Bombing People For Freedom

Kaushik Basu says that the Vietnam War was ostensibly fought in the name of promoting democracy and freedom.  But official US war statistics don’t make it sound very free and democratic:

The Indochina War, centered in Vietnam, was the most intense episode of aerial bombing in human history: “the United States Air Force dropped in Indochina, from 1964 to August 15, 1973, a total of 6,162,000 tons of bombs and other ordnance. U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft expended another 1,500,000 tons in Southeast Asia. This tonnage far exceeded that expended in World War II and in the Korean War. The U.S. Air Force consumed 2,150,000 tons of munitions in World War II – 1,613,000 tons in the European Theater and 537,000 tons in the Pacific Theater – and 454,000 tons in the Korean War” (Clodfelter 1995). Thus Vietnam War bombing represented at least three times as much (by weight) as both European and Pacific theater World War II bombing combined, and about thirteen times total tonnage in the Korean War. Given the prewar Vietnamese population of approximately 32 million, U.S. bombing translates into hundreds of kilograms of explosives per capita during the conflict.

Three times as many bombs as in WWII, but concentrated in an area that is half the size of Texas.  The median Vietnamese certainly didn’t want this kind of attack.  One way to assess claims that invading or bombing a nation is helping them is to use medianist measures.  Does polling suggest that they want to be bombed?  Does the bombing show economic benefits at the median?  It is hard to see any medianist benefit in Vietnam, so the US wasn’t fighting for their benefit, but for our own perceived benefit.  Medianism cannot improve much on the decisionmaking outcome in a case like the Vietnam war.  The median voter of the combined population might even be in favor of war if it is popular enough in the large country.  But if the median voter in a large powerful country wants to invade a smaller weaker country, there is nothing the weaker country can do about it anyhow.  The one place where medianism might help is in disillusioning the people of the powerful country from delusions of charitable war.  It gives a more concrete measure of benefit.  Unfortunately, it will probably be insufficient because people love to hold on to their delusions during wartime and in both Iraq and Vietnam, it should have been obvious that the war wasn’t helping the people.

Even mutilitarian measures show economic disaster in Vietnam which did not recover for 20 years:

vietnam real gdp per person

And Iraq still hasn’t recovered, but probably soon will:

iraq real gdp per person

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Posted in Medianism

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