Wants vs. needs
Posted by aogThursday, 25 January 2007 at 18:36 TrackBack Ping URL

I have been reading Triumph Forsaken, despite it apparently having fundamental flaws in its analysis. What has struck me (especially given the discussion here) is the amount of resources spent by the Communists very early in the war. The expenses incurred by the USA were trivial in comparison. Yet today, when we look at the effort in Iraq, the amounts of money being spent are astronomical compared what was spent in Vietnam.

One thought is whether we’ve moved to the other side of the expense equation. For all the talk of how much the Vietnam War cost us, it was far more expensive for our opponents. Is that still true in our current war? It seems highly unlikely. Is that a serious problem? I am not sure, but it is a bit worrisome.

Related is the “sinews of war” concept, where a nation’s war making capability is strongly influenced by its economic might. In the WWII era, the USA was economically dominant but the USSR was able to catch up to up to a large extent because the production style, massive industries of stylized and repetive work, was not completely outside the competence of Communism. Still, capitalism was more efficient long term and gradually widened the gap to the extent that President Reagan was able to oversee spending the USSR in to the dust bin of history. The information age makes this difference even starker — non-liberal democratic regimes will not be able to come any where near as close to the Anglosphere as the USSR did in its time.

However, as fast as our economic advantage has grown, our expectations of what we can accomplish has grown even faster. In the next few decades, as we engage in the current war without enemies, will we be willing to spend enough wealth to accomodate our expectations of how gently we want to wage that war, or will we lower our expectations to achieve victory?

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Tom C. Thursday, 25 January 2007 at 20:56

We’d better define ‘victory’ first. If war means killing the enemy and destroying his property then cost isn’t a factor, it’s not really expensive at all. If the leadership controlling the purse strings isn’t even sure who the enemy is while emphasising ‘hearts and minds’ rather than destroying the ideology and it’s adherents at the source, well, you get the picture. Playing the game of containment with radical Islam seems like an immense waste of time.

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 25 January 2007 at 21:31

That’s all part of our expanded expectations. We now expect to win hearts and minds without having to say nasty things about other people. Can we afford to continue to do that, or will we lower our expectations back to “more rubble, less trouble”?

Tom C. Friday, 26 January 2007 at 07:28

Is it really a matter of lowering expectations or having more realistic expectations? Did Grant and Sherman want to be nice to their fellow countrymen by letting the conflict drag on or did they want to end the war and the suffering by preserving the Union through victory? McLellon was more concerned with politics and his reputation at the start of the war, how’d he do? The simple historical reality is that wars are won by demonstrating to the enemy that if he continues he will be utterly destroyed. Ideologically driven enemies must be shown the futility of their ideology as a basis for making war. Equivocation during war time is a recipe for disaster. “More rubble, less trouble” is a great line and sums it up perfectly.

Brit Friday, 26 January 2007 at 08:16

The US (or UK etc) public won’t tolerate that approach any more though - especially in a war fought a long way from home where they are not under any personal physical threat.

The military boasts about exceptionally accurate and discriminatory weaponry, so the public expect it to be exceptionally accurate and discriminatory.

Tom C. Friday, 26 January 2007 at 08:30

Can the public be expected to understand the nature of an enemy or is maintaining the multi-cultural and politically correct delusion more important? I wonder.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 26 January 2007 at 09:15

Tom C.;

Your last comment is one of the questions I was trying to get at.

As for lowering, I think that’s a reasonable term. I think there are few people who think it a better thing for war to require brutality, so an expectation of more brutality being required is a lowering. But then we come to your point, which is the divergence between what we would like or think should be, and what is. While I would like it to be the case that we could achieve war aims with little or no loss of life, I tend to agree with you that such an expectation is unrealistic. But I view that as a sad resignation to the contraints of reality rather than a preferred state of affairs.

As with most things, however, one can maintain a preferred state of affairs in defiance of the natural way of things if one is willing to spend enough resources. The question is left of whether and for how long the citizenry will be willing to spend what that takes.

P.S. The “more rubble, less trouble” epigram is someone else’s effort, old enough that I think authorship is lost in the mists of time.

Tom C. Friday, 26 January 2007 at 09:45

I suppose the nature of the enemy faced would decide the question about the nature of the war. Ideally, wars should be as short as possible if the loss of life is to be minimized. A brutal war would be necessarily shorter than the alternative. The question is, ‘Does the source of the conflict deserve the measure of brutality needed to end the ensuing war’?

Michael Herdegen Friday, 26 January 2007 at 14:26

If the time-frame is “next few decades”, then I expect the cost of doing Iraqi-like policings to come down quite a bit, especially in terms of American lives lost. In fact, I expect the costs to drop enough that we’ll be doing a lot more such activities.

These expectations are based on the “Starship Trooper” Mark I technologies that the Department of Defense and DARPA are testing. Remote-controlled and robot aircraft and ground vehicles, better personal armor, adaptive camouflage, powered exoskeletons, etc.

David Cohen Friday, 26 January 2007 at 16:13

We hold our soldiers’ lives precious, so we spend treasure. They hold life cheap, so they spend lives. When figuring out the relative cost of the war, don’t forget to include that they’re losing 10-20 of theirs for every one of ours.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 26 January 2007 at 16:42

Mr. Cohen;

Didn’t the North Vietnamese and Chinese spend in that ratio as well? It’s not clear that our opponents costs have risen to the same extent ours have.

Tom C. Friday, 26 January 2007 at 18:16

All lives are precious. The longer the conflict/war lasts the more lives lost. If the enemy is worth defeating they should be faced with their ultimate destruction. How many lives were saved by Hiroshima and Nagasaki? This war isn’t that war but the enemy’s ideological basis is similar. We are fighting primitives with one arm tied behind our back.

Michael Herdegen Friday, 26 January 2007 at 19:26

Here are some estimates:

  • 3 million North Vietnamese Dead
  • 300,000 Vietnamese Missing
  • 100,000 Cambodians Killed
  • 750,000 Laotians Killed
  • 13 Russian Advisors Killed

A statistics office of the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff totaled all of the Communist losses reported on Saigon newspapers from 1959 to 1973, came up with around 1.5 million Communist soldiers killed.

In 1969, General Vo Nguyen Giap admitted in an interview with Oriana Fallaci, an Italian reporter, that his Vietnamese Communist forces had lost half million men. But in 1995, Hanoi unexpectedly admitted that it had lost 1,100,000 soldiers.

Vietnam War-era Secretary of State Dean Rusk once calculated that North Vietnamese losses in the war, when measured as a proportion of population, were the equivalent of the United States losing about 10 million lives. American losses in Vietnam, by that same measure, were 175 times smaller.

  • U.S. Soldiers Killed in Combat: 47,000
  • U.S. Soldiers Killed in Accidents or Disease: 10,000
  • Allied Soldiers Killed: 5,000-6,000
  • South Vietnamese Losses: 500,000
Jeff Guinn Sunday, 28 January 2007 at 20:55

Tom C. is right.

So is Brit.

A couple months ago, in a Boston Globe editorial, Frank Rich excoriated the Bush administration for “forgetting how to win wars, something we knew how to do in WWII.”

Unfortunately, the surrounding prose proved Mr. Rich had no idea what kind of war we would have to fight now to win like we did in WWII.

I wish Pres. Bush would have defined victory differently going in.

First, Victory constitutes deposing the Saddam regime, and nothing more.

Second, we hope the Iraqis can learn from history, and not look a gift horse in the mouth before trying to blow it up with an IED. But if they can’t, that is on them, not us.

In his defense, though, I doubt very many had any notion how intractable the Sunni - Shiite divide is, something no amount of money can overcome.

cjm Friday, 02 February 2007 at 13:47

why would we want the sunnis and the shites getting along ? things are working out splendidly on that front, as they continue to grind each other into dust.

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