through mid-March roughly, Russian land forces advanced in two main columns: from Belarus in the north toward the capital city, Kyiv (no longer referred to by westerners with the Russian name "Kiev"), and from Crimea in the south. Within days the Russians took control of the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the eastern edge of the Pripet Marshes, and approached the suburbs of the capital. Maps in the Washington Post indicated that Kyiv was on the verge of being surrounded, but that turned out not to be the case; Ukrainian defenders managed to block Russian tank columns, creating traffic jams that stretched for 20 or more miles. In the south, Russia seized the city of Kherson near the mouth of the Dnepr River, and for a few weeks they seemed to be threatening Nikolaev to the west and even Odesa (formerly "Odessa"), which became Ukraine's only port after Russia seized control of Crimea in 2014. But, as with the northern front, the Russian advance stalled.

Meanwhile, Russia unleashed a massive and devastating bombardment campaign, destroying hundreds of civilian buildings in Kyiv and other cities. It was clearly aimed at subjugating Ukraine by terror tactics, but all it did was prompt a large flow of refugees to Poland and other countries to the west. (Most of those refugees have since returned to Ukraine.) If there was any doubt as to the legitimacy of Russia's claim on Ukrainian territory (based mainly on the large number of Russian-speakers in eastern and southern Ukraine), their barbaric methods have erased them.

By late March it was obvious that Ukraine was not going to surrender any time soon, and Russian forces were suffering high casualties, including several general officers. So, Putin ordered a withdrawal from Kyiv, redeploying Russian ground forces to begin a second offensive in the eastern Donbass region, which is rich in coal and boasts several big steel mills and other industries. This attack began during May and has made slow progress, in spite of fierce Ukrainian resistance. Kharkiv, the second biggest city in Ukraine, remains threatened by the Russian army. At some point, Russia's superior numbers are bound to have an effect, in spite of their lower morale.

The key question now is whether Ukraine will continue to receive enough high-tech weapons from the west to be able to hold their own in the Donbass region. Putin is patient and determined, and the authoritarian system he has established in Russia not only prevents dissenting forces from getting organized, it systematically distorts the people's minds the with fake news propaganda. There is no free press in Russia any more, and if there is any samizdat movement (such as in the latter years of the old Soviet Union), it doesn't seem to be having much of an effect yet.

It is tremendously gratifying that the cause of freedom and democracy has made such a good show in Ukraine up until now. Many Americans have concluded that Ukraine's successful defense validates the idea that we must provide them with ever-more quantities of advanced weapons and other military equipment. But given Russia's numerical superiority, the iron will of Putin, and the likelihood of continued large-scale civilian deaths as the war progresses, the advantage seems to lie on the side of Moscow. Here is where the factor of national interests come into play: the United States has very little at stake in Ukraine, whereas it is of supreme importance to Russia. This would be the case no matter what kind of government there was in Moscow.

Given the disproportionate national interests at stake, it is clear that Russia will hold the initiative at every level of escalation that may unfold in this conflict. Their threats are credible, whereas ours are not. (That's why all those economic sanctions announced by President Biden before and after the war began were such a waste of time.) Since the beginning of June, in response to reports that U.S. might provide Ukraine with longer-range missiles (possibly threatening Russian cities), Putin warned once again that Russia would respond with overwhelming destruction. Past actions indicate that he is dead serious about this.

As for President Biden, it is hard to know what he really intends. Several weeks ago he made an impromptu remark to the effect that Putin cannot be allowed to remain in power. Is regime change in Moscow official U.S. policy? Apparently not, because White House aides quickly clarified that Biden's words did not signify a change in policy goals. Biden's habit of making rhetorical gaffes is not helpful at a delicate time such as this.

On the other hand, is there any way for this war to end with Putin remaining in charge of the Russian government? I told my students in classes this spring that for there to be a real peace, either Putin or Ukrainian President Zelensky has to go. The most likely outcome right now seems to be a protracted conflict with occasional small shifts on the battlefield, somewhat like in the latter two years of the Korean War. Then as now, a negotiated settlement seemed hopelessly unrealistic, with two radically-opposed systems of government locked in a grim stalemate.

The war in Ukraine has given birth (or rebirth) to an old-fashioned idealistic spirit among many Americans. After two decades of mostly futile (intermittent) war in Afghanistan and Iraq, they now see themselves once again as a benevolent force on the world stage. For a while there was a cynical faction, composed mainly of Trump supporters who simply refuse to see Russia as malevolent. (FOX News' Tucker Carlson is their main cheerleader.) But most Republicans and Democrats have come to agree that the United States cannot afford to let partisan divisions weaken us at this moment of peril. That illustrates one of the perennial side-effects of war, which is to galvanize national unity in countries that are under attack. We ourselves are not under attack yet -- but most of us are aware that if one side or the other makes a faulty calculation, we might be.

Are most Americans willing to risk escalation to World War III for the sake of Ukrainian independence? I don't think so. We should provide enough weapons for Ukraine to hold onto as much of their territory as is feasible, but we must be very careful not to give them too many weapons. We don't want them launching some kind of missile strike on Moscow, obviously, even though they might be perfectly justified in retaliating in such fashion. This illustrates the irony that bold, idealistic motivations often result in cynical, half-hearted actions. As Halford Mackinder once wrote, democracies are inherently incapable of thinking or acting strategically, unless their own survival is at risk. That is why, sadly, the best we can probably do for Ukraine is to prolong their agony -- enabling them to fight well enough to survive, but not enough for them to achieve a clear victory. It will be up to Russia to decide what peace terms it will accept and put an end to this horrible, unnecessary episode in human history.

D-Day + 78 years: What to remember?

Except for the four paragraphs above written back in February, I wrote this piece while watching the 1962 movie The Longest Day, about the invasion of France by Allied forces on June 6, 1944 -- 78 years ago today. The battle scenes of the D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy were overall less gruesome than the 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan, but the theme of bitter sacrifice for a higher cause is at the heart of both movies. At a time when many Americans are complaining about inflation (without taking the time to understand why it has come about), we need to keep in mind the necessity of bearing hardships for the greater good of our country, and of the planet.




Disclaimer: My military experience is limited to one semester of ROTC at the University of South Dakota.

War books:



U.S. war fatalities
in Iraq

Month Monthly deaths Cum. deaths
Mar. 2003 65 65
Apr. 2003 73 138
May 2003 37 175
June 2003 30 205
July 2003 47 252
Aug. 2003 35 287
Sept. 2003 30 317
Oct. 2003 43 360
Nov. 2003 82 442
Dec. 2003 40 482
Jan. 2004 47 529
Feb. 2004 19 548
Mar. 2004 52 600
Apr. 2004 135 735
May 2004 80 815
June 2004 42 857
July 2004 54 905
Aug. 2004 66 971
Sept. 2004 81 1052
Oct. 2004 63 1121
Nov. 2004 137 1258
Dec. 2004 72 1330
Jan. 2005 107 1437
Feb. 2005 58 1495
Mar. 2005 36 1531
Apr. 2005 52 1583
May 2005 79 1662
June 2005 77 1739
July 2005 54 1793
Aug. 2005 84 1877
Sept. 2005 48 1925
Oct. 2005 96 2021
Nov. 2005 83 2104
Dec. 2005 66 2170
Jan. 2006 61 2231
Feb. 2006 53 2284
Mar. 2006 30 2314
Apr. 2006 74 2388
May 2006 69 2457
June 2006 59 2516
July 2006 42 2558
Aug. 2006 65 2623
Sept. 2006 70 2693
Oct. 2006 100 2793
Nov. 2006 63 2856
Dec. 2006 105 2961
Jan. 2007 82 3043
Feb. 2007 81 3124
Mar. 2007 75 3199
Apr. 2007 102 3301
May 2007 121 3422
June 2007 98 3520
July 2007 75 3595
Aug. 2007 77 3672
Sept. 2007 62 3734
Oct. 2007 37 3771
Nov. 2007 35 3806
Dec. 2007 23 3829
Jan. 2008 40 3869
Feb. 2008 29 3898
Mar. 2008 37 3935
Apr. 2008 51 3988
May 2008 20 4008
June 2008 28 4036
July 2008 13 4049
Aug. 2008 22 4071
Sept. 2008 25 4097
Oct. 2008 13 4110
Nov. 2008 16 4126
Dec. 2008 13 4139
Jan. 2009 16 4154
Feb. 2009 17 4172
Mar. 2009 9 4181
Apr. 2009 17 4198
May 2009 25 4223
June 2009 14 4237
July 2009 8 4245
Aug. 2009 7 4252
Sept. 2009 10 4262
Oct. 2009 7 4269
Nov. 2009 10 4279
Dec. 2009 3 4282
Jan. 2010 6 4288
Feb. 2010 6 4294
Mar. 2010 7 4301
Apr. 2010 8 4309
May 2010 6 4315
June 2010 8 4323
July 2010 4 4327
Aug. 2010 3 4330
Sept. 2010 7 4337
Oct. 2010 2 4339
Nov. 2010 2 4341
Dec. 2010 1 4342
Jan. 2011 6 4348
Feb. 2011 3 4351
Mar. 2011 2 4353
Apr. 2011 11 4364
May 2011 6 4372
June 2011 15 4387
July 2011 5 4392
Aug. 2011 0 4392
Sept. 2011 4 4396
Oct. 2011 5 4401
Nov. 2011 2 4403
Dec. 2011
Data for 2010-2011 pertain to all Coalition forces, and may include some non-U.S. fatalities.

NOTE: Includes all deaths, caused by enemy forces or not. Excludes military personnel (5, as of June 2009) whose names have not been released because their next of kin have not yet been contacted.

SOURCES: strategypage.com,
GlobalSecurity.org, icasualties.org,
Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2004