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Risk-Transfer Militarism

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While I was working on my Ph.D., I remember coming across an article by Prof. Martin Shaw about what he terms Risk-Transfer Militarism which he has since turned into a book on the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The essence of risk-transfer militarism, according to Shaw, identifies how the Pentagon has attempted to transform modern warfare through an aggressive management of public relations and technological engagement. This management has resulted in a new form of American aggression, a central feature of which is a "militarism of small massacres."

In traditional warfare, battlefield cost-equations are generally tabulated through a 10:1 ratio of troop advantage within a particular locale and a 3:1 theater-wide advantage. In other words, war planners have been, at least since Vietnam, generally uncomfortable with risking casualties above and beyond such ranges for fear of losing public support. Essentially, so the argument goes, Americans have not only lost their appetite for "intolerable" levels of military deaths, but also for reports of significant mass-killings of enemy troops.

According to Shaw, this risk-transfer has resulted in a policy of strategic engagement emphasizing the reduction of American casualties through so-called "remote" warfare, such as aerial bombings coupled with ground campaigns focusing on relatively few "enemy" deaths ranging in the neighborhood of 50 or less. According to Shaw's website, "The Western way of war, with its deep risk-aversion for its own soldiers and citizens, claims the ultimately impossible standard of 'clean' or at least 'cleaner' war. Its pretensions to civilian protection are easily represented as
hypocritical - its thousands of civilian victims speak otherwise."

The inevitable result of this management is a daily barrage of casualty reports in which a handful of U.S. soldiers are killed alongside several dozen or less Iraqi "insurgents." These days, unfortunately, we are discovering that many of these supposed insurgents are actually civilians. According to Omar al-Juburi, spokesman for the human rights section of the party led by Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, "The US forces have violated human rights many times across Iraq." In the latest string, Juburi alleges three separate mini-Hadithas in May in which U.S. forces collectively killed 29 Iraqi civilians in the towns of Latifiyah and Yusifiyah, south of Baghdad, and in the capital itself.

Not surprisingly, such reports are difficult or impossible to confirm given that the U.S. has routinely failed to keep an accurate assessment of combatants killed over the course of the invasion. Nevertheless, the Pentagon's efforts to keep casualty rates palatable for the American public has clearly spawned a new era of warfare in which Dresden-scale massacres are methodically spread out over time and space. The cumulative effect of this, however, remains massive and it is doubtful that the families and friends of Iraqi victims are comforted by the "containment" of body counts.
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Dr. Daverth is an International Relations scholar who writes extensively on global security and postmodern political theory. His daily rants can be found at The Hindsight Factor
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