The purpose of war is to alter the behavior of an opponent. The fewer lives lost in doing so the better. One not only should strive to lose as few of one’s own lives as possible, one should strive to kill as few of the enemy as necessary to achieve the goal of altering his behavior, and to ensure a post-war peace. The latter may require killing many more of the enemy than the former, which was why Eisenhower pursued his “Broad Front” strategy rather than just race to Berlin as Patton wanted. Such a “Broad Front” would have been a far better strategy in reducing Iraq than the race to Baghdad, and for the same reasons.
Nuclear weapons – far and away – are the most productive of weapons. Contrary to popular feeling and conventional wisdom – and to Dr. Strangelovian fantasies – these weapons save lives. They always have and always will.
In 1945, President Truman could have accepted the Navy’s estimate of Japanese dead in an invasion (9M), or the Army’s (5M), added that to the estimate of American KIA (1M), and pulled the trigger on an invasion estimated by men who had been fighting this enemy for 3-1/2 years that would cost between 6M and 10M human lives, and last until 1949, the then-current planning estimate.
Instead, Truman dropped two of what would today be considered tactical nukes (15-21KT), and killed an estimated 400,000 Japanese (the immediate estimate + estimated radiation victims over the next four months), and zero (0) Americans. (Full disclosure: my dad fought in the Pacific Theater of WW2.)
The only thing that matters in war is the size of the bang; not what made it. Nuclear weapons are productive; conventional weapons are not. Rather than go with my opinion on the morality of using these weapons, the following is from Quartered Safe Out Here, an excellent battlefield memoir of the China-Burma-India theater of WW2 by a British Private Soldier who became best-selling author, George MacDonald Fraser (of the Flashman series of historical novels).
Fraser published his memoir in 1992, decades removed from the field of battle. In the final chapter he described his feelings regarding Hiroshima and Nagasaki, introducing the topic via a 1990s bar discussion with one his own age who had not fought in the war. As Fraser’s words are the best I have found regarding using these weapons by the men who fought that enemy and who may have died in their absence, I quote him at length.
The dropping of the bombs was a hideous thing, and I do not wonder that some of those who bore a part in it have been haunted by it all their lives. If it was not barbaric, the word has no meaning. …
And so it was not only their lives, as I pointed out to my antibomb disputant. To reduce it to a selfish, personal level… if the bombs had been withheld, and the war had continued on conventional lines, then even if I’d failed my [promotion] board and gone with the battalion into Malaya, the odds that I’d have survived: 4 to 1 actuarially speaking, on the [squad’s] Burma fatalities. But I might have been that one, in which case my three children and six grandchildren would never have been born. And that, I’m afraid, is where all discussion of pros and cons evaporates and becomes meaningless, because for those nine lives I would pull the plug on the whole Japanese nation and never even blink. And so, I dare suggest, would you. And if you wouldn’t, you may be nearer to the divine than I am but you sure as hell aren’t fit to be parents or grandparents.
Since 1945, and for the first time in history, a nation has rejected the use of its most productive weaponry to defend itself and its citizens. This is among the larger moral failures ever undertaken by a Great Power.
Millions have died – unnecessarily – because of the refusal of American presidents to use America’s most productive weapons; their willingness, instead, to trade the lives of their citizens – and of their enemies – for the ego of leaders who want to be seen as strong war presidents, but who refuse to destroy our enemies and win our wars. (A nation’s enemy is the opposing nation. Armies are just policy tools. Killing an army does not win a war: I give you Iraq today.)
Americans killed over 2M Koreans and 54K Americans in that “limited war.” Had America chosen a tactical nuke strike on Pyongyang in 1950, would two-plus million lives have been destroyed? No.
Americans killed about 2M Vietnamese and 58K Americans in that “limited war.” Had America chosen a tactical nuke strike on Hanoi in 1964 (the same time our government was lying to us about the Tonkin Gulf), would two-plus million lives have been destroyed? No.
In the decades since Korea and Vietnam, how many tax dollars from how many nations have been spent dealing with the military and civil repercussions from not having won those wars? How much higher would be regional living standards (and America’s) had trillions not been spent containing those we refused to defeat? That, too, is a cost of not using our most advanced weaponry, to say nothing of the societal and cultural split in America that will long-outlive those who fought in it.
North Koreans are eating grass and starving to death because America refused to use nukes and win the war.
Nor did it ensure a more just and prosperous peace. Who was freer, wealthier, better-educated and a better ally 20 years later? Japan in 1965… or Pyongyang in 1973, or Hanoi in 1995? Does anyone believe Afghanistan or Iraq will be free economic, political and military allies in 2040, 20 years after we leave?
Weapons don’t win wars. Willpower wins wars.
A president who does not want to win a war he fights (and this applies both to Bush43 and Obama, just as it applied to both Truman in Korea and LBJ in Vietnam), has no business sending men to kill and to die. A president choosing to have the men he commands killed mercilessly on a battlefield by an enemy he can annihilate with no Americans killed, wounded or maimed, has no business leading a nation.
Not to choose the most productive weapons is to choose the immorality of sending men to die when alternatives exist.
Let’s look at a specific, current example:
Perhaps as many as 40,000 Yazidi took refuge on Sinjar Mountain, Ninawa, Iraq, surrounded by ISIS. How many did ISIS slaughter? No one knows, but hundreds a day were reported for a time. Women, children, men, shot in the head. Throats slit.
Sinjar Mountain rises 1,480 meters above the surrounding plains, plains in which ISIS encamped for days, first waiting, and then slaughtering thousands of human beings.
What did America do? Almost nothing of consequence to ISIS, or of value to the Yazidi:
“Central Command says the nine airstrikes conducted so far had destroyed or damaged four armored personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armored vehicle.”
We “damaged or destroyed” 14 vehicles. Nine airstrikes. 9.
It would be embarrassing if it weren’t so tragic.
What would the moral alternative have been?
The closest towns or villages to Sinjar Mountain are ten kilometers away. The bottom of the mountain on which the Yazidi sheltered is over 2km away horizontally at its nearest distance from the village of Kursi and the relatively flat areas at the top of the mountain on which the Yazidi were sheltering.
One of American’s current tactical nuclear weapons, the W80, has an adjustable yield as low at 5KT, less than one third that of the Hiroshima weapon (15.2KT).
What is the lethal blast radius for a 5KT warhead detonated at the optimum altitude for a soft target such as the ISIS encampments? We look here and discover the following:
- Radius for 3rddegree burns: 1.3 kilometers
- Air blast radius (widespread destruction): 1.3 kilometers
- Air blast radius (near-total fatalities): 476 meters
- Fireball radius: 40-80 meters.
Striking an enemy encamped 2 km away, 1400 meters lower and behind the shielding mountain shoulder, with a weapon having a blast radius of 500-1300 meters, would have annihilated the enemy and not harmed the Yazidi. And it need not have been an airburst. A surface burst would reduce each of these distances, further protecting the Yazidi.
A tactical strike by an available weapon, centered on the ISIS encampments at the bottom of the mountain, would have done three things:
- Annihilated the ISIS encampment
- Saved the Yazidi
- Made a statement regarding serious of purpose that cannot be made any other way.
It is time, past time, to get serious. To stop getting our guys killed. To stop pretending their people are more important than ours. To stop putting a barbaric and savage society above the lives of our men & women – and the children they will never have, at an unknowable cost in human capital.