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Remembered Today:

National Acceptance of Casualties


PhilB
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The current military action in the Middle East is approaching the end of its fourth year. US fatalities are a little over 3000 and there are demonstrations outside the White House. At this stage of WW1, Great Britain was approaching 700,000 fatalities. I`m not aware of any large scale demonstrations, so what`s changed so much - media control, public attitudes? Phil B

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Perhaps, in 1918, folk felt the war was just; that their country was not an aggressor and that their government had told them the truth.

Not that I would wish to draw any "modern politics" comparison, of course.

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The 14-18 war was perhaps seen as one of national survival, or at least the vital crushing of a most serious menace. Something worth fighting and dying for.

I think too that we now live in a world of instant heroes and villains, of ever-decreasing tolerance levels and short attention spans. A world that reacts with ludicrous degrees of emotion at the most trivial of events. I am surprised it takes as many as 3000 casualties to trigger demonstrations. Our forebears seem to have been made of harder and more pragmatic stuff.

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Our forebears seem to have been made of harder and more pragmatic stuff.

That was my suspicion but John`s point is pertinent too. Attitudes during the Falklands and WW2 were stoical. Korea might have gone sour? Phil B

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At the time, the people were more used to the Army having sometimes heavy casualties. It was only 13 years after the Boer War and the Zulu War, Indian Mutiny, Crimean War and host of other engagements were still in the memory of a large number of the population.

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At the time, the people were more used to the Army having sometimes heavy casualties. It was only 13 years after the Boer War and the Zulu War, Indian Mutiny, Crimean War and host of other engagements were still in the memory of a large number of the population.

I think that statement sums it up quite succinctly. We are also conditioned to a more technically advanced brand of warfare these days (and the supposed invincibility of our forces) - we have come to believe, rightly or wrongly, that all someone has to do is press a button on a computer and the enemy will usually be eradicated at minimal cost to ourselves. When the plan goes awry and we start to suffer serious casualties it becomes all the more sobering.

Andy.

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I don't know how to put this without nudging the no politics rule but I'll try. In 1914-18, ordinary people who provided the majority of the casualties tended to accept a much more authoritarian rule. People did as they were told unless it was patently unfair. Socialists all over Europe had to fight very hard to persuade the mass of ordinary people that they had a right to make their voices heard. There was in fact a large groundswell of discontent at casualties both here in Britain and in France. The working class at that time had very little political power so the discontent was contained here in Britain, expressed itself in mutinies in France and boiled over in revolt in Germany just after the war.

Please note! This is not a political manifesto, I will not attempt to justify the political views ascribed above. It is my reading of the political situation in Western Europe at the start of 20th C.

This post has been edited in line with the posts following.

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Jan 30 2007, 04:04 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
The current military action in the Middle East is approaching the end of its fourth year. US fatalities are a little over 3000 and there are demonstrations outside the White House. At this stage of WW1, Great Britain was approaching 700,000 fatalities. I`m not aware of any large scale demonstrations, so what`s changed so much - media control, public attitudes? Phil B

Aren't you comparing American acceptance of casualties to British acceptance of casualties? Seems a bit odd to me. I think this topic is on thin ice as it is, but I would have made a comparison to American attitudes in 1918 to American attitudes now.

I think you could also have made the comparison of 100,000's in London demonstrating againt the war in 2003 and the lack of such demonstrations in 1914.

Paul

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Paul, it`s not designed to highlight current US reaction. I don`t see much difference between US and British attitudes towards current losses pro rata. To avoid the thin ice we`d better look at WW1 acceptance rather than modern reaction! Phil BPhil B

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Jan 30 2007, 06:17 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Paul, it`s not designed to highlight current US reaction. I don`t see much difference between US and British attitudes towards current losses pro rata. To avoid the thin ice we`d better look at WW1 acceptance rather than modern reaction! Phil BPhil B

Phil,

I see where your original post is going. Unfortunately you're question asks "what's changed so much?" which would seem to invite comment on the current situation.

1917 was a different world if you look at the technology and media involved in reporting the war. I think we also forget that it is now much easier for people to contact each other and form a consensus on current events.

The topic begs a good in-depth discussion about the change of attitude toward loss over the past 90 years, but I for one couldn't discuss it the way I would like without going into areas that would include events of the past 50 years.

Paul

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I'll try to follow Tom's path through the political minefield. I was told in a university seminar of some research on the US public's attitudes to wars, particularly Korea & Vietnam. This argued that the public could broadly be divided into 3 groups. A tiny number of people didn't want war under any circumstances, not even after Pearl Harbor. A significant minority took the view that the President was the democratically elected Commander-in-Chief & if he said war was necessary, then that was good enough for them. The rest's initial opinion would depend on the strength of the cause but there was always a majority for war at the start. The final group's support would decline as casualties rose, with the rate of decline depending on the strength of the initial cause.

I don't know if this extends to other countries but I suspect that, following Tom's arguments, the second group (our leaders must be right) would be much bigger in all countries before WW1 than after, & that in several countries, including the UK, the perceived cause would be strong enough to make the rate of decline of support of the third group quite slow.

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One could also argue that the pre-1918 world in Britain was hardened to death and mortality. This may be due to the recency of wars in South Africa and the Crimea - and the remembrance of the casualties involved there - but also to death on a more personal level. Life expectancy for most was a fraction of what it is now, and child mortality much higher. Thus one could suggest that people were simply much more hardened to death.

A more militaristic early twentieth century society would also lead to less shock and revulsion at battlefield deaths.

We now live in a prosperous, long-lived and basically anti-militaristic country.

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Staying away from political issues, another major factor in my opinion is technology. Haig didnt have missiles at his disposal which were capable of picking out the Kaiser's bathroom window or bombs which were capable of much more accurate and severe devastation. With 'smart' weapons to do much of the hard work that would have been carried out by the PBI, a smaller number of casualties can be an unacceptable loss. The overall deciding factor in every case of what is unacceptble losses is the fickle finger of public opinion.

Keith

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