Costs of War
To the Editor:
I was shocked by Victor Davis Hanson’s comment that America’s successes in the war in Iraq were achieved “all at a cost of a little over 400 lives” [“Iraq’s Future—and Ours,” January]. How can Commentary allow such crassness to be printed? Would Mr. Hanson be so cavalier if one of those deaths was his child? Shame.
Morton D. Bogdonoff
New York City
To the Editor:
Many thanks for Victor Davis Hanson’s brilliant and unanswerable article. In the 1930’s, we faced a similar moral challenge, and though the West finally defeated the forces of darkness in World War II, it is now easy to forget how parlous that struggle was and how high the cost of victory, largely because of how long it took to muster the will to confront Hitler (and then Stalin and his heirs). After all, as far as European Jewry, the generations imprisoned in the Eastern bloc, and the kulaks were concerned, World War II was lost. Had France and England stood up to Hitler in the mid-1930’s, when he began his deviltries, the war would have been, relatively speaking, a cakewalk. And had the U.S. entered the war well before 1942, it likely would have concluded earlier—and at much less cost.
So, too, today: if we do not muster the will to defeat decisively the current enemies of civilization, we may either lose the contest (if, for example, terrorists get hold of nuclear weapons) or win at a frightful cost. Mr. Hanson sounds a clarion call for continued vigilance.
Gary M. Gillman
Victor Davis Hanson writes:
Morton D. Bogdonoff condemns me for “crassness” and a “cavalier” attitude in expressing relief that by January 2004 the United States had lost no more than 400 American lives in removing Saddam Hussein and liberating a once captive nation of nearly 30 million people. This is a serious charge.
Of course, every life is precious. That is why I and millions of other Americans were saddened that any of our fellow citizens were sacrificed in this necessary undertaking. But it was precisely in that context of worry and remorse that we were also relieved, given the immensity of our task and the barbaric nature of our enemies, that our losses were not in the thousands, as in fact many critics of the war had predicted. History reminds us that such, indeed, are often the bloody wages of any campaign of such great daring and magnitude.
We should also never forget that we have been at war since September 11 to ensure that Middle East fascists and Islamic terrorists can neither commit mass murder again on American soil nor aid and abet those who try. In that context, it is a tribute to the courage and competence of our own armed forces that in both the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns they have tried to reduce casualties on the ground, among the civilian population, in a manner simply unprecedented in military history.
Finally, I need no reminder from Mr. Bogdonoff about the importance of acknowledging the sacrifice of the dead, or about the effect of such unbearable pain upon their families. In my recent book, Ripples of Battle, looking at three different periods of warfare, I explored some of these human consequences, which can ripple out over decades, if not centuries. War is not a parlor game of tactics or strategy, but an often horrific experience of human ruin and material destruction. In my book, I tried to chronicle how the death of one Victor Hanson on Okinawa on May 19, 1945 haunted, for the subsequent half-century, his farm family in the Central Valley of California—and yet his death was nevertheless part of a noble, larger effort of American fighting men and women to defeat Japanese fascists and put an end to the death and destruction that they had wrought upon the innocent.
I thank Gary M. Gillman for his kind words, especially his acknowledgement that resolute action against evil states is justifiable precisely because, in the terrible arithmetic of war, it can save rather than expend lives. At a time of recriminations here at home over the pace of our reconstruction efforts in Iraq, we must never lose sight that those who died and were maimed since October 2001 really have made the world a better and more secure place for millions of their fellow Americans, as well as for anyone else who seeks to live in peace and freedom. I do not think any of us can ever forget what they did or how much we owe them all.