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
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.)
|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
|SOURCES: Congressional Research Service, Defense Department|
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.