A Little Perspective on Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day, it is time for a little perspective.

That is what I tried to do recently at a high school US History class, because perspective is particularly important when one talks about past US casualties of war, and the scope of war overall.

It is important because war should never be taken lightly.

EVERONE believes history began the day they were born, and Ancient History is anything the day previously – but that is particularly true of high school students who live so much in the present that both past and future are a simple blur.

To the class, I tried to put their current knowledge of “war” – the War on Terrorism — into some numbers they MIGHT appreciate.

In the War on Terror, over a 10 year period, US war deaths have been 4,707.

In Korea, US deaths were 33,746.

In Vietnam, 47,355.

Most people think that the highest number of deaths at one time In WWII were the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – but those numbers, combined – were less than the firebombing of Tokyo.

In one night during the firebombing of Tokyo, more than 140,000 died! The combined deaths at Nagasaki and Hiroshima were 130,000.

And even those numbers pale when one considers the German attack on Russia. In a single summer, the Russian Army suffered 3,000,000 men dead and captured!

In WWII, all US forces suffered “only” 291,557 military deaths through warfare. That was just barely more than the deaths in the Civil War but those deaths were massive for this nation – and we suffered almost no civilian casualties.

These numbers place the War on Terror numbers of 4,977 over a 10 year period into some perspective.

The losses suffered in WWII were particularly grievous on all sides, civilian and military, but the very size and scope of that war are unimaginable today.

We have a 300 ship Navy today, but the shipping gathered for the Normandy Invasion alone numbered 6,000, and the Germans thought that invasion was just a feint, while the real force under General George Patton remained in Britain for the real push. The Germans were misled.

We tend to think that a bombing raid of tens of bomber aircraft is a devastating force, but many air raids carried out on Germany had 5,000 aircraft or more. Smaller, less capable aircraft in WWII, certainly, but of sufficient numbers to blot out the sun with an aluminum overhead!

War is certainly hell, and the loss of life is always a matter of great concern – but the losses we currently suffer, as much as they are to be mourned, pale in historical perspective.

The United States is particularly risk averse when it comes to casualties – a result of our historical physical isolation and our ability to project force to any remote part of the globe without suffering homeland counterattack.

Those days are coming to an end. Our potential enemies have developed the ability to strike at our homeland with their increased technological development.

One would hope that this lack of immunity on all sides would negate the desirability of one nation – or one person – to seize the fruits of another.

My reading of human nature in the politics of today tell me that is not the case. People always want what someone else has acquired, and if they find or invent a means by which to acquire such assets will try to do so by either deception or force.

We see that in our internal politics.


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