Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Two Thousand

By the time I hit post on this, we might have endured our two thousandth death in Iraq since the beginning of the invasion in March 2003. Don't worry about paying attention. The media will rub our faces in it.

I'm not about to go on about this number directly. Yes, every death is tragic. And yes, the casualties are relatively low for what we have accomplished. I want to discuss our military's morale in this struggle. People opposed to the war often say that our military's morale is low. But it remains high:

As U.S forces approach a dark milestone of 2,000 American dead since the war began in March 2003, many say morale has remained high, bolstered by the need to protect each other, by concentrating on their daily assigned tasks — and by amenities provided by the military to keep life in a war zone as normal as possible.

If our casualties were crippling, surely our military would show the signs of it. Not just in re-enlistments which run high. And don't talk to me about recruiting. That is not a sign of military morale. And even as a sign of civilian morale it is imperfect. Combat arms recruiting is fine and even overall recruiting is only failing to meet requirements for far more recruits than we've inducted in the recent past. It's kind of like those budget "cuts" that in fact are a reduction in the rate of growth.

I would never say our people wouldn't prefer to be home. Home with friends and family and far from the possibility of violent death is almost always preferable to war. But that is a banal observation that applies to all wars.

But I want to address morale in the sense of battlefield success. Over the last 2-1/2 years, I've braced myself for the occasional catastrophic defeat where an entire platoon is wiped out. In any war, the enemy will score successes and I did not think we'd be immune to this in Iraq. In Afghanistan and Chechnya, Russian columns would regularly be cut off from help and wiped out. Platoons and companies would die this way in Grozny or remote mountain roads.

We've yet to lose a platoon-sized encounter with the enemy.

If our military was truly demoralized by the fighting in Iraq, we'd have seen a number of such catastrophes over the last couple years. But we've never lost even a squad at once in battle as far as I can tell (other than an IED or a helicopter downing, which have been rare events). Certainly no platoons have been lost in battle.

So however much our ground forces are strained by the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea that our troops are demoralized is truly and thoroughly wrong. We fight and win on the ground and we shall win this war. Keep that in mind when the press celebrates our 2,000th death in Iraq any day now.