In Memoriam

May 31, 2004

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.

— John Adams (1735-1826)

As a theoretical physicist with major metaphysical leanings, I’ve long felt the above quote by President Adams to be especially pertinent to me personally. Therefore, to the many who have made the sacrifice to study the ugly side of life so that others may study the beautiful side, I offer my humblest thanks.


And there have been so many…

US Personnel Served and Casualties Suffered in Major Wars/Conflicts of the 20th Century
War/ConflictPersonnel ServedBattle DeathsOther DeathsWounds Not Mortal
World War I
4,734,991 53,402
World War II
Korean War
Vietnam Conflict
Persian Gulf War

* World War I “Wounds Not Mortal” as well as the Marine Corps contribution to WWII “Wounds Not Mortal” (68,207 of the 671,846) are actually “Wounded In Action” (i.e., number of soldiers wounded) and technically not “Wounds Not Mortal” (i.e., number of wounds meriting Purple Hearts—of which one soldier could receive multiple ones, of course).

US Casualties Suffered in Major Ongoing Operations**
OperationKilled in ActionNonhostile DeathsWounded In Action
Enduring Freedom
(Sep 2001-present)
Iraqi Freedom
(Mar 2003-present)
587215 4,682

** Current as of May 28, 2004, 10 AM EDT.


Want to contribute something? Then, please consider:

1) Donating your frequent flyer miles to soldiers through the “Hero Miles” program. a program which played a major role in shaming the Pentagon into paying for all legs of soldiers’ flights home for 2 week R&R leaves from Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than just an intercontinental leg from Iraq or Afghanistan to either Baltimore/Washington DC, Dallas/Forth Worth, or Atlanta. However, the domestic legs of flights home for family emergency leaves (e.g., for birth, death, or serious illness of family members) still need to be paid for out of pocket by the soldiers, as do any flights by soldiers’ families to visit them in military hospitals. uses donated frequent flyer miles to defray the cost of these flights for soldiers and their families.

2) Any of the major grass roots support efforts by soldiers and their families such as and the many programs to which it links.

Notes and References for the Tables:

For 1st Table:

Source: U.S. Department of Defense, Directorate for Information Operations and Reports, Statistical Information and Analysis Division. “DoD Principal Wars – US Military Personnel Serving and Casualties”

All names used (notably, “Vietnam Conflict” and “Persian Gulf War”) as well as all years chosen for tabulation (notably, including 1946 casualties in “World War II” and including only 1964-1973 casualties in the “Vietnam Conflict”) are those used by the Department of Defense in the above source.

For 2nd Table:

Source: The present “Casualty Reports” link of, the official web portal to all of the public US Department of Defense websites. Note that the Casualty Reports link is regularly updated and the most current one can always be found at the bottom of the “Press Resources” linklist in the right column of

NB: A useful general source for all military casualties from all US military engangements is the “Military Casualty Information” webpage of U.S. Department of Defense, Directorate for Information Operations and Reports, Statistical Information and Analysis Division. The homepage of the Statistical Information and Analysis Division has a wealth of information on many other topics too.


In response to overwhelming interest (well, okay, moderately whelming interest, e.g., Matthew Yglesias and Mark Kleiman) in the 80’s era legal writings of Douglas J. Feith, now famous, alas, for his many alleged follies and foibles as the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, here’s the relevant portions of his article “Law in the Service of Terror — The Strange Case of the Additional Protocol” from the inaugural issue of Irving Kristol’s The National Interest (Fall 1985)
Read the rest of this entry »

(Or: Silly & Fun Friday News)

One of the most beautiful things about living in a democracy is that even the most closely held state secrets are eventually declassified. Sure it might take 50-60 years, but it’s still laudable that democratic governments voluntarily relinquish their secrets.

So in that vein, behold the following very funny declassified projects from the 1940’s and 50’s-era British Secret Service. (NB: The documents were released by the UK National Archives on April 1st, 2004 but they were accompanied by official statements that they were most certainly not April Fools’ pranks:

Tom O’Leary, head of education and interpretation at the National Archives, told the paper: “It does seem like an April Fool but it most certainly is not. The Civil Service does not do jokes.”

Whether this is dry British wit or not, I can’t tell.)

1) Cold war bomb warmed by chickens

Plans to fill a nuclear landmine with chickens to regulate its temperature were seriously considered during the Cold War.

Civil servants at the National Archives say it is a coincidence the secret plan is being revealed on 1 April.

The Army planned to detonate the seven-tonne device on the German plains in the event of having to retreat.

Operation Blue Peacock forms part of an exhibition for the National Archives, in Kew, London, on Friday.

Professor Peter Hennessy, curator of the Secret State exhibition, told the Times: “It is not an April Fool. These documents come straight from the archives at Aldermaston. Why and how would we forge them?”

The bomb was designed to stop the Red Army advancing across West Germany during the height of the Cold War.

But nuclear physicists at the Aldermaston nuclear research station in Berkshire were worried about how to keep the landmine at the correct temperature when buried underground.

In a 1957 document they proposed live chickens would generate enough heat to ensure the bomb worked when buried for a week.

The birds would be put inside the casing of the bomb, given seed to keep them alive and stopped from pecking at the wiring.

The landmine would be remotely detonated.

Tom O’Leary, head of education and interpretation at the National Archives, told the paper: “It does seem like an April Fool but it most certainly is not. The Civil Service does not do jokes.”

2) UK pondered suicide pigeon attacks

British spy chiefs secretly considered training pigeons to fly into enemy targets carrying explosives or biological weapons, it has been revealed.

British intelligence set up a “pigeon committee” at the end of World War II to ensure expertise gained in the use of the birds to carry messages was not lost.

Documents now released to the National Archives reveal that the War Office intelligence section, MI14, warned: “Pigeon research will not stand still; if we do not experiment, other powers will.”

Among MI14’s proposals was the training of pigeons carrying explosives to fly into enemy searchlights.

Meanwhile, pigeon enthusiast Wing Commander WDL Rayner suggested a “bacteriological warfare agent” could be combined with the explosive.

‘Revolutionary’ tactics

“A thousand pigeons each with a two ounce explosive capsule, landed at intervals on a specific target, might be a seriously inconvenient surprise,” Mr Rayner wrote.

He believed his “revolutionary” ideas could change the way wars were fought, and had the tentative backing of wartime MI6 chief Sir Stewart Menzies.
However the internal security service MI5 branded Rayner a “menace in pigeon affairs”.

MI5’s Lieutenant Colonel Tommy Robertson wrote: “I thought that some time ago it had been made clear that Rayner should finish writing his manual and then have nothing further to do with this committee officially.”

Rayner’s plan for a 400-pigeon loft where tests would be carried out was abandoned due to wrangling among the intelligence agencies over funding.

Members of the public can view the 280 newly-released files at the National Archives, Kew, west London.

Kevin Drum, inspired by this recent opinion piece in Mother Jones by Joshua Wolf Shenk, is beseeching the Blogosphere to think of a compelling narrative for the Democratic Party—one that can compete with the Republicans’ current storyline of “Evil walks among us, and we must slay it” (which is actually more from Buffy the Vampire Slayer than from any particular Republican candidate, but it’s certainly the gist of what they’re saying).

I’ll have more to say about this later as part of my continuing series “The Default Democratic Party Strategy and What Should Replace It” (part 1 is here, and part 2 is here). However, as food for thought now, might I remind y’all that there used to be a Democrat who offered a compelling narrative, one of a generation standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the entire world upon a precipice with utter annihilation on one side and utopian society on the other. (Hint: He is the hero of our current Democratic candidate, and he even had the same initials as him.)

The contest will continue–the contest between those who see a monolithic world and those who believe in diversity–but it should be a contest in leadership and responsibility instead of destruction, a contest in achievement instead of intimidation. Speaking for the United States of America, I welcome such a contest. For we believe that truth is stronger than error–and that freedom is more enduring than coercion. And in the contest for a better life, all the world can be a winner.

The effort to improve the conditions of man, however, is not a task for the few. It is the task of all nations–acting alone, acting in groups, acting in the United Nations–for plague and pestilence, and plunder and pollution, the hazards of nature, and the hunger of children are the foes of every nation. The earth, the sea, and the air are the concern of every nation. And science, technology, and education can be the ally of every nation.

Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environment, to end thirst and hunger, to conquer poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy and massive human misery. We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world–or to make it the last.

— President John F. Kennedy, Address Before the 18th General Assembly of the United Nations, September 20, 1963

… see this story. He was my colleague, my roommate, and my friend.

… but a year from now, I know I’ll be looking back and thinking this:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

[Walt Whitman, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”, opening stanza]

[Or: What’s hopefully not the model of a modern major general… sorry, couldn’t resist.]

In my first post transcribing the May 3rd Charlie Rose show about abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, I was curious about a potential slip of the tongue by Seymour Hersh as he was emphasizing that the now-famous Major General Taguba was but one of three major (i.e., 2-star) generals asked to investigate prison conditions in Iraq since late summer 2003:

…if you keep on reading [in the 53 page report by Major General Antonio Taguba that he was leaked and writes about here in the New Yorker], you discover that there have been 2 other Army—secret Army—investigations into the prison conditions beginning in late summer [of 2003]. So we have a situation where 3 two-star generals—6 stars in all—were involved in investigating the prison conditions. And the only conclusion you could bring, as the general* did, was that you really had an institutional issue: that the abuses began early, and they stayed.

[* Just Major General Taguba? Or was it a slip of the tongue, misusing the singular when the plural was meant? I’m curious what the other 2 secret reports concluded.]

As I explained in this clarification post, Mr. Hersh’s article in The New Yorker on General Taguba’s report makes it clear that one of these other major generals was Major General Donald Ryder, Provost Marshall (i.e., chief law enforcement officer) of the US Army. While General Ryder reported abuses and recommended action to stop them, Mr. Hersh characterizes General Ryder as being highly euphemistic and hence extremely mild in his criticisms, concluding that his report was “at best a failure and at worst a coverup.”

The third general wasn’t mentioned in the article. I ended the clarification post mentioned above with the line:

I imagine though that we’ll all soon be hearing more than we ever wanted to know about this third report.

I meant that line mostly as a perfunctory bit of closing rhetoric. Unfortunately, it was prescient. Last night on The O’Reilly Factor, Mr. Hersh revealed who the third major general was, and it was definitely more than I wanted to know:

O’REILLY: All right. Well, the damage to the country obviously is just immeasurable. But reading your article in “The New Yorker.” I just get the feeling that the Army, when they heard about it, started action almost immediately. It wasn’t a cover-up situation. Or did I read your article wrong?

HERSH: This guy Taguba is brilliant. He could have made a living doing — it’s a credit to the Army that somebody with that kind of integrity would write this kind of — it’s 53-page report.

O’REILLY: OK, but Sanchez the commander put him in charge fairly quickly. They mobilized fairly quickly.

HERSH: No, look, I don’t want to ruin your evening, but the fact of the matter is it was the third investigation. There had been two other investigations.

One of them was done by a major general who was involved in Guantanamo, General Miller. And it’s very classified, but I can tell you that he was recommending exactly doing the kind of things that happened in that prison, basically. He wanted to cut the lines. He wanted to put the military intelligence in control of the prison.

[thanks to Kevin Drum for highlighting this exchange]

So, in conclusion, it was not a slip of the tongue on Mr. Hersh’s part (silly me: Lord, oh Lord, this guy is sharp!). Of the three Major Generals–Taguba, Ryder, and Miller—ordered to write reports about Abu Ghraib, only Taguba was fully condemnatory.