Tuesday, November 9, 2010

About American Exceptionalism, and Footnotes

I'm a couple of chapters into Dominic Tierney's "How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War" when I stumble onto this factoid:

"But since the nineteenth century, no country has engaged in the mass killing of civilians on as many separate occasions as the United States."

Yikes! Luckily, there's an explanatory footnote:

"Between 1816 and 2003, the United States was responsible for five out of the eighteen cases in which one country intentionally or indiscriminately killed more than fifty thousand enemy civiliansin interstate war. Prussia/Germany was responsible for three episodes of mass killing, and Britain and Russia were responsible for two each. Data from Downes, Targeting Civilians in War, 44-47."

I don't have Downes' book at the ready, but the numbers indicate to me that such incidents were in the United States' "big wars," and there's pretty much universal agreement that the country was justified in entering most of those wars. (World War I being a possible exception, and we won't even get into the debates over the Civil War.)

Which brings me back around to yesterday's discussion of Jonah Goldberg and American exceptionalism. I suspect that American exceptionalism blinds us to these kinds of facts, frankly, so that we see ourselves as likely to be "greeted as liberators" instead of as a force that brought (or unleashed) bombs and death into a country. It's possible to be both, actually, but we don't think hard enough about the second part of the equation. A little less of the exceptionalist attitude would be helpful in such cases, actually.


KhabaLox said...

Let see....

Phillipine-American War
Civil War
Indian Wars

It's harder than I thought to find the data. It would be interesting to see the sources list and methodology.

Monkey RobbL said...

K - I'm sure they bundle all of WWII together. The US killed more civilians in Dresden and Tokyo than during the atomic bombings.

I'm guessing the 50K+ civilian death tolls are from:

Phillipine-American War

I could be wrong about World War I. We got into the game late enough that I could see us not having killed 50,000 civilians.