washingtonpost.com
the claim

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"You know, you look back over our history, and it doesn't take you long to realize that our people have shed more blood for other people's liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world.''

-- Fred D. Thompson, stump speech in Des Moines, Sept. 7

THE FACTS

A grandiose claim that is hard to justify no matter how you define "other people's liberty." Let's begin by looking at U.S. casualties in foreign wars. (Domestic conflicts such as the Revolutionary War and the Civil War are excluded.)

U.S.

Conflict Casualties

Spanish American War 2,446
World War I 116,516
World War II 405,399
Korean War 36,574
Vietnam War 58,209
Persian Gulf War 382
Wars in Afghanistan,

Iraq (as of yesterday) 4,217

Total 623,288
SOURCES: Congressional Research Service, Defense Department
The number of overall U.S. military casualties, while high, is still relatively low in comparison to those of its World War I and World War II allies. In World War II alone, the Soviet Union suffered at least 8 million casualties, or more than 10 times the number of U.S. casualties for all wars combined. According to Winston Churchill, the Red Army "tore the guts out of the Nazi war machine." It can be argued that Soviet troops were primarily fighting to free their homeland from Nazi occupation. After fighting its way to Berlin, the Soviet Union imposed its own dictatorship over Eastern Europe. Even so, Soviet sacrifices contributed greatly to the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi domination. Soviet forces died for their own country and their own tyrannical government, but they also spilled blood on behalf of their Western allies.

Even if the Soviet Union is not included in the calculation, U.S. military casualties in all wars combined remain lower than those of the British Commonwealth ("a combination of nations," in Thompson's phrase) in World War I and World War II. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the British Commonwealth lost 1.7 million troops in the two world wars.

If we delve into "the history of the world," as Thompson suggests, and consider all possible combinations of nations, we could start with the wars of the ancient Greeks. Surely some of the hundreds of millions killed by tyrants from Alexander the Great to Napoleon were fighting for "other people's liberty" in addition to their own. Three million people died in the Napoleonic wars alone.

Motives for going to war are always difficult to disentangle. Did the United States invade Iraq because of the threat of perceived weapons of mass destruction (the original reason cited by President Bush), to protect its oil interests in the Middle East (as suggested by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan in his recently published autobiography), or as part of a larger democracy-building effort? Or all of the above?

Neither Britain nor the United States was invaded or occupied in either of the world wars. Britain entered World War I to fulfill its treaty obligations to France and Belgium and joined World War II to fulfill a guarantee to Poland, after the September 1939 attack by Nazi Germany. The United States entered World War I after German submarines began attacking American merchant ships in the Atlantic. It joined World War II after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

THE PINOCCHIO TEST

Thompson's jingoistic assertion cannot be supported by facts, barring some tortuous definition of the phrase "other people's liberty." We asked his presidential campaign for factual support for the claim, but it did not respond. We therefore award Thompson four Pinocchios.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company