Monday, May 12, 2008

Today In History: They don't make wars like they used to...

Every time the US has deployed military force in the last two and a half decades it was, to see the protesters in their black body suits with white shoe-polish skeletons, about to be a veritable armageddon. The corpses of our boys and the poor enemy's alike would be piled in windrows, and the only winner would be the corpse-eating rats. Every commanding officer down to the lowliest second lieutenant knew that any casualty suffered by his unit might be the one that ticked over the news media's ghastly odometer and turned him into the digital age's George Armstrong Custer.

On this date in 1942 Marshal Timoshenko launched the almost 650,000 men under his command into a general offensive along the Donets, striking towards Karkhov and Dnepropetrovsk. Opposing him was von Bock's Army Group South, with a TO&E strength of almost a third of a million troops. By the time the dust had settled over the Second Battle of Karkhov some two weeks later, the Russian morning roll call list would be lighter by almost 200,000 names, while the Germans had lost "only" 40-60,000 KIA, wounded, and missing. And Second Karkhov was by no means the largest or fiercest action on the Eastern Front.

It's all a matter of scale, I guess.


Mark said...

I'm pretty sure that the sensitivity to every friendly casualty - the value in which we, The Good Guys, hold human life - that sets us apart and makes us, y'know... different. The fact that Folk Like Us value life so incredibly highly is why we're different. Individual lives. Every life.

Not collectively. Not as a group, or a society, or as a series of statistics. Each and every soul, vital and irreplacable and utterly important. Important enough to arm, important enough to trust, important enough to fight and die for if needs be. The individual, not the crowd.

Thus far, the only country which has held The Person in such high esteem compared to The People is America. It's something which is slowly encroaching out into the rest of the world - hopefully this value of the person will outrace the eternal clangour of the Many.

Be nice, wouldn't it?

Drang said...

It's all a matter of social norms, and situational requirements, I think.

And let's face it, when you're a general working for a megalomaniacal madman who has had millions of people liquidated because they might pose a threat to his continued rule, and that number of liquidated people included thousands of generals, and the wolves are at the gate and your nation's continued existence is at risk, then taking 25% casualties is worth it. And when you've got the numbers they did, 25% casualties might mean individual units were combat ineffective (by our standards), but they still had millions to call on.

BTW, in the US Military a second lieutenant is not likely to be a "commander", which is a term that has specific legal connotations.

dr mac said...

A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.

-Joseph Stalin

jeff said...

BTW, in the US Military a second lieutenant is not likely to be a "commander", which is a term that has specific legal connotations.

I dunno DW, I was combat deployed under a butterbar 2nd LT. Admittedly we had two salty senior NCO's to keep him in line. Note she said "Commanding Officer" not "Commander".

And I think it's the media that has made the difference. Look at how many perished in the Civil War, and World War I. Until World War II, the horrors of the battle field were privy only to the combatants and any poor souls the battle happened to roll over. With the advent of motion pictures, it was brought home, first in edited reels, then in raw bloody footage. Now people can see it live in their living room, so it's much more immediate, rather than a letter from the State telling you that your son gave his life valiantly fighting the fascists for the Motherland.