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DISTRIBUTION A: Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited. Aerospace Power Journal - Summer 2000 Casualty Aversion Implications for Policy Makers and Senior Military Officers MAJ CHARLES K. HYDE, USAF Editorial Abstract: In this article, both a survey of casualty-aversion studies and an analysis of the American casualty-awareness syndrome, Major Hyde argues for a clear recognition of what drives ca sualty consciousness on the part of political and military decision makers and the civilian populace at large. Involving more than reaction to alarming numbers or pictures, this consciousness is part of a calculation of perceived benefits as portrayed in our democratic process. More importantly, the au thor addresses the negative implication that unwarranted casualty aversion potentially has on opera tional planning and execution. In essence, casualty aversion leads to casualty displacement because those who should take on the casualty burden fundamental to their mission and professional ethos shift that obligation to others who have inherited a more vulnerable situation. T HE EVENTS OF the last one hun dred years have witnessed dramatic changes in American foreign policy and, in particular, the use of force in support of national objectives. From a sleep ing giant with overt isolationist tendencies prior to World War II, the United States has evolved at the beginning of the twenty-first century into the world’s only superpower. The transition from a body politic wedded to the charge of George Washington’s fare- well address that we should avoid “entangling alliances” to a recognized superpower with global interests and responsibilities has been marked by the commitment of the United States to stand up for its values and principles with military might. This might, in combina tion with other elements of national power, defeated Nazism and Japanese hegemony in World War II and hastened the end of the cold war, which saw the collapse of Soviet- dominated communism and global bipolar confrontation. The end of the cold war, however, un leashed an uncertain world that has not de veloped into a new world order or seen the end of conflicts. Challenges to the interests of 17 18 AEROSPACE POWER JOURNAL SUMMER 2000 the United States and free people around the casualty-free victory as the price of supporting world remain, and the United States is cur any military intervention abroad” is a myth.4 rently positioned as the only nation with the If true, the TISS findings have significant global capabilities and power to provide lead implications. Does a casualty-aversion syn ership for an uncertain future. As stated in A drome exist? If so, what are the implications National Security Strategy for a New Century, for policy makers and senior military com “Our nation’s challenge—and our responsi manders? In the broadest sense, these are the bility—is to sustain that role by harnessing the issues examined in this article. TISS data is forces of global integration for the benefit of consistent with research that sheds light on our own people and people around the the casualty-aversion issue. By examining the world.”1 In order to meet these challenges existing body of research, this article argues and remain the “world’s most powerful force that policy makers and senior military leaders for peace, prosperity and the universal values have misinterpreted the public’s casualty tol of democracy and freedom” that the presi erance and that their incorrect view of casu dent’s strategy champions,2 the United States alty aversion adversely affects national secu has to show leadership in an anarchical world rity and military operations. by acting like a great power. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the de mise of global communism, many countries Casualties and Public Opinion have challenged the ability of the United Do our civilian and military leaders have a States to maintain its position as world leader. sound case for believing that public opinion Conventional wisdom has it that the United is linked to the number of casualties suffered States is unwilling to commit the military in a military operation? Several RAND studies power required to influence events, settle dis have examined this issue by consolidating putes, and act as the force for democracy, available research and drawing conclusions peace, and economic freedom that our na based on the data. The first significant report, tional strategy promulgates. The perception published in 1985, used Korea and Vietnam among our enemies and allies alike is that the as case studies.5 The overall decline of public American public is unwilling to commit to support over time in Korea and Vietnam any military operation in which one can ex shows that public support in both wars “be pect even a minimal number of casualties. haved in a remarkably similar manner: Every Furthermore, they believe that once an time U.S. casualties went up by a factor of ten, enemy engages the United States, it can force support in both wars decreased by approxi the latter to withdraw from its commitments mately 15 percent.”6 Likewise, comparing when American casualties mount. Because of public support for Vietnam with the cumula our casualty aversion, in the eyes of the world, tive costs of the war leads to the conclusion we are becoming “a sawdust superpower.”3 one would hope for in a civilized society: In light of the changing environment in “The most significant costs to the American which military and security policy is con people were the number of American boys ducted, the Triangle Institute for Strategic killed and wounded in Vietnam.”7 Finally, an Studies (TISS) recently conducted a study on alyzing monthly casualty rates indicates “a civil-military relations. As part of that study, strong negative correlation (–.68) was shown several scholars studied casualty aversion and to exist between monthly casualty rates and concluded that the American public is far president Truman’s popularity in the Korean more tolerant of potential casualties than are War.”8 In a companion finding, President policy makers or senior military officers. In a Lyndon Johnson’s popularity was negatively Washington Post article, two of the principal correlated to the monthly number of Ameri TISS researchers stated that the common cans killed in action and the number of belief that the American public demands “a bombing sorties over Vietnam.9 CASUALTY AVERSION 19 The research documented in the 1985 Schwarz contends that the public became RAND study concluded that the public was “disillusioned” with America’s participation sensitive to casualties and gradually withdrew in Korea and Vietnam and regretted the de its support of military operations in Korea cision to intervene but actually rejected with and Vietnam, based on the cumulative num drawal in favor of escalation of the conflicts. ber of casualities. The study made a signifi He states that “there was, however, very little cant contextual point of the limited-war envi movement in the percentage of Americans ronment in which these conflicts took place. polled who wished the United States to with- Analysis of the data by RAND researchers led draw from the conflict. In fact, a growing to the conclusion that “the public tends to be number of Americans favored escalation of unwilling to tolerate anything more than min the conflicts to bring them to a quick—and imal costs in limited war situations.”10 From victorious—end.”14 Backing up this assertion this perspective, it is easy to discern the roots was selective polling data showing that a major of a casualty-aversion syndrome. Were this the ity of Americans supported escalation over only research, it would be difficult to refute withdrawal in Korea and Vietnam and pre the common belief among our policy makers, ferred escalation of US war aims in the Gulf, in senior military leaders, allies, and enemies cluding the removal of Saddam from power. that casualty aversion is the Achilles’ heel of Rather than fitting the American casualty- the United States. The study, however, did not aversion perception, this data implies the address several key variables: the reasons un opposite. derlying the support for relatively high casual- In 1996 Eric Larson completed a compre ties for a significant length of time, the impact hensive RAND study that attempted to explain of public disapproval on alternative courses of the disparity among research studies con action, and the impact of other variables that ducted up to that year.15 He examined the re could have influenced public opinion. sults of public-opinion polls taken from World Another RAND study by Benjamin Schwarz War II through the military intervention in So in 1994 dealt with the question of alternative malia, seeking to determine if other variables courses of action that the public may have accounted for the differences in support docu supported in the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf mented in US military interventions. The con Wars.11 This report analyzed the earlier ventional wisdom, alluded to earlier, is that the study’s conclusion that the American public is American public has changed since World War casualty-averse and postulated that the per II and will no longer accept interventions that ceived casualty aversion affected regional de produce casualties. A perceived corollary is that terrence strategies. If adversaries believe they Americans will demand immediate withdrawal can defeat America or force it to withdraw when casualties mount during operations. Lar from a military intervention by imposing ca son investigated these issues by developing a sualties on US forces, “then they are unlikely model explaining public support for military to be deterred by U.S. threats to intervene.”12 interventions in terms of a broader context. This fear emerged prior to the Gulf War, Larson’s model weighs the dynamics of when Saddam Hussein remained undeterred public support within a simple calculation of and boasted to the US ambassador to Iraq on ends and means. In this model, the public 25 July 1990 “about Iraq’s readiness to fight bases support for an intervention on a ra any foe over honor, ‘regardless of the cost,’ tional consideration of five factors: while America, unable to stomach ‘10,000 · Perceived benefits of the intervention. dead in one battle’ was incapable of pursuing a major war to a successful conclusion.”13 Sad- · Prospects for success. dam was wrong, but his perception of Ameri · Prospective and actual costs. can casualty aversion hurt our ability to deter Iraqi aggression. · Changing expectations. 20 AEROSPACE POWER JOURNAL SUMMER 2000 · Leadership and cueing from political time as casualties mount in a particular oper leaders.16 ation. As the RAND study states, Less well understood, however, is the fact that This simple calculus captures the many vari the importance of casualties to support has var ables that interact to produce public support. ied greatly across operations; when important Using this approach means that “support can interests and principles have been at stake, the be thought of as a constant rebalancing of the public has been willing to tolerate rather high casualties. In short, when we take into account benefits and prospects for success against the the importance of the perceived benefits, the likely and actual costs—and a determination evidence of a recent decline in the willingness of whether the outcome is judged worth the of the public to tolerate casualties appears costs.”17 rather thin.20 This model of ends and means is embed ded within the concept of a “democratic con One sees World War II as a departure point with regard to casualty aversion because of versation.” The argument, supported by re- the extremely high levels of support despite search, states that “political leaders lead the enormous losses (table 1). democratic conversation, the political dis course . . . is observed and reported by the Table 1 media, [and] as members of the public are US Personnel Killed in Action (KIA) exposed to these messages, attitudes change in a predictable fashion.”18 This does not Conflict Total KIA imply that society is a pawn in the hands of World War II 291,557 wily politicians but that the public takes cues Korea 33,651 from credible political leaders who have a Vietnam 47,364 similar worldview or political ideology. “In Grenada 16 short, individuals ultimately choose which ar Panama 24 Persian Gulf 293 guments are most credible but use a shortcut that reduces their information-gathering costs.”19 The implication is that public casu Source: Figures taken from Karl W. Eikenberry, “Take No Casu alties,” Parameters 26, no. 2 (Summer 1996): 113. alty aversion does not drive support for mili tary interventions. The public is able to ra In light of the casualty figures, World War II tionally discern the merits of each individual appears to be an exception—in some way dif case and make an informed determination of ferent from the limited conflicts of the cold support, based on expectations, benefits, war and recent interventions characterized by prospects, and costs. a decline in support as costs increased. In Using this conceptual framework, Larson fact, one can attribute the nearly consistent determined that the American public has not public support despite dramatically rising ca become more casualty-averse since World War sualties in 1944 and 1945 to the increasing II. Indeed, Americans have always had a high prospects for victory, based on battlefield ac regard for human life, but they balance that complishments in Europe and the Pacific, an regard within a continuous cost-benefit analy ticipated benefits of unconditional surrender, sis which ultimately determines support. It is and near-unanimous political support from only logical that increasing costs in terms of both parties. “In short, as the costs increased, casualties will result in a decline in public sup- these costs were compensated by increasing port unless an increase in the benefits or war aims and prospects for success.”21 prospects for success offsets that cost. This ex- Likewise, polling data from Korea and plains the differences in support for various Vietnam supports the assertion that the pub interventions since World War II and also ex- lic weighed the merits of each intervention, plains the general decrease in support over using a cost-benefit analysis. Both wars started CASUALTY AVERSION 21 Heroic efforts undertaken during World War II reflect a cost-benefit analysis by the American public. with a significant level of support, based on perceived benefit of containing communism the important US interest of “containing and improving relations with China, and the communist expansion,” and both “contained dramatic division among political leaders all the risk of a dramatic increase in costs if there led to decreasing support for the war. Casual- were to be an expansion of the war to involve ties, although important, were not the sole China or Russia.”22 In Korea, support increased determinant of public support, suggesting a as the prospects for success rose after Inchon, potential problem with conventional wisdom the potential benefit including a unified which asserts that the American public will peninsula. Conversely, after the Chinese in demand immediate withdrawal when casual- tervention, support declined, based on dim ties rise. ming prospects for gains beyond the status In both Korea and Vietnam, America con quo. As a stalemate developed, political op tinued the struggle long after support for the position increased, and public support de interventions had declined below 50 percent. clined. The RAND study of 1996 noted that There was no consensus or immediate with although casualty costs were important in de drawal or escalation to victory. What hap clining support, “their influence cannot be pened? In essence, the American public untangled from these other factors.”23 weighed the ends and means and supported a Support for the Vietnam conflict also mir policy of negotiated settlement and orderly rors the ends-and-means calculus reflected in withdrawal. Larson points out that only a the Korean War. Dwindling prospects for suc minority of the populace supported the ex cess as the war continued, a decrease in the treme positions of immediate withdrawal or 22 AEROSPACE POWER JOURNAL SUMMER 2000 escalation, “while pluralities or majorities tional Security Strategy. The public has consis (‘the Silent Majority’) occupied a centrist tently operated within the realm of an ends- position.”24 and-means evaluation with significant cues If Korea and Vietnam fit within the frame- from political leaders who frame the public work of ends and means, as well as demo debate. cratic conversation about support for military interventions, then Somalia becomes the chief evidence of those who proclaim that the The Casualty Myth public, swayed by Cable News Network If the public is not casualty-averse, as the (CNN), will cut and run at the first sign of evidence suggests, the focus turns to the mis blood. Analyzing the “CNN effect” is beyond interpretation of this fact by our national se the scope of this article, but detailed research curity leadership. The TISS study provides indicates that rather than setting the agenda, strong evidence that policy makers and senior CNN reports responded to the actions of the military leaders believe that the American White House, Congress, and the State De- public is casualty-averse and will not tolerate partment25 in a manner consistent with dem deaths except when vital interests are at stake. ocratic conversation. The study reached this conclusion by posing Common perception has it that the death three plausible intervention scenarios (de- of 18 US soldiers in Somalia in October 1993 fending Taiwan against a Chinese invasion, caused the public to demand immediate with preventing Iraq from acquiring weapons of drawal from that country. This view misses the mass destruction, and stabilizing a demo fact that support had already collapsed before cratic government in the Congo) to senior the firefight in Mogadishu, with only 40 per- military officers, influential civilian leaders, cent of the public supporting the operation.26 and the general public and by asking them to Changing expectations caused by the shift in consider how many American deaths would mission focus from popular humanitarian ob be acceptable to complete each mission jectives to nation building and warlord hunt (table 2). ing, combined with congressional “cues” against the operation (both houses of Con Table 2 gress passed nonbinding resolutions calling Number of Deaths Acceptable on the president to articulate his objectives and exit strategy in September 1993)27 had al Mission Military Elite Civilian Elite Mass Public ready doomed the intervention. Larson states that Congo 284 484 6,861 Iraq 6,016 19,045 29,853 Somalia represents another case in which the Taiwan 17,425 17,554 20,172 historical record suggests a more sensible and Source: Peter D. Feaver and Christopher Gelpi, “A Look at Ca subtle response to increasing casualties and de sualty Aversion: How Many Deaths Are Acceptable? A Surpris clining support: A plurality or majority has typ ing Answer,” Washington Post, 7 November 1999, B3. ically rejected both extreme options of escala tion and immediate withdrawal and has As the authors point out, one must inter remained unwilling to withdraw until a negoti pret these averages in general terms and must ated settlement and orderly withdrawal—in realize that they do not necessarily reflect the cluding the return of U.S. servicemen—could be concluded.28 actual casualties the public will accept once real soldiers start dying. But the “sheer num Thus, recent research supports the con bers” and “dramatic differences” between the tention that the public does not demand groups are significant.29 More importantly, bloodless interventions as the starting point they are consistent with the previous research for securing national interests and exercising that explained public support in terms of world leadership, as articulated in our Na ends and means and the democratic conver- CASUALTY AVERSION 23 sation. The Taiwan case is a holdover from efits and prospects are not as great. The data the cold war and represents deep-rooted shows that the public would tolerate roughly American sentiment for the Nationalist Chi only one-third to one-fourth as many deaths nese and the “long-standing commitment to as compared to the Taiwan and Iraq averages. defend Taiwan.”30 Many Americans associate But we must not miss the point that the pub defending Taiwan with resisting communism lic was willing to accept over sixty-eight hundred and defending democracy—links that go deaths to accomplish the mission. The re- back to the cold war and World War II, which searchers stated that “the public’s estimates the public considers very important, if not for the mission to restore democracy in the vital, national interests. It is not surprising, Congo were much lower, but were nonethe therefore, to find consensus on the costs that less substantial. In fact, they were many times all three groups are willing to accept to ac higher than the actual casualties suffered by complish the mission. the U.S. military in all post–Cold War military The Iraq and Congo cases are examples of actions combined.”32 The cumulative weight post-cold-war interventions which have sparked of evidence provided by TISS research is con the contention that the American public is ca sistent with past public opinion on the role of sualty-averse. The Iraq case is significant be- casualties in prospective or actual conflicts cause it demonstrates the effectiveness of and supports the contention that policy mak leadership and cueing from public leaders. ers and senior military leaders have attributed According to the poll, civilian elites claim will to the public an aversion to casualties that ingness to accept over three times as many does not, in fact, exist. The number of deaths deaths as do military elites. The democratic- that the public indicated it would accept was, conversation model predicts that broad-based in all cases, more than those specified by civil support from civilian leaders will influence ian and military elites. The magnitude of the public opinion. The extremely large number disparity, as mentioned earlier, has implications of deaths that the public indicated it would for national security and military operations. be willing to accept is consistent with the democratic-conversation concept—despite the fact that the reported results from TISS did Implications for Policy Makers not imply a direct link between civilian lead Our current national security strategy calls ers and the public. Feaver and Gelpi postulate for both engagement in the international that the public’s willingness to accept more arena and the use of economic, diplomatic, casualties in Iraq than Taiwan “may reflect lin informational, and military instruments of gering traces of successful Bush-Clinton ef national power to shape an environment with forts to demonize Saddam Hussein combined multiple centers of regional power.33 In the with Clinton’s attempts to pursue a concilia absence of cold-war-type threats to our na tory policy toward China.”31 This rationale is tional existence, engagement is an attempt by also consistent with the premise that cues our civilian leadership to prevent the devel from public leaders influence and aid the opment of pariah states, such as Germany public. The fact that right-center and left- and Japan after World War I, and to reduce center ideologues from the general public re the potential for a multifaceted conflict with ceived similar anti-Saddam cues from Bush a nuclear-armed power. These goals are and Clinton supports the role of leadership in threatened, however, not by a lack of national the ends-and-means model. resources, but by the casualty-aversion myth The Congo scenario arguably encompasses working among our policy makers and senior the least vital interests of the three prospec military leaders. tive interventions. Likewise, it remains consis The perception among civilian elites— tent with RAND research predicting that the the policy makers who determine national public will tolerate fewer casualties if the ben strategy—that the public is casualty-averse 24 AEROSPACE POWER JOURNAL SUMMER 2000 hinders coercive diplomacy and limits mili though it may be needed to defend legitimate tary options in support of our national strat U.S. interests—because of concern that pub egy. In fact, James Nathan argues in “The Rise lic support may decline or collapse once the and Decline of Coercive Statecraft” that United States is deeply committed.”37 This Clausewitz has been turned “on his head” and fear of casualties among our political leaders that the “current policy theory reverses the encourages renegade world leaders to take Clausewitzian insistence of the supremacy of risks, based on the potential that their actions policy over any autonomous logic attendant will skirt under the threshold of US interests to arms.”34 Nathan contends that policy mak that would elicit a response. If they are suc ers have surrendered to the [Caspar] Wein cessful, engagement is weakened, and other berger Doctrine and [Colin] Powell restric rogue groups will likely test US resolve in tions on the use of force and that the military areas closer to vital interests. This does not has an effective veto over policy options that imply that the United States must respond to fall short of vital interests. This flies in the every disturbance in world harmony but that face of a security strategy that champions the decision to respond should be based engagement at a level significantly below vital upon our national security strategy and not interests in order to shape the international upon our need to dispel the myth of casualty environment. The effort to shape the envi aversion. ronment specifically calls for military actions to prevent challenges to vital interests in the first place. Implications for Nathan contends that the unwillingness of Senior Military Leaders our policy makers to use force to back up As noted earlier from the TISS study, senior diplomacy enfeebles such efforts: “Without a military leaders exhibit an intolerance for ca credible capability to use moderate force, fate sualties that far exceeds the intolerance level rather than statecraft determines the fu of the public and policy makers in typical ture.”35 When tyrants see that our statecraft is post-cold-war interventions. Potentially, this weak due to the lack of a “big stick,” they re- has widespread implications for military plan main undeterred. In 1994 a Serbian official ning and the military ethos. The Goldwater- commented on the potential introduction of Nichols Department of Defense Reorganiza peacekeepers into Bosnia by saying, “Clinton tion Act codified joint war fighting and gave has his own problems. . . . He can’t afford to immense responsibility to senior military have even a few soldiers killed in Bosnia.”36 leaders, especially the war-fighting command Statements or actions by our political leaders ers in chief (CINC). Such responsibility, if that demonstrate an unfounded casualty aver tainted by a belief that military action must be sion based on the myth of a weak-kneed pub casualty free, can have the unintended conse lic weaken coercive diplomacy and embolden quence of shifting the burden of risk to the future adversaries. As a result, deterrence people our military mission says we should crumbles, and we must use military forces to protect. contain the Saddam Husseins and Slobodan Of course, legitimate reasons exist for mil Milosevics of the world who refuse to heed itary leaders to tolerate or accept fewer casu diplomatic warnings. alties than would the public or political lead A potentially worse scenario than our in- ers. As Feaver and Gelpi point out, it is ability to deter enemies is the potential for entirely rational for “military officers to give policy makers to abandon military force when lower casualty estimates for nontraditional we need it. As Mark Lorell and Charles Kelley missions” when “they do not believe those comment, “In the future, a President may missions are vital to the national interest.”38 elect to delay or forgo direct U.S. military in Military leaders adhere to the principle of tervention in a Third World conflict—even economy of force and do not want to fritter CASUALTY AVERSION 25 away limited assets on missions that might de- mates of the situation, and provide courses of tract from the ultimate mission of defeating action to the National Command Authorities, vital threats to national security. The danger, all of which are affected by these legacies. as mentioned earlier, is that military leaders will trump civilian policy and, in a bout of self-interest, “deter” missions that are essen tial building blocks in the national strategy of Military leaders adhere to the principle engagement. of economy of force and do not want to It is also true that military commanders fritter away limited assets on missions care about their troops and do not want to that might detract from the ultimate waste lives. The conviction that fewer casual- mission of defeating vital threats to ties are warranted may indicate that there are national security. better ways to fight than the World War I practice of frontal attacks. Most people agree that we should maximize effective planning Casualty aversion on the part of senior offi and asymmetric strategies, which apply Amer cers, or the erroneous perception that the ican technological strengths to enemy weak public demands casualty-free interventions, nesses, to dislocate, confuse, and defeat an can produce a self-limiting filter or paradigm enemy39 but that we should not use them as a through which all plans must pass. One won panacea because of a mistaken belief that the ders whether Inchon would be possible mission must be risk free. As one author today—would the plan be found “not accept- stated, “Reduced casualties have always been able” due to excessive risk? a goal of a good commander. Yet stating this A potentially greater threat posed by ex as an absolute requirement that can be ful cessive casualty aversion is the destruction of filled by our advanced technology simply ig the military ethos. Feaver and Gelpi highlight nores the true nature of mankind and war.”40 the views of Donald Snider, a retired Army The argument is not that commanders colonel and West Point professor, who argues should avoid unnecessary casualties—duty that the military ethic “is built on the principles demands no less. The issue is the impact of of self-sacrifice and mission accomplishment. excessive casualty aversion on planning and Troops are supposed to be willing to die so the military ethos. that civilians do not have to.”43 Charles Dun- Deliberate planning at the theater strate lap agrees: “Uniformed professionals need to gic and operational levels of war is the do- ask themselves whether the military’s altruis main of the war-fighting CINCs. If, as this ar tic ethos, axiomatic to its organizational cul ticle argues, senior military leaders are ture, is being replaced by an occupationalism casualty-averse or erroneously believe that that places—perhaps unconsciously—undue the American public will not accept losses, weight on self-preservation over mission ac this process can be skewed and produce plans complishment.”44 One can best see the de- that fall short of their intended purpose. The grading impact of casualty aversion in exces Vietnam legacy for senior officers entails a sive force protection, which shifts mission risk belief that American lives “were needlessly from the US military to others. lost” and a determination “to avoid putting The ongoing operations in Kosovo provide military personnel at risk unless absolutely an insightful case study on the impact of casu necessary.”41 The Gulf War corollary states alty aversion on mission accomplishment and that the American public will not tolerate fu the military ethic. In a positive example, Lt ture operations which promise more than a Col Bruce Gandy, a Marine battalion com “handful of casualties.”42 Geographic CINCs mander, wrote an article in the Marine Corps and their senior staff officers produce theater Gazette describing his unit’s successful opera engagement plans, write commanders’ esti tions in Kosovo. His unit filled the vacuum 26 AEROSPACE POWER JOURNAL SUMMER 2000 left by retreating Serbian forces and provided zation (NATO) policy makers and have security for the local population. He de- shifted the risk to our NATO allies and the scribed the mission by saying, “Although we people of Kosovo. If presence in one sector minimized risk wherever we could, we quickly declines, all of the adjacent areas are in realized force protection cannot be para- greater danger, and the people in those sec mount. First and foremost is the mission. tors are at greater risk for reprisals. Even if Marines must always answer the call to arms civilian deaths do not increase, the greatest no matter what the cost.”45 casualty is the military ethos—the warrior The Marine Corps accomplished the mis ethic of service before self, willingness to sac sion by decentralizing operations and giving rifice for the society we protect, and the re companies control of individual sectors. sponsibility to minimize risk to those whom Companies lived in the areas for which they we protect. Excessive casualty aversion by were responsible, and the company com senior military leaders does not accurately re mander acted as the police chief and civil ad flect the view of the American public and, in- ministrator. These decentralized operations stead of protecting the force, may actually be quickly gained the trust of the local popula sowing the seeds of its destruction. tion, but they were not without risks. Gandy states, “Decentralization while projecting a visible presence is not without risk. Marines Conclusion are taught to seize the initiative. In peace en The cold war is over, and the world is still forcement operations, this means exposing a dangerous place. American national secu our Marines and sailors to danger.”46 rity interests are no longer defined by the In contrast to the mission-focused ap bipolar confrontation with the Soviet Union, proach of the Marine Corps, the follow-on and the threats to our national security are Army forces are plagued by excessive force more subtle and hard to describe. As the only protection and casualty aversion run amuck. remaining superpower, the United States In an attempt to drive the casualty rate to has embarked on the path of engagement— zero, the US military is building an isolated, exercising active, decisive leadership in world multi-million-dollar compound to provide a economics and diplomacy to make the world comfortable, secure environment. Allied sol a more prosperous and democratic entity. diers who still live among the people, as By engaging on many levels on which our marines did previously, ridicule the American interests are less than vital, our strategy seeks compound, calling it “Disneyland.”47 In its to preserve our vital interests and status as a mission statement, the brigade responsible superpower. for one-fourth of Kosovo lists its foremost ob In a world without a governing authority, jective as “self-protection” while other “peace- however, our ability to engage and resist those keeping tasks, such as maintaining ‘a safe and who do not share our vision of freedom and secure environment’ and . . . building a civil prosperity depends on the instrument of mil society receive lesser priority.”48 It is not sur itary power. At present, the United States has prising that the brigade lists self-protection as the most powerful armed forces the world has its first objective, given the fact that the ever seen; but dictators, terrorists, and allies Army’s European Command “holds that its challenge our status as a superpower, based primary objective is ‘To Protect and Take on the perception that a casualty-averse pub Care of the Force.’ ”49 lic limits our ability to wield military power. The compound in Kosovo is not the issue. Research shows that the public is not an The problem is that casualty-averse military irrational mass calling for immediate with leaders have determined that risk avoidance drawal from military interventions at the first takes precedence over the mission given by news reports showing American deaths. In- American and North Atlantic Treaty Organi stead, the public weighs the expected and CASUALTY AVERSION 27 actual costs with the benefits and prospects their own aversion to casualties and threaten for success and makes a decision with the aid our status as a superpower. Casualty aversion of cues from political leaders. Public support on the part of civilian leaders renders coer is not all-encompassing but can be counted cive diplomacy ineffective and undermines on when civilian leadership adequately deterrence. Casualty aversion on the part of frames the debate in terms of a positive ends- senior military leaders becomes a filter that and-means calculation. The conventional wis limits bold options and aggressive plans and dom that the public is casualty-averse is insidiously destroys the military ethos. The wrong, but civilian policy makers and military misinterpretation of public casualty aversion elites still act on the mistaken assumption by policy makers and senior military leaders that the public will no longer accept the risks hurts our foreign policy and military credibil of military action. ity. A casualty-aversion myth “is hardly sound By attributing casualty aversion to the pub footing for American foreign policy”50 and lic, civilian and military elites have masked military operations. ■ Notes 1. Executive Office of the President, A National Security Strat 27. Ibid. egy for a New Century (Washington, D.C.: The White House, 1998), 28. Larson, Casualties and Consensus, 72. iii. 29. Feaver and Gelpi, B3. 2. Ibid. 30. Ibid. 3. Mark J. Conversino, “Sawdust Superpower: Perceptions of 31. Ibid. U.S. Casualty Tolerance in the Post–Gulf War Era,” Strategic Re- 32. Ibid. view, Winter 1997, 22. 33. A National Security Strategy, 1. 4. Peter D. Feaver and Christopher Gelpi, “A Look at Casu 34. James Nathan, “The Rise and Decline of Coercive State- alty Aversion: How Many Deaths Are Acceptable? A Surprising craft,” US Naval Institute Proceedings, October 1995, 61–62. Answer,” Washington Post, 7 November 1999, B3. 35. Ibid., 64. 5. Mark Lorell and Charles Kelley Jr., with Deborah Hensler, 36. Roger Thurow, “Serbs Bet That West Won’t Risk the Casualties, Public Opinion, and Presidential Policy during the Vietnam War, R-3060-AF (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, March 1985), 1–92. Thing They Fear: Ground Troops,” Wall Street Journal, 21 April 6. Ibid., 21. 1994, A10. Quoted in Nathan, 63. 7. Ibid. 37. Lorell and Kelley, iii. 8. Ibid., 23. 38. Feaver and Gelpi, B3. 9. Ibid. 39. For an excellent discussion of asymmetric airpower 10. Ibid., vii. strategies, see Ronald R. Fogleman, “Advantage USA: Air Power 11. Benjamin C. Schwarz, Casualties, Public Opinion, & U.S. and Asymmetric Force Strategy,” Air Power History 42, no. 2 (Sum Military Intervention, MR-431-A/AF (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, mer 1996): 5–13. 1994), 1–27. 40. Conversino, 21. 12. Ibid., 4. 41. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., “Organizational Change and the 13. Conversino, 17. New Technologies of War” (paper presented at the Joint Services 14. Ibid., ix. Conference on Professional Ethics, Washington, D.C., January 15. Eric V. Larson, Casualties and Consensus: The Historical Role 1998), 9; on-line, Internet, 7 January 2000, available from of Casualties in Domestic Support for U.S. Military Operations, MR-726- http://www.usafa.af.mil/jscope/JSCOPE98/Dunlap98.htm. RC (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1996), 1–126. 42. Conversino, 21. 16. Ibid., 10–12; and Eric V. Larson, “Ends and Means in the 43. Feaver and Gelpi, B3. Democratic Conversation: Understanding the Role of Casualties 44. Dunlap, 10. in Support of U.S. Military Operations” (PhD diss., RAND Grad 45. Bruce A. Gandy, “Force Protection and Mission Accom uate School, 1996), 320. plishment,” Marine Corps Gazette 83, no. 11 (November 1999): 44. 17. Larson, Casualties and Consensus, 12. 18. Larson, “Ends and Means,” 267. 46. Ibid., 45. 19. Larson, Casualties and Consensus, 75. 47. Jeffrey Smith, “A GI’s Home Is His Fortress: High-Security, 20. Ibid., 49. High-Comfort U.S. Base in Kosovo Stirs Controversy,” Washington 21. Larson, “Ends and Means,” 167. Post, 5 October 1999, A11. 22. Larson, Casualties and Consensus, 24. 48. Ibid. 23. Ibid., 23. 49. Jonathan Foreman, “The Casualty Myth,” National Review, 24. Ibid., 65. 3 May 1999, 40. 25. Larson, “Ends and Means,” 245–51. 50. Feaver and Gelpi, B3. 26. Ibid., 248.
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