Truth is the First Casualty of War
In 1918, during World War I, California Republican Senator Hiram Johnson remarked that “The first casualty, when war comes, is truth.” A similar statement was made in the British Parliament early in the war by MP Philip Snowden, probably in 1915 : “Truth, it has been said, is the first casualty of war.” This was published in a 1916 book, Truth and the War, by E. D. Morel. Senator Johnson, having a high interest in avoiding war, would probably have read this book and may also have been influenced by the scholarly British writer, Samuel Johnson, who in 1758 wrote:
“Among the calamities of War may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by falsehood which interest dictates and credulity encourages.”
In her 1809, Memoirs of an American Lady, Anne MacVicar Grant wrote:
“Truth is the first victim to fear and policy; when matters arrive at that crisis…all the kindred virtues drop in succession.”
A like quote is sometimes attributed to the Greek tragedian and soldier, Aeschylus (526 BC-456 BC): “In war, truth is the first casualty.” But an Aeschylus play may also have expressed, “God is not averse to deceit in a just cause,” which has helped sow the poisonous seeds of much evil propaganda.
War, however, is not usually centered on truth. It is usually centered on dominance and sometimes on survival. Sun Tzu (500 BC to 430 BC) wrote in the Art of War that “All warfare is based on deception.” Muhammad said in about 624 AD simply that “War is deception.” Few national or military leaders will announce casualty figures that enemies might use to undermine their country or cause. But the U.S. Congress and other national legislatures have a duty to know the truth and reject propaganda in their governance. Journalists also have a duty to the public and the nation to discern the truth and use it responsibly in its dissemination.
Casualties are naturally of great real and emotional interest in war, so the wise interpreter of war news has substantial reason to be cautious and often skeptical about reports. Casualties are only one indicator of who might be winning a war, but human losses and how long they can be sustained are paramount even in its political and fiscal evaluations. The U.S. Congress must evaluate, for instance, how much more economic, political, and military aid should be given to Ukraine. We have already given more than $52.3 billion in 2022, and new requests to save Ukraine are likely to take it over $90 billion. This far exceeds Russia’s total Defense Budget of $62 billion in 2020. The British, with a $59 billion defense budget, the Germans, the Poles, the Rumanians, and other members of NATO must make the same evaluations, but by far the largest share in financial and military materials comes from the United States.
Congress has the duty to make its decisions on the basis of reality as well as reality can be determined in the fog of war. That fog in this war includes a hurricane of propaganda.
The United Nations has data on civilian casualties, which they believe are low because many casualties are missed in the fog of war. However, they appear to be mostly free of propaganda.
As of November 14, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights had the following casualty totals since the Russian invasion began on February 24:
Total civilians killed were 6,557, which included 408 children. The injured totaled 10,094, bringing the total casualties to 16,651. The highest casualty month was early in the war, March, with 3,326 killed, just over 50 percent of the total dead YTD.
Also interesting is that 3,924 (nearly 60%) of the civilians killed were in the Russian speaking Donbas independent republics of Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk (LPR). The vast majority of those killed and those injured were from high explosives with wide area effects. The United Nations broke down those killed in the Donbas into Ukrainian held areas and Russian/Donbas militias held territory. Those killed in Ukrainian territory were 3,481, and those killed in Russian/Donbas militias held territory were 443. I do not believe it is clear from these figures which side inflicted the casualties, but from 80 to 90 percent of the Donbas population is Russian speaking and pro-Russian politically.
U.S. Military Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, recently said civilian deaths had been about 40,000. This is notably higher than the United Nations figure cited above of 6,557. Even UN total casualties including injured was less than 17,000.
General Milley also said that both sides had incurred total military casualties at about 100,000 each.
The Russians had estimated on September 21 that Ukrainian killed-in-action (KIA) numbered 61,207. Of course, it is dangerous to use Russian estimates for Ukrainian KIA and other casualties. According to Col. Douglas MacGregor (USA ret.) Ukrainian KIA casualties have lately been running 10,000 per month, because of lopsided Ukrainian-Russian artillery battles, where the Russians have been able to hurl about seven artillery shells for each Ukrainian response. The casualty rate has been about 5 to 8 Ukrainians killed for every Russian. This would bring Ukrainian dead up to about 82,000 by mid-November. MacGregor believes the number may be as high as 100,000 dead. The wounded may be an additional 200,000
On November 17, the Ukrainians raised their estimate of Russian dead from 67,000 to 82,000, but this does not agree even with allied estimates. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace estimated that the Russians had 25,000 killed and another 55,000 wounded. This still seems high, because it has jumped from another recent British estimate of less than 16,000 KIA. The Russian figure for Russian forces only is less than 6,000, but this did not include the heavy casualties the Donbas militias have had, which are close to another 6,000, bringing the total for Russia and allies to about 12,000.
If you watch, for instance, David Muir on ABC News at night, you probably believe the Ukrainians are winning the war handily and triumphantly, but you might be surprised how it is really going. The U.S has already supplied $52.3 billion in military and government aid to Ukraine in 2022. Now the Biden Administration is asking for another $37.7 billion, for a total of $90.0 billion so far. If Ukraine is winning, why are we having to spend nearly 50 percent more than the entire annual Russian or British Defense Budget? Why does Ukraine’s President ,Volodymyr Zelensky, seem desperate rather than confident? Yet the Ukrainian-American propaganda about the war seems so over-the-top and omni-present on all media that it actually creates skepticism.
There is no free speech or free press in Ukraine. Zelensky has closed down all political opposition parties and all opposition media. To be fair, nations under serious threat cannot allow their enemies unlimited freedom to overthrow them. But nations without reasonable free speech and civil rights are not free. Moreover, Ukraine’s sometimes bloody cultural cleansing of its large Russian minority since 2014 is not something free nations should readily embrace. It is also becoming apparent that Ukrainian news is essentially identical to NATO news and Biden Administration news.
Ukraine has had several largely temporary territorial gains that were heralded as great victories in most of the U.S. Media, but they were often pyric victories, where the Russians pulled advancing Ukrainian troops into “firetraps” or artillery traps near Kharkiv in which the Ukrainians received devastating casualties of five or more times the Russian casualties. The Russians have a strategy of attrition in which they temporarily give up terrain to inflict heavy artillery casualties on advancing Ukrainian troops.
The latest Ukrainian victory celebration was over the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson City to the eastern side of Dnieper River. Kherson City’s mostly Russian ethnic civilians had already been evacuated. The Ukrainians had already lost about 12,000 men in several attacks on the city, while the Russians lost less than 2,000. The Russians did not pull out in the face of advancing Ukrainian troops. They made an orderly withdrawal completed within 48 hours. There was no battle. The Russian withdrawal was because of the vulnerability of Kherson City to flooding by upstream dams vulnerable to Ukrainian damage and the need for most of Kherson’s 25-30,000 troops elsewhere in Ukraine until more manpower becomes available from the recent Russian national mobilization of 300,000 experienced combat and technical reserves. Abandoning just claimed “Russian” territory in Kherson was not popular with the Russian people, but its reasoning was clearly communicated as expedient to conserving Russian manpower and furthering more important short term objectives, which would enhance longer term Russian objectives. Few Ukrainian troops have occupied Kherson so far. There is no electricity or water there. Perhaps they also expect another major Russian artillery “firetrap.”
Meanwhile, the Russian Aerospace and Rocket Forces have severely damaged Ukraine’s electrical grid and transportation systems. The Ukrainian economy is badly damaged. Almost daily, 80 to 90 Russian cruise missiles are making precision hits all over Ukraine. Ukraine’s Air Defense System is badly beat up and not as effective against Russian technology as hoped. Western Europe is about to endure a cold winter without sufficient heat and power. Western European “ Ukraine support fatigue” is growing.
I believe the United Nations Human Rights Commission is about right on civilian deaths in the war—mot much over 7,000 so far. This is running far lower than most comparable wars. It looks like deliberate infliction of civilian casualties is minimal.
Reading skeptically between the lines, I believe Ukrainian military dead are at least 82,000 and possibly as much as 100,000. The wounded probably range from 180 to 200 thousand. The Russian figures are much lower than reported in American and Western European media. I believe even the British reports of 25,000 Russians KIA are bit too high. Counting the Donetsk and Lugansk militias, they might be closer to 20,000 with close to 50,000 wounded. Of course, I do not know. I do know that war diminishes truth and respect for truth, and that the level of outrageous propaganda that we are seeing is a sure sign of corrupt partisan interests and deception.