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“Overcoming Aversion to Casualties”
Richard Koenigsberg
Parts IV-VI of my workshop—America's Return to an Ideology of Warfare—appear below:
IV. America is Not Weak
V. America is Willing to Sacrifice
VI. Overcoming Aversion to Casualties
To read the workshop outline, click here.
To read Parts I-III, click here.

Dr. DeLuca (2nd from the left) and
myself (far right), Austrian Consulate.

IV. America is Not Weak

Enemies of the United States during the 1990s were aware of the American aversion to casualties. Colonel Richard Lacquement cites numerous examples showing that the behavior of America’s enemies was based on their awareness that the United States was unwilling to risk casualties. He discusses the cases of Saddam Hussein before the 1991 Gulf War, Slobodan Milosevic before the Kosovo war in 1999, and Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda in 2001. The Colonel states that in each instance, the American enemy was confident that the United States “lacked the moral courage to face deadly military confrontation.”

Mark Bowden wrote in Atlantic Monthly in January 1991 about Saddam Hussein’s plan before the first Gulf War. Heproposed to generals a few weeks before the America offensive that Iraq would capture American soldiers and tie them up to Iraqi tanks—using them as human shields. He claimed triumphantly: “The Americans will never fire on their own soldiers,” as if such squeamishness were a fatal flaw. Saddam insisted to his Generals: “Our forces will put up more of a fight than you think.” There would be “Many casualties on both sides.” However, “Only we are willing to accept casualties; Americans are not. The American people are weak. They will not accept loss large numbers of their soldiers.”

Saddam Hussein equated political weakness with a nation’s unwillingness to be willing to sacrifice its soldiers in warfare. He felt that Iraq was superior to the United States because his nation was willing to sacrifice its soldiers. Saddam felt he was superior—because he had no compunctions about sacrificing the lives of his own people. He declared: “We Iraqis are willing to sacrifice our lives for our nation, whereas Americans are not.”

A similar idea was expressed by Bin Laden other jihadists: “We Moslems love death the way you Americans love life.” Islamists were pointing to the fact that they possessed absolute values—for which they were willing to die and kill—whereas Americans possessed no such values for which they were willing to sacrifice their lives.

Bin Laden frequently taunted Americans about their lack of courage and masculinity. In his 1996 “Declaration of War against the Americans,” he addressed US Defense Secretary William Perry:

Your most disgraceful case was in Somalia, where after vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post-cold war leadership, you moved tens of thousands of international forces, including 28,000 American soldiers into Somalia. However, when tens of your soldiers were killed in minor battles and one America pilot dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of whole world threatening and promising revenge, but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear.

I hypothesize that the virulence, ferocity and persistence of the America government’s willingness to wage war in the Middle-East represented a response—not only to the September 11 attacks—but to taunting statements like these made by Bin Laden and other Islamic radicals. This why George Bush is so preoccupied with “Al Qaeda in Iraq.” In waging war, people like George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld responded to provocations made by Bin Laden—who declared U.S. impotent and weak. Warfare constituted proof of masculinity.

The United States waged war and refused to “cut and run”—in order to demonstrate to Bin Laden and prove to the world that the United State is not impotent and weak. America would teach the world a lesson by showing everyone how tough we are.

The U. S. attack on Iraq was a form of counter-humiliation: As you have humiliated us, so shall we humiliate you. Henry Kissinger expressed this idea in a nutshell. When asked why he had supported the Iraq War, he said, “They want to humiliate us. And we need to humiliate them.” Kissinger believed that the American response to 9/11 had to be more than proportionate—on a much larger scale than simply invading Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban.

According to people attending National Security Council meetings before the war, the primary impetus for invading Iraq was to make an example of Hussein: Create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to flout the authority of the United States. The objective was to produce “shock and awe”—not only in the Middle-East—but throughout world. “This is what happens to people if they try to humiliate or challenge the United States. By virtue of the massive attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, America demonstrate that it was not weak and impotent. Quite the contrary, the United States was still an omnipotent force that could do whatever it wished.

By staying the course no matter what, the United States would show the world that our soldiers were just as courageous as the suicide bombers—willing to sacrifice in the name of America’s noble ideals. America men would become like those of greatest generation that fought in the 2nd World War. Like those men, Americans would die and kill for our sacred ideals. Just as Bin Laden’s soldiers had died and killed for Allah, so Americans would die and kill for freedom and democracy. The United States would demonstrate that it was to accept casualties—sacrifice lives for our sacred ideals.

V. America is Willing to Sacrifice

The United States went to war in order to produce “shock and awe”—to demonstrate the power of America to people throughout world. What’s more, we wanted to show that we had not abandoned our sacred ideals. We still were willing to die and kill for a noble cause.

Speaking to reporters on September 9, 2004, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld expressed sympathy for the rising number of American military deaths in Iraq. He stated that Americans honored the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in uniform. He cited progress in the global war on terror, and warned enemies of the United States that they should not underestimate “the willingness of the American people to suffer casualties in Iraq and elsewhere.”

Enemies of the United States may have believed that Americans were averse to casualties—were unwilling to sacrifice the lives of her soldiers. Rumsfeld insisted this was not the case. Our enemies should understand that the America people are willing to suffer casualties in the war against terror. Rumsfeld told reporters that American progress in the war on terror had prompted a backlash from those who hoped that the United States might conclude that the pain and cost of fighting wasn't worth it.

Rumsfeld declared: "Our enemies have underestimated our country. They have failed to understand the character of our people, and certainly have misread our commander in chief." Rumsfeld equates the character of the America in terms of our willingness to accept casualties—to sacrifice for a cause.

America’s enemies, in Rumsfeld’s view, should not misread or underestimate the commander-in-chief, George Bush. Our enemies should not believe that the President is unwilling to sacrifice young men and women in name of a noble ideal. Rumsfeld’s remarks seem to have been a direct response to statements made by Bin Laden claiming that Americans did not possess strength and character—and would withdraw from fighting upon suffering casualties.

President Bush reacted in similar manner—responding to the accusation that Americans lacked determination and will-power. On May 8, 2004, he declared: “They want us to leave. They want us to show weakness. They do not understand America. They do not understand this President. We will finish the work that we have begun.” America is not weak. This is not Mogadishu. Americans will never again cut-and-run.

George Bush said that these are “historic times that require strong will and strong determination.” In the following remarks, the President seemed to be responding directly to the claims of Islamists that Americans lacked courage and were unwilling to sacrifice:

Not so long ago, some had their doubts about American character--our capacity to meet a serious challenge—our willingness to serve a cause greater than self-interest. Americans have given their answer. I have seen the unselfish courage of our troops. I have seen the heroism Americans face of danger.

By waging war—and persisting in spite of set-backs and casualties—President George Bush was responding to accusations that America lacked ideals and moral fiber. U.S. would demonstrate the courage and determination of its people. Waging war represented a demonstration of the will of the America people—and of George Bush’s will. By demonstrating that America possessed strength and will-power, George Bush demonstrated that he possessed strength and will-power.

When we say that the United Stated persisted in waging war as an affirmation of the will of America, what precisely does this mean? We’ve observed that waging war requires acceptance of casualties—not shirking from the fact that when one’s nation engages in warfare, some of its solders will die in battle. Affirmation of the will to wage war, therefore, means affirmation of the willingness to accept casualties.

One can use terms like strength or determination or will-power to describe a nation’s willingness to persist in waging war. But what “determination” comes down to, finally, is that one’s nation will persist in fighting—will not shirk—in face of the fact that one’s own soldiers are dying.

The will to persist in waging war—refusal to back down—is the will to continue to accept casualties. The will to wage war is willingness to sacrifice human lives in the name of the sacred object, one’s nation. The objective may be described in terms such as “protecting the homeland” or “bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle-East.” One accepts casualties because the objective or ideal is deemed more significant—worth dying for.

Islamic radicals martyred themselves on 9/11—and did the same on many other occasions. Proud of the capacity of Moslem’s to martyr themselves, Bin Laden proclaimed: “We love death the way you Americans love life.” This phrase suggests that Moslems are a spiritual people possessing ideals for which they are willing to die. Whereas Americans are a corrupt people—bogged down in the material world—possessing no ideals for which they are willing to die.

By persisting in waging war, George Bush provided a demonstration for the world to see: The United States does possess ideals for which its people are willing to die and kill. As Moslems die and kill for Allah, so Americans will die and kill in the name freedom and democracy.

After the suicide bombings at the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001, George Bush said that while 9/11 was a sad incident, interesting, positive things were developing. He told the story of a letter he received from a young girl whose father was in the military: “I'm willing to give him to you”.

This young girl knows what America is all about. Since 9/11, an entire generation of young Americans has gained new understanding value of freedom and its cost and its sacrifice. Out of this evil will come good as youngsters all of a sudden understand the definition of sacrifice. George Bush concludes: “So America is sacrifice.”

Warfare—willingness to sacrifice in the name of one’s nation—creates meaning and significance. September 11 provided the stimulus—allowing the United States to awaken from its culture of triviality and emptiness: to return to its true self as a noble, courageous people willing to struggle and sacrifice to defeat an evil enemy.

No longer would the News be preoccupied with trivial issues. Television would return to its grandiose mission, conveying “world historic events.” Wolf Blitzer could feel significant. Dan Rather had been waiting for this momentuousness event his entire life—so he could be like Walter Cronkite.

By waging war, President George Bush aspired to create an America that had begun to fade from scene. He was trying to resuscitate the America fantasy of heroism. He sought to restore the spirit of the “greatest generation”—when America’s willing to kill and die to rid world of evil; to bring freedom and democracy into the world.

In a speech on August 21, 2006, President George Bush: “We'll complete the mission in Iraq. I can't tell you exactly when it's going to be done.” He concluded: “And if we ever give up the desire to help people to live in freedom, we will have lost our soul as a nation, as far as I'm concerned.”

War is waged in the name of goodness—a sacred ideal worth killing and dying for Violent political acts are fused with self-righteousness. Hitler declared, “We may be inhumane, but if we rescue Germany, we have achieved the greatest deed in the world.” George Bush might have said, “We may be inhumane, but if we bring freedom and democracy to the Middle-East, we have achieved the greatest deed in the world.”

Societal violence occurs based on—in the name of a sacred ideal. Islamic radicals have their sacred ideal—their God, Allah. Now George Bush declared that Americans too have a sacred ideal, freedom and democracy. Warfare thus becomes a struggle between two sacred ideals. Which side could sacrifice the longest?

VI. Overcoming Aversion to Casualties

A question was on the minds of commentators in the aftermath of the United States attack on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, and leading up war Iraq that began on March 20, 2003. In the face of a ten-year-old foreign policy revolving around the avoidance casualties, what would happen when Americans began dying in Afghanistan and Iraq. Would the United States—and the American public become disturbed, causing U.S. to “pull out” as we had done in Mogadishu? Could the United States take casualties?

Numerous articles appeared declaring that—this time—Americans would not pull out or retreat in the face of casualties. Now—because of 9/11—things would be different.

Charles Krauthammer column of January 18,2002 was entitled, “Can America take casualties?” He cites passages from Bin Laden’s writings in which he recalls how the U.S. left Mogadishu humiliated and defeated. Bin Laden, Krauthammer suggests, believed he had set a trap in Afghanistan. Americans would arrive in force, take a few casualties, and then flee.

“Bin Laden got it wrong,” Krauthammer says. “The war on terror is different.” When attacked or engaged in an existential struggle, America is “not only fierce, it is stoic. No one should underestimate America’s capacity sustain casualties in such wars.”

Here we observe a simple equation: the ability for a nation to be fierce or stoic—to wage war relentlessly—is equivalent to the capacity of the nation to sustain causalities.

Other commentators suggested that just as America would overcome her fear of sustaining causalities, so she would overcome her squeamishness about inflicting casualties.

The headline of Ben Shapiro’s column of April 9, 2003 was: “We’re not in Mogadishu anymore, Toto.” He writes that “Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda and much of Arab world thought war Iraq turn into one large-scale Mogadishu.” He observes that they had good reason to believe this: for decades U.S. leadership proclaimed two priorities in any war: to minimize American casualties; and to minimize civilian casualties. This pattern activity led Osama Bin Laden, Shapiro says, to peg the U.S. as a "weak horse."

The early stages of the Iraqi war were characterized by a high regard for civilians. April 7, 2003, Shapiro says, marked a turning point. The U.S. Military learned that Saddam Hussein and senior officials were meeting beneath a restaurant on a commercial block in Baghdad. Air Force bombers were ordered to attack the restaurant. They dropped four satellite-guided 1-ton Munition weapons, leaving a crater 60 feet deep, flattening the restaurant and three nearby houses, killing 14 civilians.

The Washington Times wrote that Saddam Hussein had picked the spot meet because allies had stated that their objective was to avoid civilian casualties, and did not believe the U.S. would bomb a commercial block.” Shapiro exults: “Saddam Hussein didn't realize that the Mogadishu days are over.” Now, America was willing to inflict casualties on civilians in order to defeat their enemy and be victorious in warfare.

A few days later, Shapiro reported another incident confirming this strategic change. Iraqi snipers— using the Palestine Hotel Baghdad—fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades on an incoming U.S. tank. The tank then targeted the hotel, which was the base of operations for most international journals. They fired one round of artillery into the hotel, hitting the 15th floor that housed the Reuter’s news agency.

Two journalists were killed, and another three wounded. Army Col. David Perkins told the media that the Military regretted the incident—but blamed Saddam Hussein’s forces for militarizing civilian areas. The attack on the Palestine Hotel, Shapiro averred, sent an even stronger message: enemies of the U.S. can no longer find safety by hiding behind civilians, or even journalists. Shapiro concluded that the U.S. had achieved an “important step in the war against terrorism: overcoming our aversion civilian casualties in order achieve victory.” Attacks on Saddam Hussein and Iraqi snipers, he wrote, “push our Military policy in a new direction, away from Mogadishu.”

References to Mogadishu appeared repeatedly in the writings of columnists. They wrote--not only about the incident itself—but of Bin Laden’s remarks in which he accused America of weakness and cowardice. Articles like those of Krauthammer and Shapiro declared that the U.S. had overcome the Mogadishu syndrome: The United States would wage war with determination and ruthlessness. We would not be afraid to suffer casualties. We would not hesitate to inflict casualties upon civilians.

America would show the world that she had not abandoned our true character: That of courageous, heroic people—willing kill and die for the sake of a sacred cause. During the 90s, U.S. policy decisions had been based on the desire to avoiding suffering and inflicting causalities. Waging war against Afghanistan and Iraq, America would show that she was not afraid to suffer and inflict casualties. As Middle-Eastern warriors were killing and dying for Allah, so soldiers of the United States would kill and die in the name of freedom and democracy.