Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reflecting on wars past

February 15, 2007

My article "Airport a reminder of terrorism's cost" that appeared in the Lansing Current and The Leavenworth Times generated considerable positive feedback. I received calls, emails, a few written notes and several personal comments, all favorable. I'm heartened by the fact that so many share my frustration by events unfolding across the nation and especially in Washington DC. Thank you for caring about our country.

I recall stories from my mother about life in America during World War II: gas rationing, victory gardens, having to drive with blackout lights on her car (we lived in Santa Monica, California near the coast), shortages of food and various commodities because America was at war. WWII was about national survival.

Fast forward to today.

The stock market is booming, plenty of jobs for those who wish to work. Just visit Village West by the NASCAR track anytime and the restaurants are full-every night. You would never know that we are at war. But wait a minute; the nation is NOT at war. The armed forces are but it's business as usual on the home front.

In my view, President Bush squandered a golden opportunity when he stood on that pile of rubble in New York City following the destruction of the World Trade Center. He could have asked for a declaration of war, he could have ordered the sale of War Bonds and/or added a tax on gasoline and other commodities to finance the war but he did not. The Congress was united as never before-remember when they all sang God Bless America on the steps of the Capitol? Many have argued that the war on terrorism, or whatever you wish to call it, is also a war of national survival.

It's impossible to make any useful comparisons between World War II and the war against Islamic fanatics because of the amorphous nature of our current enemies. It is also difficult to make direct comparisons between Vietnam and what we are experiencing today for a host of reasons too hard to explain in this short essay; however, I find some interesting parallels between the Vietnam War and the current war.

¢ The Viet Cong and the Islamic Radicals understand how to weaken the will of the American public. They know that what happens on the battlefield is less important than what happens on the home front and they have willing collaborators in the American press who tend focus on the bad news-if it bleeds it leads.

¢ President Lyndon Johnson opted for guns and butter. He failed to mobilize the nation for war. Eventually the Congress and the public turned against him and destroyed his presidency. The cut and run crowd in Congress refused to protect the reputation of the nation and gave in to public opinion. After we withdrew from Vietnam congress cut off funding to the South Vietnamese government and they were quickly overrun. I think there's a lesson here for our current president.

¢ During the Vietnam War we had Robert McNamara and in this war we had Donald Rumsfeld neither of whom understood how to apply American military power effectively. Both were former captains of industry, managers not leaders, who thought they were smarter than their generals. They both left office disgraced.

¢ General Westmoreland whose tactics in Vietnam failed to produce success was elevated to Army Chief of Staff. He was replaced by General Abrams who wrapped up our involvement in Vietnam. Likewise, General Casey our commander in Iraq who was pummeled by the Senate for failing to achieve success has become our new Army Chief of Staff and now General Petraeus is left to complete the mission and brings the troops home.

¢ We are told that the current war has lasted longer than World War II. Okay, but that's a poor analogy because counterinsurgencies are not like "normal" wars against nation states. A better comparison is the American involvement in Vietnam, a classic counterinsurgency that lasted 25 years. President Truman sent the first American advisors to Vietnam in 1950 and we finally withdraw from Vietnam in 1975. Here again let's hope history does not repeat itself.

Fortunately historical comparisons break down in the area of casualties. Whereas we lost about 58,000 of our servicemen and women in Vietnam the numbers lost to date in Iraq and Afghanistan are about 3,000. No doubt every life is precious but what price are we willing to pay for freedom and the preservation of western culture? Sadly, to many in our country nothing is worth fighting for. I fear that Americans are becoming risk averse. This is a serious problem in a world where we have real enemies bent upon the destruction of western culture. And no other country in the world personifies western culture more than the United States. How many more bombs have to explode in western cities before we realize that the Jihad against our free and open society is real? While Adolf Hitler outlined his plan in Mein Kampf, so too Osama bin Laden has outlined his plan. If Osama obtains weapons of mass destruction he will likely use them against us because he has said openly that this is his aim. Is anybody out there paying attention?

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