Tuesday, November 06, 2007

TO COUNT OR NOT TO COUNT

Today is November the 6th and the headline on CNN’s website shouted “07 deadliest year for US troops in Iraq”, which immediately reminded me of an earlier piece I wrote about the use of casualty figures to determine either success or failure of the war in Iraq. I went back and looked at great battles during WW I and II to support the theory that if you simply looked at the number of casualties incurred many of the West’s greatest victories would have been instead it’s greatest failures.

As a Canadian today’s headline for me was Canadian Corps take Passchendaele. This WW I battle began in July 1917 with British, Australian, New Zealand and French troops attempting to break out of the Ypres salient in Western Belgium. After several months of small gains the Commonwealth troops were an exhausted shell of an Army so to continue the battle the Canadian Corps fresh off it’s great victory at Vimy Ridge was moved into the line in mid October 1917. The Canadian Commander predicted high casualties but at this point the British High Command was determined to take the town and the high ground it sat on so the Canadians went over the top. In fact they went over the top several times before the town was finally secured on 06 November 1917, some 90 years ago today.

When all the dead were counted the Allies had lost 300,000 men of which 16,000 were Canadians and the German Empire had lost 260,000 soldiers. The total distance gained 6 miles!

As the Allied Army had little left in reserve the German Army counter-attacked on 21 March 1918 and took back all the ground gained in just 3 days.

It’s time to stop counting the dead to justify success or failure. Fantastic gains are often made with little loss of life while other great battles such as the Battle of Iwo Jima (7000 US dead in just five weeks of combat) come at a huge price. Every individual death is a horrible event and must be remembered and revered but a low monthly death toll is no more an indication of success than a high yearly toll is an indication of failure.

If you look back at any war it has it’s very low points and it’s successes often mixed with some of each coming right up to the final few days of the conflict and while it’s easy to dissect a battle 90 years after the fact knowing the outcome could you imagine today’s newspapers and politicians had we held the same mentality after the battle of Iwo Jima? We would have pulled out of the conflict, fired Gen Mac Arthur and impeached President Roosevelt. Funny how 52 years after this bloody five week battle history sees the men who planned that battle a little differently and is willing to tolerate the high losses of men. Why is that you ask? Simple…WE WON.

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