It's Been 70 Years Since A Clear US Military Victory
April 10, 2015 1:04 AM   Subscribe

A war machine that costs about as much as the rest of the worlds' militaries combined just doesn't win wars anymore. Why is this, and how can such an expensive public program that obviously fails to achieve its stated goals carry on unscathed?
posted by blankdawn (116 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would add only that the author's numbers ($500 billion a year spent on war and 200,000 dead Iraqis) are on the extreme low end.

The Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War recently concluded there have been over a million excess civilian deaths in Iraq due to the changes brought on by the US invasion and that the number may be closer to two million.

The War Resistors League (the country's oldest anti-war group) has consistently tracked US military spending at over a trillion dollars per year, when interest on past military debt (along with CIA and other dept military activities) is included.
posted by blankdawn at 1:09 AM on April 10, 2015 [13 favorites]


As a citizen of one of the free, prosperous countries whose security has been guaranteed by the United States (Britain - you should also include Western Europe, South Korea, and Japan) I'm very grateful you have such a big military. Here's to keeping Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia all relatively independent and free in the coming century!
posted by alasdair at 1:35 AM on April 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


The last time we decisively defeated our enemies was 1945.

In WWII, "we" did not defeat our enemies. The Allied Forces defeated the them. For all four participating powers in the Allied Forces, the determination to defeat the enemy required a total restructuring of the social structure, from what the capitalist base of the country was manufacturing to what the populace was allowed to consume to what the media was depicting (often tipping from support into outright propaganda). Food was rationed, cars were no longer manufactured, citizens were encouraged (by some workplaces required) to contribute monetarily to the war chest, and young men were drafted into military service without volunteering. The US has never gone to war in the years following WWII like it did during WWII.

If we had pivoted our entire country's economy and way of life toward victory in any of the wars following WWII, they would have been won, for whatever value winning a war might contain. But we have not done this since. And no matter how much money we spend on the military-industrial complex and (seemingly) seek out reasons to use what we are spending money on to justify the expenditure, we are not really a nation that is committed to winning a war like we were during WWII.

We are very proud of our shiny toys and it seems we like to find excuses to use them. But we don't really back up our actions with any sort of real national support (and I don't mean popular opinion support, I mean full social engagement). We flex our military muscles and even punch some enemies in the face here and there, but we've never even began to undertake really WINNING a war since WWII. The US populace wouldn't stand for it. Business interests wouldn't stand for it. Congress wouldn't stand for it.

The US plays at war, and we have amazing technology, but (having lived outside of the US for a bit many many years ago, this became apparent), we're perceived even by our closest allies as a playground bully. Willing to swing a fist here and there, and maybe even get some friends to back us up, but we don't really have the determination to stand up against anyone who truly wants to win the fight. We need to either commit to really winning, or we should just stop with our posturing.
posted by hippybear at 1:53 AM on April 10, 2015 [88 favorites]


an expensive public program that obviously fails to achieve its stated goals carry on unscathed?

What about the unstated goals? America likes to be the big dog, and having the hard power leverages the soft power. Weiss also makes an argument that spending on the military has been at the heart of the US innovation system since at least WW2 (though that this is now changing).
posted by biffa at 1:54 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Alasdair, I'm British too, and I can't think of a single instance in recent history in which our association with the United States military has actually guaranteed our security, and I can think of a lot of examples where our alliance has cost us: there are a lot of intangible negative side-effects of subscribing to a worldview dominated by the military-industrial complex, but also very tangible ones, for example, the 7/7 bombings. I don't understand what you feel we gain from America’s military spending.
posted by Ned G at 1:55 AM on April 10, 2015 [22 favorites]


Well it seems like World War II is the maybe last war that needed winning for the United States. Since then, the US military's interests have shifted more to maintaining the status quo, preserving its own interests in the forms of relative global stability and protection of its and its allies interests.

It has exercised some questionable judgment in choosing which conflicts to engage in, yes. But a statement like this: "America sucks at war. The last time we decisively defeated our enemies was 1945."

A statement like that seems willfully simple-minded and intentionally provocative. It's like the writer is assuming the persona of an adolescent and then arguing from that perspective. This person needs to think longer before publishing something dumb like this. I haven't read anything by this guy before, but this article does not give the reader very much credit.
posted by Team of Scientists at 2:18 AM on April 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's Been 70 Years Since A Clear US Military Victory

Oh dear, I just hope that some future US president doesn't decide it's about time to improve that track record.
posted by sour cream at 2:39 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


In WWII, "we" did not defeat our enemies. The Allied Forces defeated them

It must have been the Cold War which led to the American neglect of teaching about the USSR's role in defeating Nazi Germany. But school history also effaces the role of the British in fighting Japan.
posted by thelonius at 2:39 AM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


These are foreign policy failures, not military ones. If you shoot the wrong people, you don't complain that your gun doesn't work any more.
posted by Segundus at 2:41 AM on April 10, 2015 [14 favorites]


As the guarantor of the capitalist world system and Military Industrial Complex it does an insanely good job.

There isn't any question that the US military could win a war, it's just not tasked with winning wars.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:42 AM on April 10, 2015 [18 favorites]


It's worth noting that the US Navy has exercised control of all of the world's oceans since 1945, to a far greater degree than the British could have ever dreamed even at the peak of their empire.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:43 AM on April 10, 2015 [14 favorites]


What about Grenada ?
posted by kanemano at 2:43 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


What about Grenada ?

Someone didn't RTFA.
posted by hippybear at 2:57 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


As the guarantor of the capitalist world system

Wouldn't the CIA and the State Department be where this work's getting done, at least on the government side of things?
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:06 AM on April 10, 2015


Wouldn't the CIA and the State Department be where this work's getting done, at least on the government side of things?

I'm sure they do their fare share, but a modern American aircraft carrier carries an air force equivalent to many of the worlds nations. We have ten of them.

There are dozens, if not hundred of U.S. military bases around the world. Many military forces use at least some American technology, which U.S. advisors train them on and that they use in joint operations with the U.S. and U.S. client states.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:16 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Has any country won a war against an enemy using guerrilla tactics without becoming tyrannical? There's no reason it has to be possible, and I'm not sure its worth winning if that's the cost. These articles always rub me the wrong way, as they presuppose that the USA 'won' a war in which 400,000 Americans, and 3% of the world's population were brutally killed.
posted by hermanubis at 3:19 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Even school kids now know that the Soviet Union did the heavy lifting in WW2.
posted by colie at 3:28 AM on April 10, 2015


Maybe it's a good thing that the USA dis not win, seeing that their reasons for going to war were BS.
posted by rankfreudlite at 3:32 AM on April 10, 2015


Even school kids now know that the Soviet Union did the heavy lifting in WW2.

In the US...not so much in my experience. It's not like they aren't mentioned, but you definitely get the impression from an American education that America and Britain did most of the work.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:51 AM on April 10, 2015 [13 favorites]


The last time we decisively defeated our enemies was 1945. Korea was a draw, Vietnam a defeat, the first Gulf War only a qualified success—Saddam Hussein stayed in power considerably longer than George H. W. Bush—Afghanistan and Iraq epic disasters for American foreign policy.

*sigh* No, the first Gulf War was a success because we didn't depose Saddam. The US went in with a realistic goal of evicting Iraqi forces from the oilfields friendly nations, then stopped once they had attained that goal. It took Bush's dunce son to remove Saddam from power, we all know how that turned out. What should have happened afterward is a massive drive in the US for energy independence through efficiency and alternative energy sources so we didn't have to return to the region. That didn't happen and that's a policy failure.

This article barely touches on it, but to answer the question of why we keep dumping all of this money into the military is that it's the only politically-acceptable form of socialism for Republicans. It's a massive jobs program. Just look around me, in Hampton Roads, Virginia — an entire metro area that would not exist without the military (the standard figured bandied about is that it accounts for roughly half of all economic activity in the area). The biggest problem with this is not that it's government spending money to give people jobs, it's that it's malinvestment. Instead of getting better, more efficient, more robust infrastructure or less expensive healthcare, we invest in destruction. We invest in net negative returns for the global economy as a whole. You would think that Republicans, for how much time they spend on hagiography of entrepreneurship, would understand investing for maximum return, but we sure don't see that where the US federal budget is concerned.

Finally, there are the most irrational reasons that we spend this much on the military: dickwaving neocons both in and out of government actually believe the mythology that they've woven about the US being an unstoppable military juggernaut. The possibility of bad outcomes from military interventions is literally outside of their grasp. But for some reason, the same people who painted rosy predictions for Afghanistan and Iraq (again and again, as the years wore on; they do not learn from experience) are still taken seriously inside the Beltway. That's another huge problem and one that we collectively, as a nation, need to fix.
posted by indubitable at 3:58 AM on April 10, 2015 [241 favorites]


Indubitable that's a fantastic comment.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:11 AM on April 10, 2015


I said that the article barely touches on the subject, but upon review the author does devote three paragraphs to the jobs program angle with the jungle highway interchange anecdote, so I take that back.
posted by indubitable at 4:15 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Actually, the US hasn't won a war in which someone else didn't do most of the fighting since 1898.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 4:32 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't the CIA and the State Department be where this work's getting done...

The CIA has been the org that paves the way for later military action.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:42 AM on April 10, 2015


I agree that US military spending is way out of line with any sane national security goals, but the first Gulf War was a victory. If anything, it was so terrifyingly rapid and complete that it laid the groundwork for the misadventures in Gulf War 2 and Afghanistan. Up until they were actually used, I don't think anyone fully realized just how utterly lethal western militaries had become in a standup fight. After that, they seemed close enough to invincible that anything was going to be a cakewalk... forgetting that "...in a standup fight" bit. Or just not caring about it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:53 AM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


Please don't take the above to mean that I'm calling Iraq 2 or Afghanistan bug hunts, or the adversaries there bugs.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:55 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


the US being an unstoppable military juggernaut

Heh. Optimists believe the US is now an unstoppable military juggernaut. Pessimists fear they are correct.
posted by Segundus at 4:58 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


*sigh* No, the first Gulf War was a success because we didn't depose Saddam. The US went in with a realistic goal of evicting Iraqi forces from the oilfields friendly nations, then stopped once they had attained that goal.

but the idea that you could just fight a neat war for self-defined objectives was... stupid.

and the second gulf war shows just how disastrously stupid the first gulf war was. personally, I have doubts that Bush I ever thought clearly about what the endgame in Iraq, after defeating them in Kuwait, was going to be, but it's clear that the US could neither conquer Iraq and replace Saddam Hussein or leave him in place and accept the risk that things wouldn't turn out the way we hoped... whatever that was. There were clear non-military solutions to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait once it became clear that Hussein wouldn't move into Saudi Arabia but you can see the beginning of the US foreign policy elites slide into militarism bereft of clear strategic goals. It became politically necessary for us to go to war even though there was no acceptable end for that war. It's endlessly ironic that the neocons have a hard-on for Thucydides, because they couldn't possibly have misread his history more wrt the dangers of militarism for a trade and tribute based empire...

Just like Gulf War II, Gulf War I damaged the power of the US in the world which, IMHO, is a good thing (although at a terrible human cost.) It's ironic that all of those "anti-war" protestors were working hard in both wars to keep the US empire from shooting itself in the head.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:02 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


and the second gulf war shows just how disastrously stupid the first gulf war was.

I'd suggest that the second gulf war was more successful. Wait. The actual initial "war" lasted just weeks, removed Saddam, took over Iraq with relatively low loss of life and property. Done. Won. Then NO one knew what to do. The "reconstruction" / democracy building is NOT a job for which the military was trained. There needs to be some kind of international diplomatic-police force that is trained to educate and create viable new communities. I can't imagine how that can be developed but it's not a role for an army.
posted by sammyo at 5:29 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Presumably some American corporation had gotten a contract to build roads for the US military. They knew how to build cloverleaf junctions to First World health and safety standards so that is what they did, out there in the middle of nowhere. It was unnecessary and inappropriate, but it fit in with their skill set and they got paid.

Yep. War: follow the money.

Regarding Grenada: I had a sister in Grenada, and parents who were downtown shopping for souvenirs when Coard's thugs killed Bishop and people were jumping out of the castle. Then: five-day shoot-to-kill curfew. Marines were walking around with tourist maps, not sure why they were there, and accidentally blowing up all kinds of civilian buildings…this military adventure took place on an island with a five-figure population and a small contingent of Cubans with rifles. Reagan's pathetic little war.
posted by kozad at 5:31 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


For a long time now the primary purpose of American wars has been to enrich contractors and keep dollars flowing to military bases. Rich and powerful people profit from wars, so we start them. Winning isn't the point, and a long, drawn out conflict keeps the dollars flowing much better than a decisive victory ever could. This is the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:44 AM on April 10, 2015 [16 favorites]


I'd suggest that the second gulf war was more successful. Wait. The actual initial "war" lasted just weeks, removed Saddam, took over Iraq with relatively low loss of life and property. Done. Won. Then NO one knew what to do. The "reconstruction" / democracy building is NOT a job for which the military was trained. There needs to be some kind of international diplomatic-police force that is trained to educate and create viable new communities. I can't imagine how that can be developed but it's not a role for an army.

the US military used to be one of the few US institutions capable of running a small country. one of the things that happened is that Clinton outsourced large parts of the logistical back-end of the military in the 90s. the idea that war is about violent heroics, warriors doing deeds of great valor, is part of the self-mythologizing which is driving our idiotic militarism. the US military core competency was traditionally global supply chains (which isn't too far off from running a country), not brilliant battles.

but, my point is that 'success' requires coherent objectives... once you look at the history of Iraq after Gulf War I, Gulf War II *almost* makes sense. In addition to extending and deepening draconian sanctions, Clinton actually fought a small war against Iraq in the 90s. The end result was that, finally, after about 10 years, the US was succeeding in destabilizing the Hussein government. The problem is that, after years of sanctions and war we had also succeeded in destabilizing Iraqi society. And after we aided and abetted the near-genocidal war Hussein fought against Iraq's Shia population after Gulf War I, the Shia of Iraq were going to take power and they weren't going to be friendly friends about it.

Gulf War II had real bipartisan support as a fairly desperate role of the dice to see if the US couldn't install a friendly regime in Iraq by force. this was dumb, but was driven by the impossible situation created by Gulf War I.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:46 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


I will just say that I know a bunch of Grenadian American immigrants in NYC and to a one they remain supportive of that U.S. invasion and fans of Ronald Reagan for doing it. Took me by surprise when I first saw a framed portrait of Saint Ronnie in one of their homes, since the community politics are otherwise not particularly Republican. I'm not saying I agree either, but I have yet to meet a Grenadian who shares my cynical view of that conflict, and it's caused me to refrain from having a clear opinion.

The business of America is war. Winning stops the wars. It's bad for business to "win" too decisively -- as we found out in Iraq it's a you broke it you bought it world we live in. But victory measured in dollars liberated from taxpayers? Every time, baby. Every time.

Now watch this drive.
posted by spitbull at 5:47 AM on April 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


Because remember the Cold War "peace dividend" St. Ronnie delivered?
posted by spitbull at 5:49 AM on April 10, 2015


I guess this is relevant to our interests.
posted by busted_crayons at 5:58 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


This article barely touches on it, but to answer the question of why we keep dumping all of this money into the military is that it's the only politically-acceptable form of socialism for Republicans. It's a massive jobs program.

This!

It amazes me that conservatives miss a simple truth about capitalism: rich people are not the "job creators." The true engine of a capitalist economy are entities who spend money. For all intents and purposes, it amounts to the government (who buy roads and fighter jets) and consumers (who buy food, cars, and iPhones). We've probably hit "peek fighter jet"--we can't rely on just Lockheed-Martin and Boeing to put money into the hands of consumers.
posted by MrGuilt at 6:01 AM on April 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


Major war itself has become unprofitable but preparing for war is hugely profitable.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:04 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Had he a crystal ball back in 2003, even Dick Cheney might not have advocated invading."

Except "winning" wasn't the goal to Cheney. Is the writer that naive? Instead, the goal was lining war profiteers' pockets.
posted by notsnot at 6:06 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Marines were walking around with tourist maps, not sure why they were there, and accidentally blowing up all kinds of civilian buildings…this military adventure took place on an island with a five-figure population and a small contingent of Cubans with rifles. Reagan's pathetic little war.

One of my dad's workplace minions had been an MP in Grenada. He said his job was mostly to point his gun at other American soldiers to make sure orders were followed.
posted by Foosnark at 6:12 AM on April 10, 2015


> I don't think anyone fully realized just how utterly lethal western militaries had become in a standup fight.

Especially when they're lucky enough to find a dictator dumb enough to actually stand and fight pitched battles.
posted by jfuller at 6:13 AM on April 10, 2015


He missed Panama.
posted by lordrunningclam at 6:19 AM on April 10, 2015


See also James Fallows' The Tragedy of the American Military (previously).
posted by whuppy at 6:23 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Alasdair, I'm British too...

You can't really blame the USA for 7/7 - indeed the UK's involvement in middle eastern regional politics has hardly been beyond reproach.

The UK are permanent member's of the security council (for some reason) and the UK's voting record in recognising any pro Palestinian initiative is? I really don't think that the UK is at all lilly white - at all.

Oh, and military industrial complex? Man, Britain invented the military industrial complex. The Royal Navy was the military industrial complex from 1700 to 1945.
posted by mattoxic at 6:42 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Korea turned out OK considering who we were up against, and Iraq I, Panama and the war against Serbia were successful. Any war involving setpiece battles, the US wins pretty easily and decisively. We suck at counter-guerrilla warfare. I mean, just objectively bad at it. The last time we were any good at it was the Philippines Insurrection, which resulted in several US soldiers tried and convicted for war crimes.

Involving ourselves in anything other than repulsing attacks on allies from a modern professional military generally offers a bad outcome, and makes us seem foolish, evil and weak to the rest of the world when we invariably fuck it up.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:43 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


1. It makes rich people rich.

2. It's literally all we know how to do.
posted by Legomancer at 6:45 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


There was a time when the winners literally wrote all the history books -- because the vanquished were often eradicated from the earth or scattered to the winds.

This sort of thing isn't acceptable any more to (most) modern societies. When the utter destruction of your military opponent -- and most or their civilian populace -- is off the table, no war is "winnable" in the definitive sense, you only "win" temporarily.

Personally, I like modern distaste for genocide and utter destruction, and don't mind having more things that look like stalemates or moderate capitulations rather than a definitively "won" war.
posted by chimaera at 6:48 AM on April 10, 2015 [18 favorites]


how can such an expensive public program that obviously fails to achieve its stated goals carry on unscathed?

Because fuck you, hippie! That's why! What? You were expecting the answer to be complicated?
posted by jonp72 at 6:53 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


The UK are permanent members of the security council (for some reason) and the UK's voting record in recognising any pro Palestinian initiative is?

The UK is a permanent member of the UN security council because the UK was still a superpower when the UN was formed (barely) and one of the victorious Allies in the war that had just ended. It's also a nuclear power and one of three countries with a blue-water navy, and London is still the dominant global financial centre.

And the UK voted to recognise Palestinian statehood along with China, France and Russia; the US was the only permanent member voting against. The other "no" vote? Australia.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 7:01 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Mattoxic, I hope I'm not coming across as an apologist for U.K military interventions, and yeah, if any country has a sordid history of warmongering (or just about anything, really) it's us. I was responding to a post above which stated "I'm very grateful you have such a big military", wondering what benefit U.S military spending actually confers to the rest of the 'free' world.

As to the 7/7 bombings thing, I'm not claiming that the U.K government doesn't own the responsibility for it by their actions, but I think that their actions were played out on a field that had been shaped by American interests. I don't think it's a controversial position to claim that the rise of terrorism in recent years has been a result of American led military exercises, largely in the middle east.
posted by Ned G at 7:11 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


You can't really blame the USA for 7/7 - indeed the UK's involvement in middle eastern regional politics has hardly been beyond reproach.

The blame is two-way. UK supported the Iraq War, but they did so because the US put them up to it. See this BBC report: Iraq war support 'put UK at risk'. It's a report based on the findings of the Chatham House and Economic and Social Research Council, which concluded that the UK was a "pillion passenger" in a war where the US did the driving. By the way, a "pillion passenger" is a UK English term for somebody riding with a motorcycle but not doing the driving. Here in the US, we use the more evocative term, "bitch seat."
posted by jonp72 at 7:15 AM on April 10, 2015


Even school kids now know that the Soviet Union did the heavy lifting in WW2.

Well I hope that's not what they're being taught because that's totally wrong. American military production capacity was vastly greater than any other country. Just look at GDP as an index, in 1938 the US GDP was about 2x Russia, then Russia gradually declined and the US ended up well over 4x.

I'm British too, and I can't think of a single instance in recent history in which our association with the United States military has actually guaranteed our security,

That is sort of our whole reason for existence.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:21 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well I hope that's not what they're being taught because that's totally wrong. American military production capacity was vastly greater than any other country. Just look at GDP as an index, in 1938 the US GDP was about 2x Russia, then Russia gradually declined and the US ended up well over 4x. The Russians took heavy casualties in the war of attrition, but even by the numbers, China and India had much greater losses. And besides, no bastard ever won a war by dying for their country.

Okay.
The battles on the Eastern Front constituted the largest military confrontation in history.[6] They were characterized by unprecedented ferocity, wholesale destruction, mass deportations, and immense loss of life variously due to combat, starvation, exposure, disease, and massacres. The Eastern Front, as the site of nearly all extermination camps, death marches, ghettos, and the majority of pogroms, was central to the Holocaust. Of the estimated 70 million deaths attributed to World War II, over 30 million,[7] many of them civilian, occurred on the Eastern Front. The Eastern Front was decisive in determining the outcome of World War II, eventually serving as the main reason for Germany's defeat.[8][9][10]
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:29 AM on April 10, 2015 [11 favorites]


The victories aren't always apparent. Heres who was victorious in the Iraq war.
posted by smudgedlens at 7:31 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's worth noting that the US Navy has exercised control of all of the world's oceans since 1945, to a far greater degree than the British could have ever dreamed even at the peak of their empire.

I dunno, I'm thinking on this one Queen Victoria would probably have given the nod to Lord Tennyson, and when it came to dreaming about oceans he kind of wrote the book.
posted by Segundus at 7:34 AM on April 10, 2015


Even school kids now know that the Soviet Union did the heavy lifting in WW2.

Well I hope that's not what they're being taught because that's totally wrong.


Like many positions on complex issues, both of these positions have an element of truth, but neither is entirely true. The USSR fought the Nazis first on their own land, with massive casualties. But at the same time the US provided huge amounts of war materiel, and lost staggering numbers of ships and their crews (military and civilian) getting those things to the USSR. It's a massive oversimplification to say that either side alone did the "heavy lifting". But for the US providing desperately-needed supplies, the USSR would likely have been overwhelmed. But for the USSR keeping the Eastern Front open, the Western allies would likely not have been able to gain a foothold in "Fortress Europa".
posted by me & my monkey at 7:35 AM on April 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


The Soviets would have surely collapsed if the US had not supplied them with food, trucks, and other material. THis enabled them to not starve, and to convert their industrial production completely to war machines. They supplied, however, something like 10 million dead soldiers.
posted by thelonius at 7:47 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


The figure I recall is the US supplied about 4% of the Soviet Unions war materiel.
posted by Rumple at 7:47 AM on April 10, 2015


4% of the Soviet Unions war materiel

I suspect this seriously misrepresents the US contribution because it covers the whole war, after Russia had survived the first couple years and recovered; it also doesn't speak to the mix of materials during the crucial early phases. As Thelonius mentions, American logistics materiel freed up precious heavy industrial capacity to make tanks rather than trucks; Russian food production was also allowed to suffer to devote more productive capacity to weapons production, because American rations were making up the difference.
posted by fatbird at 7:58 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I thought ISIS won the Iraq war.
posted by colie at 8:21 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Had he a crystal ball back in 2003, even Dick Cheney might not have advocated invading.

He had a crystal ball in 1994:
Well, just as it’s important, I think, for a president to know when to commit U.S. forces to combat, it’s also important to know when not to commit U.S. forces to combat. I think for us to get American military personnel involved in a civil war inside Iraq would literally be a quagmire.

Once we got to Baghdad, what would we do? Who would we put in power? What kind of government would we have? Would it be a Sunni government, a Shi’a government, a Kurdish government? Would it be secular, along the lines of the Ba’ath Party?

Would it be fundamentalist Islamic? I do not think the United States wants to have U.S. military forces accept casualties and accept the responsibility of trying to govern Iraq. I think it makes no sense at all.
...
If you can take down the central government of Iraq, you can easily see pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have in the West. Part of Eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim – fought over for eight years.

In the North you have the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:24 AM on April 10, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's Been 70 Years Since A Clear US Military Victory

Maybe because it's been 70 years since the US fought a war that was actually justified?
posted by dry white toast at 8:43 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


jonp72: By the way, a "pillion passenger" is a UK English term for somebody riding with a motorcycle but not doing the driving. Here in the US, we use the more evocative term, "bitch seat."

Evocative language, to be sure, but kind of gross.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:50 AM on April 10, 2015


I'm thinking some of the failure to achieve "stated goals" is that the goals that are stated are stated in such a way as to make the endeavour more palatable to the general public, rather than to accurately describe the goal of the military action. That said, I am fairly certain Bush, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz actually thought they were gonna drop a bunch of bombs and be greeted with flowers for it.
posted by Hoopo at 8:59 AM on April 10, 2015



As a citizen of one of the free, prosperous countries whose security has been guaranteed by the United States (Britain - you should also include Western Europe, South Korea, and Japan) I'm very grateful you have such a big military. Here's to keeping Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia all relatively independent and free in the coming century!


Your appreciation is noted. Please further demonstrate your commitment to our military by sending cash, check, or money order to:

Internal Revenue Service Center
Cincinnati, OH 45999-0010
posted by vorpal bunny at 9:00 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


They supplied, however, something like 10 million dead soldiers.

I'm OK with calling that heavy lifting
posted by Hoopo at 9:03 AM on April 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


Your appreciation is noted. Please further demonstrate your commitment to our military by sending cash, check, or money order to:

Internal Revenue Service Center
Cincinnati, OH 45999-0010


Nope, there's actually a special address for that (FAQ):

Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 622D
Hyattsville, MD 20782
posted by Jahaza at 9:09 AM on April 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


After WWII all the old empires collapsed. America lost the soul it was founded on fighting to be free of the British Empire by becoming the New Empire of the West (although we'd already started down that path with the Indian Wars and Spanish-American War). Maybe it's harder to win wars that the populace doesn't viscerally believe in.

Also we broke the draft in Vietnam and stopped it afterwards. I'm a veteran of the volunteer Army, and my father of the draftee Army. When more people knew what the military was like from the inside, a healthy disregard for it was more widely held (See MASH vs NCIS.) AND it's a lot harder to vote for war hawks if your kid might get sent.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:25 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Seems to me Afghanistan and Iraq were both military victories and arguably political defeats. Afghanistan less so, I suppose. The war on al-Qaeda/ISIS is a military defeat so far.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:31 AM on April 10, 2015


Korea turned out OK considering who we were up against


Except for the part where the US provoked direct intervention on the part of China, and prolonged the war for another two years, only to reestablish essentially the pre-war status quo at the armistice talks.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:48 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Something I've been wondering about lately is, aside from the obvious opportunity cost of not making productive investments with the money, what's the actual ROI on all of these fancy toys anyway? Of course, you can't actually calculate this, but what I mean is that these weapons are extremely expensive and require extensive and complex supply chains to operate. Would they actually make for good weapons in a real war?

Let's say that somehow a large conventional war does get started. When we're not talking about bombs or missiles that cost multiples of a typical house, most of these expensive weapons are predicated on the basic idea that there will be an initial decisive confrontation over control of airspace which will be won by the small number of extremely high tech stealth airplanes we have. This was less than no problem against Iraq, their airforce was never a credible threat. What if we go up against a peer and instead of Shock & Awe, we lose a couple billion dollar B-2s and half the F-22 fleet on the first night when the plan falls apart? If our initial, decisive stealth-based strike is not actually decisive, we're in for a war of attrition with weapons that can't easily be mass produced. Is the answer that we'll just spin up the factories to pump out obsolete models? Is the plan to go nuclear if this happens? (This actually seems like it may be the case and it is horrifying to contemplate.) It doesn't make any sense. History is littered with failed battle plans which called for an initial decisive battle.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is the plan to go nuclear if this happens?

I think the plan is never to fight a true peer again, because they do all have nukes.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:10 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about. allowed to emerge under his watch then tried to distance himself from once the genie was out of the bottle.
posted by any major dude at 10:11 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are dozens, if not hundred of U.S. military bases around the world

According to Global Research's Worldwide Network of US Military Bases "the US is thought to own a total of 737 bases in foreign lands."
posted by Rash at 10:23 AM on April 10, 2015


What if we go up against a peer and instead of Shock & Awe, we lose a couple billion dollar B-2s and half the F-22 fleet on the first night when the plan falls apart?

Doolittle figured this out during the second world war - the plan is to sweep the skies of enemy aircraft first, and then use fast ground attack craft to go after anti-aircraft radar. If that fails, and we lose air superiority, we fail. If it winds up a stalemate where neither side can gain air supremacy, the bombers and attack craft stay grounded, and the US rolls its armor... and doesn't stop rolling it. The Abrams M1 is a crummy tank by modern standards, but we can make them by the tens of thousands, repair them when they break, and upgrade them in the field. Also, artillery. Hummers are great for towing field pieces, and satcoms are awesome for coordinating fire. We made a lot of hummers, and can make a lot more at the drop of a hat.

Likewise American fighters aren't always superior to Russian or European planes, but when you have a 10-1 numerical advantage and a superior logistical infrastructure for maintenance, upgrade and replacement, that doesn't matter as much.

This stuff is excellent at getting us into the situation of occupying a hostile nation, and not very good at all at getting us out of it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:29 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Maybe this was stated in the article or in comments, but this seams like a simple answer. It's not about power or readiness. It's about economics. The world economy would collapse if we started divesting in military spending. We'd all turn into one big Detroit.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:31 AM on April 10, 2015


There isn't any question that the US military could win a war, it's just not tasked with winning wars.

As this ancient Vietnam War-protester has gotten so tired of pointing out, the Constitution tasks Congress with declaring war, which it hasn't done since December 1941. Instead, ever since, they've abdicated this responsibility to the President, whose war-making powers were supposedly reigned in by the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
posted by Rash at 10:34 AM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


It was mentioned in the Seattle tunnel thread that of course megaprojects have cost overruns, if people knew the real cost up front then they'd never agree to them in the first place. War is the biggest megaproject we have, and it's been a long time since we've had one that was for something we really wanted that badly.
posted by ckape at 10:34 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maybe this was stated in the article or in comments, but this seams like a simple answer. It's not about power or readiness. It's about economics. The world economy would collapse if we started divesting in military spending.

Holy wow is this wrong. The military downsizing following the end of the cold war in the early 90s was followed by the biggest economic expansion in 50 years. I'm not saying that one necessarily caused the other, but it certainly didn't cause "economic collapse".
posted by dry white toast at 10:39 AM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah, MAD is definitely the plan against the peers of today. I'm kind of excepting that from my little thought experiment because given the way technology advances, I'm not sure the "peer" distinction will remain as sharp over the long term. War games and other conflicts have shown that all you really need to do real damage is an accurate missile and a great radar system (see the downing of the F-117 in Serbia), or a bunch of zodiacs with anti-ship missiles (see "Millennium Challenge 2002"), or whatever the case may be based on the geography, I think that's within reach of non-nuclear powers. It seems crazy to imagine that someone might fight off the mighty US Air Force or Navy, but you never see these things coming and technology advances on both sides. This initial decisive air confrontation doctrine just seems like it could easily become the American Schlieffen Plan in a real war.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:41 AM on April 10, 2015


...the plan is to sweep the skies of enemy aircraft first...

This is the "decisive confrontation" plan I was alluding to. So far it's worked, but we've bet the farm on it to the tune of billions and billions. Our cutting edge technology gets older every day and we still basically have "the bombers will always get through" tactics. I'm not saying it's not going to keep working in the future, but I do wonder about the blood and treasure we've sunk into it and whether it'd pay off if we desperately and truly needed it to.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:50 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Like many positions on complex issues, both of these positions have an element of truth, but neither is entirely true.

I'm reading a book about that era at the moment (Fear Itself, Ira Katznelson, 2013). The author points out that the U.S. sent the Allies 43,000 planes and 800,000 trucks, “as well as enormous shipments of other military supplies. The economic effects were profound.” (p. 346)

On the other hand, “It was the USSR, not Britain or the United States, that turned the tide against Hitler. Fighting on the eastern front took the lives of four out of every five German soldiers who perished in the entire conflict, and it was the Soviet army that pushed the Nazi force back to Berlin... The Red Army's resistance was achieved at an appalling price... By war's end, fully 84 percent of the 34.5 million persons the USSR mobilized for war service, of whom 29.5 million were soldiers, had died or endured injury or detention.” (p. 354-355) Of the 16+ million Americans who went to war, just over 400,000 died, and close to 700,000 were wounded.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:50 AM on April 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


Winning a war isn't even really the point anymore. The point is supposed to be to preserve and defend our freedom, not to put runs on the scoreboard. Freedom is what we're supposed to be thanking our military for. But there are two bugs in the punch bowl. One is that we get into fights where our freedom was never at stake. The other is that, after our troops have "paid the price" for our freedom, nobody becomes the slightest bit more free. Not here at home and not anywhere else in the world.

I could be wrong, but that's how I feel.
posted by Flexagon at 10:57 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'd suggest that the second gulf war was more successful.

I remember plausible predictions at the time that the US would win, but not before taking mass casualties in the tens of thousands. The fear was widespread enough that I remember reading about it in childhood comic books. Iraq had one of the world's largest armies, a force of over 600 000 troops that had been battle-hardened in years of war against Iran. Iraqi equipment was inferior, but more or less equivalent to what a country like China could field in that era.

Instead, the Americans literally suffered fewer casualties in battle than they did to non-combat vehicle accidents and friendly fire. Countries like China had real reason to fear that their armed forces could not even deter American aggression, that they could be crushed without even inflicting a significant cost on the US, leading to a desperate attempt to catch up and close the technological gap. That attempt has at least partially succeeded, but for years, the US military had no plausible peer competitor anywhere, a degree of worldwide dominance scarce seen since the Mongols.

The US did this while assembling widespread international consensus and direct support from dozens of countries, making its leader-of-the-free-world rhetoric seem briefly realistic. Talk of a pax americana, the end of history, and permanent unipolar American dominance was not entirely absurd jingoism. The illusion of military omnipotence gave the US a huge amount of diplomatic leverage in whatever dispute it decided to insert itself.

It wasn't just a win. The Gulf War defined international politics for more than a decade. The worst you can say about it as a victory is that it caused the American political class to believe its own propaganda, leading to overreach which has proven unsustainable.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:12 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


To throw in my couple of pennies, I'd say that battlefield and theatre superiority are going to be as determined by cyber-warfare/-counterwarfare as by the number of Abrams we can heft onto the field.

If you can mess up tactical/operational C3, you don't need as many big toys to hold your own.
posted by the sobsister at 11:13 AM on April 10, 2015


USA rules the world. All opposition to the US point of view where most of us are sub-human, destined for eternal poverty, have been crushed with extreme violence. Talking about "winning wars" seems incredibly naive.
posted by uffda at 11:18 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


This was less than no problem against Iraq, their airforce was never a credible threat.

Buh? Sure it was. They had hundreds of combat aircraft and lots of aircrew with combat experience. A lot of them were older and had export avionics instead of the ones the Soviets kept for themselves, but this was a very real, serious air force. Glancing around, it looks like their side of the air superiority battle would have been handled by their 37 MiG-29s, which is an entirely credible force relative to the air superiority fighters the coalition could bring to the Gulf.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:33 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because not since Truman no American president, nor any legislature has had the stomach to commit to all out war. In Korea, Viet Nam, and every "war" since the US military hands have been tied by the politicians hoping to save their re-election by not causing too much collateral damage. Even today people are justifying the Boston Marathon bombings because drone strikes might have kill a few "civilians" while knocking out key leadership? We should have declared war when Iran held hostages, we should have declared war when Somali warlords started shooting down NATO planes and killing NATO workers trying to deliver food and medicine. but in both cases the Commander in chief was weakened by various political storms.
posted by Gungho at 11:33 AM on April 10, 2015


Because not since Truman no American president, nor any legislature has had the stomach to commit to all out war. In Korea, Viet Nam, and every "war" since the US military hands have been tied by the politicians hoping to save their re-election by not causing too much collateral damage.

Yeah, Korea and Vietnam, those famous examples of warfare constrained by concern for civilian life
The first major U.S. strategic bombing campaign against North Korea, begun in late July 1950, was conceived much along the lines of the major offensives of World War II.[284] On 12 August 1950, the U.S. Air Force dropped 625 tons of bombs on North Korea; two weeks later, the daily tonnage increased to some 800 tons.[285] After the Chinese intervention in November, General MacArthur ordered the increased bombing campaign on North Korea, including incendiary attacks against their arsenals and communications centers and especially against the "Korean end" of all the bridges across the Yalu River.[286] As with the aerial bombing campaigns over Germany and Japan in World War II, the nominal objectives of the U.S. Air Force was to destroy North Korea's war infrastructure and shatter their morale. After MacArthur was removed as Supreme Commander in Korea in April 1951, his successors continued this policy and eventually extended it to all of North Korea.[287] U.S. warplanes dropped more napalm and bombs on North Korea than they did during the whole Pacific campaign of World War II.[288]

As a result, almost every substantial building in North Korea was destroyed.
[289][290] The war's highest-ranking American POW, U.S. Major General William F. Dean,[291] reported that most of the North Korean cities and villages he saw were either rubble or snow-covered wastelands.[292][293] U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay commented, "we went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another, and some in South Korea, too."[294] The devastation of Pyongyang was so complete that bombing was halted as there were no longer any worthy targets.[295]
and as for Vietnam:
Nick Turse, in his 2013 book, Kill Anything that Moves, argues that a relentless drive toward higher body counts, a widespread use of free-fire zones, rules of engagement where civilians who ran from soldiers or helicopters could be viewed as Viet Cong, and a widespread disdain for Vietnamese civilians led to massive civilian casualties and endemic war crimes inflicted by U.S. troops.[317] One example cited by Turse is Operation Speedy Express, an operation by the 9th Infantry Division, which was described by John Paul Vann as, in effect, "many My Lais".[317] In more detail,
Air force captain, Brian Wilson, who carried out bomb-damage assessments in free-fire zones throughout the delta, saw the results firsthand. "It was the epitome of immorality...One of the times I counted bodies after an air strike—which always ended with two napalm bombs which would just fry everything that was left—I counted sixty-two bodies. In my report I described them as so many women between fifteen and twenty-five and so many children—usually in their mothers' arms or very close to them—and so many old people." When he later read the official tally of dead, he found that it listed them as 130 VC killed.[318]
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:54 AM on April 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


"The politics of failure have failed. It is time to make them work again!" - President Kang (or was it Kodos?)
posted by Renoroc at 11:56 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd say the United States quite decisively won both Iraq wars. The problem is that following the second one they tried to implement an ideologically driven neoliberal free-market society without any of the concomitant social infrastructure. They found out quickly and harshly that a society is greater than simply the spreadsheet sum formula value of its parts. The United States, where this same process is being implemented piecemeal over decades of disinvestment and theft, is a slow motion post-war Iraq. Hell we are already looting museums.
posted by srboisvert at 11:57 AM on April 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


As I never tire of saying, barring "leave not one stone upon another and save alive nothing that breatheth," there is no military solution to a guerrilla problem.

With regard to Afghanistan and Iraq, Why We Lost by Daniel Bolger is a very interesting read.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:02 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


"The last time we decisively defeated our enemies was 1945."

It's also the last time we entered into a conflict with a huge amount of allies, with the specific goal of unconditional surrender. The simple fact is, most of our conflicts have had far more limited goals and more limited -- but generally agreeable -- outcomes for the US.

I think what this article points out, mostly, is that the author is going to say that US conflicts are a failure based on his criteria, as opposed to what actually happens.

...this, and that military power, short of full-on permanent occupation and conquest, can only accomplish the limited objective of removing others from power, and replacing them with someone more US-friendly, who the people of those nations can more-or-less live with. I would argue we've done exactly that in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

It also points out that long occupations are stupid and compound the risks of sending in ground troops in the first place... which, generally speaking, is usually a bad idea. Any problem that can be resolved through diplomacy should be... and, when not possible, there are a wide range of options available that do not require sending in ground troops.

But yeah, take a realistic look at US military interventions with the goal of regime change, and you will notice that efforts to either force regime change or prevent the success of a particular faction were successful in most all of our conflicts.

I don't like ground wars either. I especially don't like ground wars that generally lead to increased factionalism and civil wars... but there's a reason why they are still considered a serious option. Unfortunately.
posted by markkraft at 12:16 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


rustic etruscan, you were too quick on the reply, I removed my statement about casualties during the edit window but you caught me out. I apologize for misreading the chart, I followed down the wrong column.

But I still stand behind my point, that the US overwhelmingly outproduced all the WWIi combatant countries, and won the war.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:20 PM on April 10, 2015


It's more than the past 70s years....in total, America's a joke as a military nation. The only real upset was the American Revolution...everything since then has been either kicking a vastly inferior force (at great expense), or essentially winning by being the last guy to jump on top of the dogpile.

American revolution- accidental byproduct of France winning the latest Franco-British war.
Barbary expeditions- mixed record of victories and defeats against pirate rabble.
War of 1812- Defeated soundly by Canadians
War of 1845- kicking an exhausted Mexico
US Civil War- barely managing to eke out a victory against rag-tag militias through 5 year of fighting. If the CSA had adapted guerrilla tactics, the North would have given up the fight in the 1870s.
Spanish-American War- Kicking in another exhausted shell of empire.
WW1: Gets the credit for winning the war that was really won by the hard efforts of the UK and France. Germany was on it's last legs by the time the US intervened.
WW2: USSR did the real fighting
Korean War: Fights to a stand still against a force of under-armed peasants who have no air force.
Vietnam: loss
Gulf war I: Iraq was already exhausted by the Iran-Iraq war. Turkey shoot of a bunch of obsolete tanks in a desert.
Gulf war II: Not working out so well..

As a military power, the USA is essentially an illustration of the adage 'born on third base and thinks he hit a triple'. But we are the best when it comes to spending money. We can spend money like no one else.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 1:23 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I removed my statement about casualties during the edit window

[Do not use the edit feature this way. If you need to clarify or retract something, just post a followup comment doing so.]

posted by cortex at 1:32 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


But I still stand behind my point, that the US overwhelmingly outproduced all the WWIi combatant countries, and won the war.

The US played a decisive part in the decisive victory of an alliance of nations against another alliance of nations, but if it means that much to you that one country should be declared the victor, then fine, sure, the United States won WWII. The US forced Japan to surrender after a brutal, terrible struggle, after all. But don't minimize the Eastern Front, the most brutal and terrible struggle of the European Theater, if not that of the whole war.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:52 PM on April 10, 2015


Holy wow is this wrong.

Please get your hyperbole checked. The yearly defense budget was "downsized" from a peak of about $550 billion to around $375 billion after the cold war (in 2013 dollars). It's now back at $550 billion. I'm guessing a "downsize" is designed to NOT collapse economies. So we really don't have a good frame of reference, do we, since the budget has tracked upward since we've actually had a budget? No "downsize" ever dropped it below 1% of GDP.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:53 PM on April 10, 2015


We (ok, mostly the Russians in terms of soldiers killed and territory taken, but with US provided equipment) won WWII, but we did so by making it clear to a civilized (i.e. majority of people live in cities, not out in the rural areas) society that if they resisted, we would, if necessary, destroy them, as we had done with carefully planned and executed firestorms, infrastructure erasing bombing campaigns, and troops who would kill, rape, and leave nothing but ashes behind them if necessary. Japan, Germany, they quit when they saw the end, and even then we stuck around for decades before ceding power back to the locals.

Since then, we have been unable to say, believably, we will absolutely destroy a population that continues to oppose us. Genocide is no longer acceptable as a way of war, and when you have a distributed population, mixed in with non-combatants and a "side" we're allied with, or a local government we're supposedly friendly with, it's not even believable that we'd go in and just eradicate a population.

Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan faced extinction, and they knew it, and surrendered when it became immanent and only avoidable via capitulation. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, the enemy knew we couldn't, if only for political reasons, just kill everyone, and being dispersed, subsistence-agricultural based, we would have had to kill everyone -- not just combatants, because a peasant with an ak47 hidden in his cesspool is just as much of a combatant as a uniformed stormtrooper, but nigh-impossible to identify. If Germany or Japan had engaged in such tactics, today we would most likely be mourning the extermination of their civilian populations -- Japan's planned civilian resistance was expected to result in the death of every man, woman, and child, and the failed German leadership had a similar resistance plan, with child troopers already serving as front line troops near the end of the war, and a propaganda engine attempting to set up a similar total-civilian resistance.
posted by Blackanvil at 1:56 PM on April 10, 2015


It's Been 70 Years Since A Clear US Military Victory

On the other hand, we've had a whole lot fewer civilian casualties of foreign wars than most nations. A lot of that is due to our geographic isolation, but if you take the "defense" in the defense budget literally, it's been overwhelmingly successful.
posted by straight at 1:58 PM on April 10, 2015


Follow the money. These wars have been extremely successful for big investors in the military industrial complex. For them unwon wars equal success so long as each unwon war is followed by another.
posted by notreally at 3:20 PM on April 10, 2015


No mention of generations of warfare? The US military seems designed to win 3rd gen wars like WW2 and Gulf 1, but that doesn't work so well for 4th gen like Gulf 2, Afghanistan and Somalia.
posted by Tom-B at 3:31 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


We (ok, mostly the Russians in terms of soldiers killed and territory taken, but with US provided equipment) won WWII, but we did so by making it clear to a civilized (i.e. majority of people live in cities, not out in the rural areas) society that if they resisted, we would, if necessary, destroy them, as we had done with carefully planned and executed firestorms, infrastructure erasing bombing campaigns, and troops who would kill, rape, and leave nothing but ashes behind them if necessary.

That's how you win a war, and establish an empire. You make it clear that your interests are now their interests. In that regard, the US has been mostly successful for over 200 years. Whether or not that is a good thing, is open to debate. This always has been the primary political problem, ever since the earliest empires.

Japan, Germany, they quit when they saw the end, and even then we stuck around for decades before ceding power back to the locals.

Both Japan and Germany continued to fight beyond the bitter end.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:13 PM on April 10, 2015


Thomas Barnett has posted an unpublished article from two years back: How to become a grand strategist. (Long).
posted by adamvasco at 5:36 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Random thought: if the military hadn't been consuming so much oil, where would we be now?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:03 PM on April 10, 2015


The claim that the US has not had a clear military victory in 70 years is wrong. Off the top of my head Panama, Greneda and Kosovo were clear cut US military victories.
posted by humanfont at 8:01 PM on April 10, 2015


Congressional Research Service: Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2010 (pdf)
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:47 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


adamvasco: “Thomas Barnett has posted an unpublished article from two years back: How to become a grand strategist. (Long).”
Cf. “Thomas Barnett: Let's rethink America's military strategy”TED, February 2005
posted by ob1quixote at 11:03 AM on April 11, 2015


War of 1812- Defeated soundly by Canadians

(The French)
posted by clavdivs at 9:08 PM on April 11, 2015


War of 1812- Defeated soundly by Canadians

That was a stalemate. Wow some people just aren't interested in historical accuracy, only nationalistic mythology. They don't just want to beat the Americans, they want to be the Americans.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:07 PM on April 11, 2015


War of 1812- Defeated soundly by Canadians

Yeah, we got schooled by the Canucks and had DC burned down, but on the other hand, we invaded Britain, something Napoleon his own goddamn self couldn't do, demolished Caribbean ports at will, controlled the Great Lakes on the water and whupped an entire Redcoat army at New Orleans. Also, submarines sinking stuff, that was us.

Between John Paul Jones and Old Hickory... and a fleet of super-frigates that could trade punches with ships of the line while sailing circles around them rampaging through British shipping... we managed a pretty favorable deal with the global superpower at the time after winning battles that actually mattered.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:08 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


we got schooled by the Canucks

As far as having the American attacks repulsed, yeah, but

and had DC burned down

...by Brits. It makes as much sense to say that Jamaica or Bermuda burned DC as it does Canada.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:22 PM on April 11, 2015


ob1quixote It's 8 and 12 years on respectively but mefi has had some good discusions about Thomas PM Bartlett whose videos are listed here as the original FPP links are long gone.
He specifically states that the only way the defense dept. is going to change is through defeat; and redundant parts of the military wish their own scenarios.
The larger part of the problem here is the smoke and morror bit where the politicians don't ever actually declare war so that in their eyes the USA never loses. Plus trite announcements like "Mission Accomplished" when the the Mission was never defined.
In the Great Strategist I linked to the pin up boy was Petraeus but he's dog food now.
posted by adamvasco at 12:04 PM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, we got schooled by the Canucks ...

Well, it was more or less a draw, as I recall; Fort Niagara was captured in a surprise attack (legend has it that he American troops were playing whist, when the British kicked in the door, yelling "Bayonets are trump!") This was followed by the Battle of Chippawa, where British regulars attacked despite being outnumbered, having mistaken the American troops for militia because of their homespun jackets. Again, legend has it that the British general, watching the Americans maneuver under fire, exclaimed "By God! Those are regulars!" The British withdrew after taking heavy casualties. This was followed by the Battle of Lundy's Lane, in which both sides took heavy casualties, and the Americans withdrew. So roughly a British victory, an American victory, and then kind of a draw.

a fleet of super-frigates that could trade punches with ships of the line while sailing circles around them rampaging through British shipping...

Well, that's not quite true; it is true that British frigates were under orders not to engage American frigates one on one, but it's also true that, well, the British ended up with HMS President and HMS Chesapeake. Ships of the line were much heavier than frigates, which were not intended for use in the line of battle.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:03 AM on April 13, 2015


The business of America is war. Winning stops the wars. It's bad for business to "win" too decisively...

Is it time to repost What Barry Says yet?
posted by sneebler at 9:04 AM on April 15, 2015


The real problem with conservatives' unquestioning support of defense spending[*] - "The reason why the US [military] budget is so large relative to anyone else [is so] other countries don't even try to catch up... the real false dilemma we need to worry about — and one that conservatives, in particular, should be utterly allergic to — is the idea that more spending equals better service."
posted by kliuless at 1:49 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


That is good. Covers #3 of the US military doctrine.
posted by clavdivs at 8:42 PM on April 23, 2015


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