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Thursday, June 07, 2007

"The war is lost; we are in a bocage quagmire; it's surely time to bring our troops home"

The thing about studying history is this: If you've done it, you can't help but see it influence — and more precisely, inform — your views on the controversies of the present day. And the more detailed your knowledge of history, the more meaningful and interesting the parallels you can draw.

Thus it is with this article from Victor Davis Hanson, which looks beyond the superficial meme — "D-Day was a great Allied victory over the Nazis," and yes, it was — to include the period that followed D-Day, during which Allied misjudgments and mismanagement caused massive, unexpected problems:

When the disaster in the bocage near the Normandy beaches ended over two months after D-Day, the victorious Americans, British and Canadians had been bled white. Altogether, the winners of the Normandy campaign suffered a quarter-million dead, wounded or missing, including almost 30,000 American fatalities — losing nearly 10 times the number of combat dead in four years of fighting in Iraq.

Gulp. I wonder why the Congress didn't pass resolutions deploring the war effort and demanding that our G.I.s be brought home by Thanksgiving 1944? Surely someone reviewing those casualty figures and the relative lack of Allied success by, say, the end of July 1944 would have reached the same profound conclusions that Harry "The Iraq War is Lost" Reid has reached today.

After all, the Nazis are a political party; surely only a political solution can ever resolve the problems they created. And after all, there was no operational connection between Pearl Harbor and the Third Reich! Roosevelt lied to get us into this war! Churchill had Hitler in his box anyway, why did we need to intervene?  Our Manhattan Project is based on fabricated intelligence, the Germans aren't really close to getting the Bomb, and they probably just want peaceful nuclear power. The French need to stand up so we can stand down. These communists and fascists are locked into a struggle that long preceded our arrival here, we can never change them, and we don't even really understand their culture; why should we be involved in Europe's internal fights? We should just leave, and let the Germans and the Soviets sort this all out between them. If we don't — if we try to impose our way of life on those barbarians, who clearly aren't ready for democracy — you just wait and see: We'll probably still have our troops garrisoned on German soil sixty years later!

Posted by Beldar at 10:47 AM in Global War on Terror | Permalink


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(1) nk made the following comment | Jun 7, 2007 11:03:06 AM | Permalink

We're not the men our fathers were and that's a fact. But that's the way they wanted it. They wanted to be the ones who suffered so that we could be pampered in a better world than they had. Do we want the same thing for our children? I believe most of us do. Are we opposed by "sterile cuckoos" who believe that the world will die when they do? I am sad to say that I believe that too. But it is not a new thing. In grade school I read a Thomas Payne essay criticizing a man who said "peace in my time".

(2) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jun 8, 2007 1:57:28 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Victor Hanson embarrasses himself when he uses this disingenous comparison. Where to begin? OK, start with the quarter million dead by VE day. What did we get for that quarter million? We liberated France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, and parts of Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Italy. What have we gotten for the 3500 dead in Iraq?

Take another comparison: in 1949, John J. McCloy went to Germany as High Commissioner. When he arrived, did he need to wear body armor? Did he need bodyguards and a miliatry escort when he arrived, or at any time thereafter? No. If you or I went to Iraq today and drove around the country unprotected, so we could see for ourselves what was going on, how long would we last? Remember, if we went today, we'd be going four years after the invasion. McCloy arrived in Germany four years after VE Day.

Let's reverse Hanson's comparison: what if Franklin Roosevelt had fought World War II the way George W. Bush is fighting Iraq/Afghanistan?

First on December 8, after the "date of infamy" speech, FDR would not have asked for a "declaration of war" (three simple declarative words) but an "authorization to use military force"---five words that might get you an "A" in a legal writing class at law school, but don't really tell you what we intend to do. Next, does FDR ask for a draft? Or increased taxes? Or increased war production? Nope, volunteering will do the job for the Armed Services, and business as usual for the rest. More: in 1943 did FDR say, well, the war's going OK, it's now time to spend a sizable chunk of my time, energy, and political capital on a social issue that was as big on the 1943 political scene as immigration is today: let's get universal health insurance through! That's what the country needs!

If FDR had fought World War II that way, would we have won it? Or would we be raising our hands at sporting events and bawling the Horst Wessel Song?

Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes once wrote that the power to wage war given by our Constitution is the power to wage war SUCCESSFULLY.

Has George W. Bush waged war successfully five and half years after the September 11 attacks? That's the first question. If you are not completely satisfied with the answer, the next question in this coming presidential campaign is: What do we do about it?

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(3) DWPittelli made the following comment | Jun 10, 2007 8:13:43 AM | Permalink


1) re: 1949. I'll concede that the war in Iraq has taken more time than predicted by its backers, but it has not taken more US lives than people on either side predicted. Time may be an important consideration in terms of domestic politics, but I would submit that lives (and perhaps dollars) are more relevant measures of the cost of a war.

2) If the war in Iraq has resulted in the loss of 1/100 of the US deaths as did WWII (it has), then the upside need merely be 1/100 of that war to meet your equation. The liberation of Iraq, if it happens, would seem to fulfill that equation, even if it has no positive effect on other Arab nations or Iran.

3) Would you be happier with Bush if he had instituted a draft of millions and military spending about 10 times our current level? If not, what is your point? If so, why must a war rise to that level for you to support it?

(4) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jun 12, 2007 2:14:32 AM | Permalink

Dear DWPittelli: Thanks for your comment. I don't follow your point one. The costs, financial, in lives, and the effects on the waging country are, to my mind, a secondary consideration. What's the prime consideration? You can't improve on General Giap, the commander of the North Vietnamese forces. I've read that his war aim was:

Victory, damn it, victory!

Short and simple. OK, how do I define victory? Try this crude definition, which is meant more to show what I am thinking than as a masterpiece of precision: Ten years after the conclusion of a war, the a businessman in the victorious country gets a call from the branch office in the defeated country. There's trouble with operations in the defeated country. So the businessman has to fly over, which he does in a day or so, and fix the problem. This requires an injection of new money and talent into the business.The businessman approves this without hesitation, seeing that the problem is small enough not to interfere with the great potential market in the defeated country. That is what victory means to me. To be sure, there will be exceptions, not least in that there is no such thing as a final victory. As Lord Palmerston might have put it, British interests are eternal, British allies and foes may change.

Putting the Giap victory model to work, Iraq today is a mess. I don't understand your second point. The notion that Iraq is liberated is silly. If the American troops left tomorrow, what would happen? A whirlwind that would make the present conflict look like peanuts, thousands dead in the Middle East, terror networks blossoming all over the globe, and a ferocious crackdown on the domestic front that we would be a generation recovering from. Your second point implies that there are such things as "fractional victories" which can be purchased depending on how much a country wishes to pay. Good Lord: a time machine has sent us back to 1962, and we are stuck with Robert McNamara's notion that war can be conducted by rational means, and countries will quit when the costs are too high! That didn't work out at all.

Your point three has the odd notion that efforts are what is important. We field a force of millions and raise spending and we win. No no no, as Margaret Thatcher said. That mistakes process for outcome. Declaring war requires a vote of Congress. Implicit in this is the notion that the country has to decide if it is going to go all out. This means a draft, higher taxes, financial and physical controls, and civil liberties take a back seat for the duration. Why? Victory, damn it victory. If the country does not want to do this, it says out. Perhaps things will improve. More likely, they will get worse until the worsened conditions force a real war. Doing it the way the Bush administration has done it reveals an arrogance not easily distinguishable from frivolity. The Executive likes "authorizations to use military force" because it lets an Executive conflict be waged, free of all that back seat driving (the back seat drivers are always there, but all Presidents seem to suffer from this illusion.) The Legislature likes it because it enables individual Congressionals to shirk blame. You think I exaggerate? We have the grotesque spectacle of Hillary Clinton moaning that she was well briefed on the conflict and hence did not need to read the National Intelligence Estimate, on themost important vote she will ever cast as a Senator. Or consider Rumsfeld. How long would have he have lasted in a war with three million in the invading force, and casualties commensurate with his ideas of war management?

Let me be clear: I support the Iraq war. The stakes are much too high to lose it. But America is in danger of losing it, because of the frivolous way it is being waged.

Let me pose a question back at you: which would you choose:

a) the present situation or

b) a declared war, 50,000 dead Americans and elections in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. The nukes and germ and chemical weapons have been destroyed, and business is picking up in the Middle East, with the price of oil at $55 dollars per barrel.

Many thanks for reading this.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

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