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Was the American military more sensitive to casualties?

Discussion in 'History & Military Discussion' started by MaHaL, Jan 3, 2017.

  1. MaHaL

    MaHaL Breathe in. Breathe out.

    Location:
    Alberta, Canada
    I have nothing against the military of the United States, this is just an observation I've made over the past while and the resulting question I have. So, in the stuff I've read about during the world wars it seems that compared to European countries the United States was often unwilling to suffer heavy casualties.

    For example in World War 1 out of roughly 2,000,000 or so men sent overseas with the American Expeditionary Force 100,000-120,000 were killed in just over one year of combat for roughly 5% of the army.

    Compare that to the French Army which in 1918 had 1,650,000-1,7000,000 men and suffered between 300,000-310,000 killed for around 17-18% or over triple the casualty rate.

    In World War 2 the American military at it's height had 12,000,000+ men, and over the course of the war suffered 400,000-410,000 killed for around 3%. Obviously this was higher in some theatres and lower in others but that's roughly irrelevant to the point.

    To contrast that, I'll go with the Army of the British Commonwealth because comparing them with the Soviet Union is simply ridiculous because nobody had higher casualty rates than them. I've seen figures anywhere from 370,000 to 410,000 for the Commonwealth when they total size of the army was smaller. I can't find concrete data but numbers range between roughly 8,000,000 and 10,000,000 which results in a casualties of anywhere between 3.7% and 5.2%. Again, some areas suffered heavier casualties than others which is irrelevant to the point.

    So, the final question is, was the American military less willing to suffer casualties than other militaries of the time or were they simply more fortunate?
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2017
  2. I think the explanation is relatively simply:

    In WW1, the USA barely arrived in the time for mopping things up. The British and French had already broken the German frontlines. The USA had simply sat out the casualty heaviest part of the war.

    And in WW2, the US forces were wide and far the best equipped forces. Of course that will be reflected in a lower casualty rate.
     
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  3. MaHaL

    MaHaL Breathe in. Breathe out.

    Location:
    Alberta, Canada
    Not really. 1918 had plenty of fighting and I was compared casualties from the same time period. France in 1918 took more casualties than the US did in 1918. If this were a comparison of the whole war then your point would be valid.
    Debatle but also irrelevant. We know the case wasn't as simple as "They were better." there were other factors involved. Like if we bring the Russians into it we can say with fair certainty that they were more willing to take casualties than other armies, same thing with the Japanese and the Chinese. My question is whether or not the US would be willing to take these casualties to accomplish things, and if they weren't why not?
     
  4. Apocal

    Apocal Alpha Technoblack Moderator

    Location:
    California
    There was no point to taking those casualties. Why send a man when you can send a hundred (or more) shells instead? It isn't as if there is something inherent or virtuous in taking outsize losses to accomplish military ends. So richer nations exchange money for blood.
     
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  5. Avernus

    Avernus Abomination

    Exactly. It's called playing to your strengths; America had the biggest intact economy and used it, there was no need to drown the other side in blood when they could be buried in hardware instead.
     
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  6. Louis Babycos

    Louis Babycos louisb Suspended

    Location:
    Usa
    The objective in war is not to die for your country but to make the other poor dumb bastard die for his .GENERAL GEORGE S PATTON
     
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  7. poaw

    poaw Probably Not A Producer

    There is nothing to establish a baseline to measure willingness to accept casualties between the forces involved. The ones which took more casualties also had near (and outright) mutinies during the war as well.

    Aside from that, a lack of casualties does not imply an unwillingness to take casualties anymore than not having a skinned knee implies an inability (or unwillingness) to walk with a skinned knee.
     
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  8. ussnimitz1968

    ussnimitz1968 Not an Actual Servicemember

    I think the first question you really need to ask here is there anything wrong with that?

    Yes, you need to be able to achieve military objectives, and yes, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs and being too overly cautious to do so but there is needlessly getting your men and women killed for dubious strategies and purposes and just racking up the bodybags to be sent home and homefront popularity to take a nosedive to the point where you now have civil unrest (not that America isn't prone to this anyway, especially in recent history).

    A good, effective military leader knows how to balance that, and is cognizant of the consequences of over-caution and unwillingness to commit vs. over-zealous recklessness. This is a big reason why we have a large officer's academy at West Point.

    And as others have pointed out there are extenuating circumstances as to why. One of which being the French were quite literally fighting on and defending their home turf.

    I think it would actually be more accurate to simply look at raw casualties rather than casualties as a percentage of overall army, in which case both the Americans and British compare very favorably to each other. To do so as a percentage of total army, with so much of that percentage of the American army staying on the home front, I feel would be, as you put it, irrelevant to the point.

    I'm quoting this only to emphasize how incredibly important this is. Hell this is pretty much Officer's Training Corps 101.

    The objective is to achieve clearly defined strategic objectives whether that be to destroy the enemy's ability to make war or conquer/reconquer territory or guarantee/deny access to strategic resources but sure that works too.

    Anyway, I would suspect that you're going to see a greater unwillingness to take casualties in the future across all parties - not just in evolving technology but given recent events a greater reluctance to go to war period. Overall this is a good thing.
     
  9. MaHaL

    MaHaL Breathe in. Breathe out.

    Location:
    Alberta, Canada
    I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it. I'm just curious as to whether or not such is the case.
    Fair enough.
     
  10. ussnimitz1968

    ussnimitz1968 Not an Actual Servicemember

    To answer this question and to really get to the core of your OP...the answer is kind of, sort of with some historical basis but also a lot of convergence of coincidence. It really comes down to the fact that the US is a volunteer-service army with a draft backup, the former of which makes Americans go "we have a lot of reverence for these men and women who volunteer, and a part of this reverence is making sure they don't die in vain/don't die at all" and especially the latter of which makes Americans go "well screw whatever President or Congress sacrifices my teen daughter or son to die in whatever useless war against her or his will" and the civil unrest of the 60s/the Vietnam War was probably a light reaction (politically speaking of course; America isn't the kind of country to take up a violent civil war over a bloody foreign war). Especially post-WWII and even moreso post-Vietnam and in the aftermath of OIF/OEF it's been a major driver of adopting technology to increasingly protect the warfighter while at the same time improving that warfighter's ability to achieve military objectives (that, and shrinking budgets and recruitment, which in turn is at least partially influenced by the populace's growing distaste for war).

    Europe not only has a greater history of conscript forces, but a greater history of glamorizing and even reverence for self-sacrifice in battle which tends to incentivize reckless or needless behavior. I just finished reading a book on the Battle of Britain, Fighter Boys, and there's an entire chapter dedicated to "pilot gallantry."

    The closest equivalent I can think of in the US military, especially the current one, is the virtual knighthood of the Air Force; the romance of flying has a lot of similarities to the romance of riding horseback, but it's further compounded by the fact that pilots are given responsibility to increasingly expensive, performance-expanding machines (and thus brings an inherent sense of elitehood) but also these machines tend to make the pilot corps feel practically invulnerable which tends to foster certain attitudes on gallantry (not necessarily irresponsible or reckless, mind you, but certainly attitudes that aren't very helpful when it comes to interacting with the other services). And even there the Air Force is suffering a massive pilot shortage (although this is compounded by a pilot shortage in general in the civilian world as well). The pilot shortage may be the thing that finally ends irrational USAF resistance to mass drone adoption (including if not especially from the actual pilot corps).
     
  11. Considering how outright murderous were the island hopping battles of the Pacific, yet the americans were willing to take the casualties I think the answer is they were mostly more fortunate in general.
     
  12. DocHawkeye

    DocHawkeye

    Location:
    New York
    It's blood for blood anyway you cut it. You might consider sending troops into cities like Dresden or Tokyo or Cassino or Hiroshima but why bother when you've already flattened them? War kills people and yeah that's all bad but the west is nearly proud of simply exporting the cost of it for onto the inhabitants of those lands in a currency of High Explosive, White Phosphorous, and Uranium, rather than pay it themselves. It was certainly not through cleverness or audacity that the war was won. Let's not kid ourselves about who ended up under those bombardments most of the time.

    Don't get me wrong, the Axis powers had long since summoned the genie from the bottle by the time the Allies figured out how affordable it was to turn to firepower as a substitute for responsible leadership. Guernica and most of urban China had already born testament to the impending price millions of people were about to pay for the incompetence of their leaders. It just seems a little de-humanizing to me to keep glossing over the cost of fighting by pretending their was no cost because we didn't pay the bill.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2017
  13. Skyllian Blitz

    Skyllian Blitz Shadow Cabal Member Moderator

    For WW1, in addition to entering the war later, the expeditionary forces were trained up by experienced NCOs and officers from british and commonwealth armies before being sent into battle under command of other armies. IIRC, Sir John Monash comments that early on, the american units attached to his command suffered higher than usual casualties than his units because they were eager and didn't initially sweep taken ground with the same diligence as their aussie supervisors.
     
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  14. ussnimitz1968

    ussnimitz1968 Not an Actual Servicemember

    This brings up the point I keep trying to bring up on this board, subtle or otherwise: the best means to win war is to not have to fight it in the first place. And I'm not trying to be all smugly Sun-Tzu here either: it's possible to have more dignity found in a diplomatic loss than a bloody victory. There are people who think it's perfectly OK to just go and carpet-firebomb civilian populations with the rationale under "well they're monsters who are killing tons of civilians anyway;" I'd say those people are no better leaders than the monsters they're trying to defeat in the first place.

    That said, as I've also said elsewhere, a nation's top priority is to itself and its citizens, and bombing enemy population centers is something that has to be weighed against the sacrifice of one's own citizens. That said, this is why I keep harping on the point that war is so horrible it should be avoided at all costs. It's precisely because it's blood for blood anyway you cut it and because it forces you into crappy exchanges with the Devil regarding foreign citizens vs. your own, and the only people who look upon with favorable glee at it are the real monsters, whether they be Hitler, Stalin or more modern warmongers.
     
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  15. Apocal

    Apocal Alpha Technoblack Moderator

    Location:
    California
    When I talk about costs, I refer to those only paid by America in the short- and medium-term, same as the the national leadership did. It's certainly true that German and Japanese (and French and Italian as well) civilians paid a helluva price but that was considered part and parcel of the war-making business. And employing firepower wasn't (and is not) an indication of irresponsible leadership.
     
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  16. Well, I'd say that the US had a comparative lack of exposure to total war than, say, the Soviet Union. The Soviet army was on par to the US army at the time, right? But the German war machine fought them with all their might. Regarding the Japanese, they were also tied in China, thus probably reducing the amount of American dead in the war (though island hopping was still brutal).
     
  17. DocHawkeye

    DocHawkeye

    Location:
    New York
    What is then? Gutting the cities of Potsdam and Nagasaki could hardly be described as a good idea in any light. A military one maybe, devoid of any humanity. Maybe a better idea would've been to reoccupy the Rhineland as treaty stipulated when Germany violated it, or demand Hitler and Mussolini stop supplying Franco with weapons and troops as they obviously were. It's ironic to me that the west was so proud of the force it used to win the war when really an application of much less would've achieved much more in the 1930s but hey, when half of your leaders admire Hitler and Franco for cleaning the land of "cancerous communism", (Jewry if that's how you swing) I guess that's just what happens. Leaders don't pay for their mistakes, people do.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2017
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  18. Apocal

    Apocal Alpha Technoblack Moderator

    Location:
    California
    Just decisions. Obviously war has more than its fair share of bad ones, but they are no more indicative of irresponsibility than the state of war in general.

    This has so little to do with your initial point and my response that it is verging on non-sequitur.

    Hitler blew his own brains out (along with the woman he loved) with everything he'd built being reduced to rubble around him (literally). If that isn't "paying," then no one has ever paid for any mistake, ever.
     
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  19. DocHawkeye

    DocHawkeye

    Location:
    New York
    How people fight indicates quite a bit about them. The west for instance, preferring to send bombs instead of men as you and many say, inflicted no small amount of suffering on French or Dutch civilians, as the use of applied firepower over guts or intelligence was emphasized at all levels. Rather than enter a house, American squads preferred to send in a few grenades first, and find out later if anyone in that house was actually German, or French. Officers encountering fire from the odd hamlet or village were directed to call for the fire of an entire battery, even if it was just scant rifle fire as German soldiers noted. The USAAF's tagline for its terror bombing campaign, "Precision Bombing" was the punchline of a very bad joke. At least the RAF was honest that they were conducting vengeance raids because of the Blitz.

    The point here is to answer the question, "was the American military less willing to suffer casualties than others". With a slight modification, "were the western Allies less willing to casualties?". You did not answer the question, so I will. Yes, the west was very sensitive to long casualty reports. American leaders considered their boys "citizen soldiers", civilians in uniform, and were thus highly over protective of them. It was seen as better to flatten a city with a population of 100 Dutchman to every German soldier than to send troops into it. The Dutch don't vote in your elections.

    The nature of Electoral Democracy meant that Roosevelt had to present his resume to the American people every 4 years, and Churchill much more frequently or risk the fall of their governments. A very real threat, as Churchill's government was nearly brought down after the Battle of Gazala. Iwo Jima, fortunately happening after the 1944 elections, was considered a scandalous bloodbath that American media worked very hard to spin into a heroic epic of the Greek kind.


    Hitler ran. When the world was about to bring him to justice he fled to the last hideout of a true coward, suicide. What did he build? Who cares. Germany and most of continental Europe had been razed in his wake. It's almost as if it should've been prevented.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2017
  20. And the award for most obvious, yet useless statement of the century goes to you. Congratulations.

    I'm also a bit baffled of your definition of 'West' since it doesn't seem to include France...
     
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  21. Triggerhappy

    Triggerhappy Hard Knocks University

    Location:
    SoCal
    It's actually to achieve your geo-political goals, but sure.
     
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  22. Apocal

    Apocal Alpha Technoblack Moderator

    Location:
    California
    Your unspoken premise is that sending troops is somehow more merciful or sparing on civilians than explosives. I do not agree that it is, only that is is more bloody and less likely to succeed.

    edit:
    To address the example of Iwo Jima raised in your previous post:
    Total casualties on Iwo Jima were around 26,000 over the whole month of fighting. Meanwhile more than that were being lost every single month from June '44 to May '45.
    HyperWar: Logistical Support of the Armies, Vol. II (ctrl+f "Table 10")
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2017
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  23. The in-discrimination of modern warfare is quite obscene, isn't it? That the Geneva conventions are broken so wearily often is perhaps a sign that amendments in war-law should be in place. Really, the speed of which killing happens now means that often the conscious decision to kill another human is taken out of the hands of a soldier.

    Edit: Sorry, I wrote without thinking.

    Regardless, how do we humanize war into a conscious conflict, wherein there is a comparative lack of dehumanization? That would lower the lethality of soldiers, hence the problem. Soldiers must be willing to kill, but few have it in them to do it consciously and without remorse. So, dehumanization is thus the technique to make a soldier into an effective force in the battlefield.

    At least that's what I think with what I heard and thought about. Correct me if I'm wrong.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2017
  24. Fernandel

    Fernandel Lovely Writing, Tendency to Waffle Councillor

    Okay, do you have an academic source that the laws of war are broken more often now than in the past?

    Because believe me, while the civilian casualties in modern warfare we have today are still horrific, I find it ludicrous to suggest that the current state of affairs is somehow worse than even the state of warfare just a few decades ago.

    Besides, even if what you said was true, what specific rules would you propose to amend, in what way, for what reason, and to achieve what goal?
     
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  25. ussnimitz1968

    ussnimitz1968 Not an Actual Servicemember

    You can't humanize something that's dehumanized to begin with. That's logically impossible. Which is why the common argument about humanizing war by removing automated and digital technology in order to put more troops in danger would be funny if it wasn't literally putting thousands of lives needlessly in the path of bullets, and I'm forced to conclude that the people forwarding arguments like this simply lack proper education in logical thinking.

    If you really want to "humanize" war, you wouldn't wage it in the first place. Just to be clear, I don't believe war is completely unavoidable, but that doesn't mean that diplomacy is always doomed to failure even against particularly aggressive enemies, or that a non-military/non-violent response isn't appropriate even after your nation's been attacked. It, again, requires actual leaders to actually lead and make careful determination of potential consequences based on best-available information - something that I feel has been sorely lacking since the turn of the millennium, and it seems to be a new American political tradition to continue this dangerous lack of leadership.
     
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