This is usually my favorite time of year. Fresno greens up and cools off a little. We even get some rain. And Xmas comes along just when you need it, to give you some time to forget the faces at work.
I don't do the tree and presents routine. My folks and I sort of agreed to disagree this time of year. We generally give each other a nice wide berth, then call sometime after Easter, when we can get back to safe topics like whether it's hotter and worse traffic out at their place in Bakersfield or me in Fresno.
It may not be PacBell moment stuff, but I like it. The best way to stay close to people is to stay the hell away from them. It sure works for the dumbshits I have to work with. After a couple weeks away, you can almost pretend you like each other the first time you run into each other in the coffee nook.
But I just can't enjoy my holiday this year. The news from Iraq has been getting me down. It's not what you're probably thinking -- the US casualties. To be straight-up about it, that's part of the price we pay for being the big boy on the block. We're not Luxemberg, damn it. We're the United States of America, and we put our troops in harm's way. Always have, and I hope we always will.
Besides, civilians don't know how to think about casualties anyway. Especially after Gulf War I, everybody thinks you can have a war without blood. We're spoiled, that's all.
The traditional figure for unacceptable casualties is losing 10 per cent of your force. That's where they get the word "decimate" from: killing every tenth man.
But that's no magic formula. Armies have run like rabbits after a couple of wounded; other armies died to the last man, like the Spartans at Therm- whatever they called it.
Take Nam: we couldn't handle 60,000 dead from a nation of about 240 million. That's one dead per 4,000 Americans. Not a lot, by the book. But too much for us right then.
Compare that with the rates countries take and survive. The Nazis killed 20 million Russians -- and the Soviet Army just kept coming. Of course it helped to have Stalin in charge of internal security. He had a way of keeping the bereaved from grumbling too much: shooting them if they so much as sighed when they got the sad news.
But other countries, your traditional "western democracies," took casualty rates in WW I that nobody -- in the developed world, anyway -- would be able to handle nowadays. One out of every 25 French people died from 1914-1918, and the country held together. It was close for a while there, with big front-line mutinies, but they held. The Germans took losses just as bad and never flinched. Closer to home, the South fought on until every white man south of the Mason-Dixon line was dead or crippled. So when a Superpower with a population nudging 280 million loses a soldier or two a day, you don't hit the panic button.
The casualties that worry me are the ones we're supposedly dishing out, not the ones we're taking. Because I think we're already starting to lie about them the same dumb way we did in Nam, by passing out inflated body counts.
Body counts are a real bad sign. What they signal is that we're operating in a strategic vacuum, and the only claim we can make is dropping bad guys. When Westmoreland started counting dead Cong in Nam, it was because he didn't have a strategic plan. So the body counts went up and up, and the situation got worse and worse. Commanders under pressure to produce high counts started multiply the real number by two or three or ten. So even when we did kill a lot of Cong in the Tet offensive, nobody Stateside even wanted to know. They'd heard that tune too many times before.
Well, last week there was this so-called "firefight" in Samarra, and for the first time since Nam, we came out of it bragging about a body count. That's bad sign #1.