books/Deaths of Others

The Deaths of Others


John Tirman

Synopsis: book covers "The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars", interweaving deep coverage of the Korean, Vietnamese, Iraqi, and Afghan Wars with contextual analysis of other US military engagements (frontier conquest, Spanish-American, WWII, etc) domestic political movements (pacifist, leftist, hawkish) and policies (Red Scare, containment).

Unstructured Notes

Historical background sets a context of American expansionism using any means and justified as part of a process of "civilizing savages in the wilderness" for their own good. This is frequently accompanied by the mythology of heroes who recognize the tragedy of the situation, and who have some connection-to or understanding-of the savages, but ultimately act violently against them.

The US Civil War strengthened isolationist policies "in the large". No significant home-territory experience of war loss/violence in the US since then. Sherman's total war largely accepted as a tragic necessity and introduced as a strategic tool in overseas conflicts.

Perceived successful WWII strategy of aerial bombardment, particularly bombing campaigns in Germany and Japan, led to optimism about US ability to project power without loss of US lives.

Little evidence that terror bombing campaigns on civilians actually had /any/ significant outcome on military success when battling totalitarian regimes: civilians had no political power, and production/economy/recruiting was carefully controlled and optimized. See also abandonment/starvation of Japaneses civilians towards end of war.

Ratio of US casualties to foreign civilian casualties started low and has shrunk over time (TODO: table of this?). Potentially we still sub-consciously assume that our loss/"sacrifice" is proportional to that of foreign citizens?

p40-46: Spanish-American war was controversial. Mark Twain wrote a lot about it. Large scale ordered atrocities against civilians and nationalist Filipino forces were widely reported in the states. Many considered these civilians racial equivalents to Africans or Native Americans, and these deaths part of their... taming?


One of the top handful of largest losses of life in the 20th century, over only a three year period. Density of death in such a small region at least comparable to WWII, Chinese civil war, etc. More deaths than American Civil War or Vietnam War. Millions of Korean casualties, hundreds of thousands of Chinese casualties. Both Koreas left utterly destroyed.

Early (?) use of napalm against all targets, including fire bombing of Pyongyang.

p97: South Korean (under Rhee) massacres of leftist political opponents (many non-communist) under direct oversight and permission of American advisers, sometimes even . Tens of thousands killed before start of war, tens to hundreds of thousands of civilians killed during the war itself, often mass murders at prisons, also women and children. Rhee government took control in non-democratic manner and established a repressive authoritarian state. US funded, advised, and holds responsibility for an outright military campaign against own (non-communist) South Korean citizens in rebellion. Funded violent youth groups etc.

Interesting Cited References

"The Sources of Soviet Conduct" by George Kennan (published under the name "X" in Forein Affairs magazine, 1947) based on his longer official "long telegram" report from Moscow.

Hannah Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism" (Harcourt, 1951, 1968).