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“How long will the rest of the world tolerate the US bully?” a friend writes.
As long as the price of independent action, or rebellion, is seen as higher than satisfying their own interests in concert with the bully. Who, after all, supports and uses that “stable” and “strong” dollar by investing in US bonds to prop up the imperial war debt? Who wants that “export market?”
A “political” answer to this might be when the countries of the South and the non-industrialized debtor nations band together in a Debt Revolt, withholding their natural resources from the nations of the Paris Club and G8 — in defiance of all present contracts and agreements. If this revolt of the exploited nations includes major Middle East oil producers, and the rebellious coalition really sticks together for mutual military defense and economic action, then this “big domino” could threaten the imperial system. This would be a world war, though it might largely be fought as a collective economic campaign rather than a purely military one. In such a scenario, the Europeans and the Russians would be hard pressed to keep solidarity with the U.S., and they would be tempted to cut their own debt forgiveness in exchange for oil and resources deals. What prevents this is probably the disorganized and corrupt nature of many governments in the exploited countries — indeed one of the essential ingredients to their exploitation. However, were something like the Chavez phenomenon to occur widely — and hold — and if local and regional disputes could be set aside, then such a tropical latitude coalition would be possible.
The U.S. is very powerful, but this power has a major weakness, exposed in Vietnam, and well-known to the resistance in Iraq: the U.S. cannot directly fight war inexpensively for a long time. This is why it favors covert, indirect and proxy means of de-stabilizing governments and the use of predatory lending (IMF loan sharking) for its “long cheap” war options. When faced with actual military conflict, it wages a massively destructive, expensive (e.g., air power) and necessarily short campaign. The American public willing sacrifices national treasure for imperialist wars, but is very resistant to accepting massive US casualties. Because of both the public dislike of American casualties and the aims of the war interests, massive foreign casualties are accepted as “collateral damage.”
When the scale, length, and human toll of imperial adventures begins to affect the American public, by causing noticeable and undeniable social and economic decay, then a domestic revolt against the wars of imperialism is possible, and would cause a change of government policy (by election, insurrection, legislative reform, changing economics).
I have a hypothesis — which I won’t justify now other than to say it comes from contemplating statistics from the Vietnam War — that an imperial war, being a voluntary adventure and not a matter of self-defense, which is carried on as long as necessary (as by the Chinese during 1937-1945, the Vietnamese during 1941-1975, and in Palestine now), will be stopped when the impact of that war reaches 8% of the American population.
By impact I mean that a person directly knows of an individual killed or injured in the war, or an individual has suffered anxiety because they personally knew someone involved in that war. This is the emotionally vulnerable “homefront.” My hypothesis is that when this homefront reaches 8%, or 21.6 million Americans, the war is pressured to an end. Enough people have to care.
In the case of the Vietnam War, 2.7 million people served in the US military in Vietnam between 1962-1975, about 216,000 casualties, 58,000 killed and 158,000 wounded.
Let us assume that each individual life directly touches (“impacts”) 8 others. Then, the 58,000 Vietnam War mortalities impacted 464,000 relatives and friends, the 158,000 wounded impacted 1.264 million people (a total of 1.73 million so far, 0.64% of the population), and the entire impact of the 2.7 million soldier deployment affected 21.6 million Americans, 8% of the population.
Of course, this simple reasoning does not account for secondary interactions, for example the psychological stress experienced in relationships between initially unaffected Americans and these primarily affected — grieving and traumatized — relatives and friends.
Is the Vietnam War (and this hypothesis) a reasonable predictive analogy for the Iraq War (including Afghanistan and whatever follows in the Middle East)? After two years (in March 2005) in Iraq our 1400 dead and up to 10,000 wounded (including psychological injuries) represent an 8% casualty rate for our 130,000 (usually) soldier force in Iraq (though it is certain that over 130,000 to 150,000 soldiers have actually served). This is the same casualty rate as for the 13 year Vietnam War. However, we have a long way to go before reaching the total casualty figures of the Vietnam War, and thus of the same degree of homefront impact.
The managers of the Iraq War are concentrating the damage into a smaller segment of the American population in an effort to forestall the homefront backlash. This is why a small army has been kept in the field without relief by conscription (the other alternative being abandoning some missions carried on by US troops elsewhere), the assumption being that the American public will not be overly aroused against the war even if US casualty rates (not totals) exceed those of the Vietnam War. But how far can they go? Will the public accept the “volunteer” army to suffer 40% casualty rates (5x of today) just to keep from having conscription and spreading the pain? Will the soldiers revolt before then (they did in Vietnam by 1969)?
The homefront “footprint” of 150,000 soldiers (peak deployment during Iraqi elections), at 8 people per soldier, is 1.2 million, less than 0.5% of the population. About ten times the number of people who care viscerally about the US troopers in Iraq will be needed before there is any effective public pressure to end the imperial wars, and certainly many more still to change the nature of US foreign policy.
Projecting the present Iraq War out to 2013 — a ten year war — with average losses as already seen, we have a 50,000 casualty war with 7000 war dead. This is a 33% casualty war (4.7% fatalities) if pursued with the same 150,000 soldiers. If the war managers choose to keep the casualty rate to that of the Vietnam War, 8%, then 625,000 soldiers will have to serve over the course of the decade. This implies 4 year terms of active duty. The fatality rate would be 1.12%, about half that of the Vietnam War.
I am sure that war actuaries are making much more refined estimates than these, to devise just the right incentives (money) to draw in the soldiers it needs from the poor rural and urban areas of our country. The homefront impact of 625,000 troops is (at 8 per) 5 million, less than 2% of the population. If the government offered a bonus of $100,000 per soldier who completed a four year active duty term, or was killed or wounded in action, the total cost could be up to $62.5B. This is no longer a large number as far as military expenditures go.
If the “8 percent war” hypothesis is valid, then it may be that the Iraq and imperial wars can be carried on without rising to a level of concern to the American public, by buying soldiers out of poverty (like pro sports) to avoid conscription of the middle class, thus keeping the homefront small.
MANUEL GARCIA, Jr. can be reached at: email@example.com