Tags: Americans | Lack | Will | Win | War | Terrorism

Americans Lack Will to Win War on Terrorism

Wednesday, 10 August 2005 12:00 AM

And, yes, the coalition of American news organizations now suing to get more pictures of the Abu Ghraib depravities deserve Ramadan cards from Osama. Get over it! No country in history ever made it easier for its enemies – outside and inside – to destroy it. It's one of our charms. Those who despise President Bush and oppose American policy range from the subversive sinister all the way over to the shortsighted well-meaning. Leave them alone. They have the right.

Anybody who remembers 9/11 AND Pearl Harbor and our national response to each is entitled to think we've got the sorriest bunch of Americans ever to face a national crisis. Frighteningly so. The death toll climbs. Enlistments tumble. Yet any talk of a military draft has replaced Social Security as the "third rail" of American politics.

Forgive me, America; do you mind if I mash your face into that a little more. American casualties are mounting. Enlistments in the military are plummeting. And even TALK about a draft is as taboo as cussing in front of girls used to be. This nation is as far from a total war footing mentally, physically and practically as we were BEFORE Pearl Harbor!

Oh, we had an army then. And they skirmished with enemies here and there. But no American felt "at war" then and I see no evidence many of us do now.

If there were some kind of god of war and if he were as fair-minded as King Solomon, I fear he would say, "America, you're so far from where you ought to be in this war effort that, even though you represent good and your foes represent evil, YOU DON'T DESERVE TO WIN!

How bad is it? Bad enough to remind me of a time during the Cold War, say the early 1970s, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger seemed to be making breathtaking concessions – some said "surrenders" – to the Soviet Union. Some commentator piped up in his defense as follows: "Look, Kissinger sees how strong they are and how weak we are; how relentlessly motivated they are and how could-care-less we are; and he's just trying to broker the best deal possible for America under those sordid circumstances!"

It would have been easy to surrender to Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union. They all had business addresses. How does Condoleezza Rice surrender to al-Qaida?

I recall every second of World War II, but I don't recall a single instant of perseverating over American casualties no matter how massive. Will some historian please check me out? My guess is that America launched at least a dozen invasions during which the casualties DURING THE FIRST THREE DAYS were at least twice those of these two-plus years so far in Iraq. (Normandy. Iwo Jima. Okinawa. Tarawa. Truk. Guadalcanal. Saipan. Tinian. Eniwetok. Salerno. Anzio. Check it out!)

American media at that time did not spotlight the heartbreak of all the American homes getting those dreaded notices. We spotlighted the beachhead carved out of Hitler's evil hide and the American flag flying over Mt. Suribachi. Wouldn't it be history's crowning irony if America's epitaph were to read "They should have censored a little!"

My least favorite quote of this war, right behind "Bring 'em on!," is Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's assertion that "You go to war with army you have; not the army you might wish you had." I now say to those Americans still hopeful of victory, "You go to war with the national mind-set you HAVE, not the national mind-set you WISH you had!"

And our present mind-set is shamefully inadequate to the task. When I see the president's approval rating for his conduct of the war (that was his strong suit during his re-election campaign.) dip deep into the 30s, I want to grab America by the collar and ask, "Are you bastards too stupid to realize the fruits of a DEMOCRATIC Iraq for America, the Middle East and the world?"

It's almost medical. A spike in casualties is supposed to strengthen resolve. When instead it WEAKENS resolve, look out! That patient belongs in intensive care.

I see one positive ending without our radically changing course. Those who taunt the administration for having too few troops in Iraq are, in one sense, praising our achievement. If the Iraqi masses genuinely hated us as much as many Americans claim (and seem to hope) they hate us, we'd be swept out of Iraq by the public wrath. No. Iraq's is a population hoping America succeeds and a strong decent government results, but they live in fear and intimidation because the insurgency is so strong.

If our casualty-inducing, anti-insurgent sweeps are indeed achieving results, if the Iraqi troops are indeed getting more and more prepared every day to assume their rightful role in Iraq's defense, then the insurgency might wind down like the communist insurgency in Malaysia in the Vietnam era, and if the Iraqi constitution is completed and a unified Iraq faces its future, the Bush administration can then with authority say: "You see. You weren't patient enough. History-changing changes like this take time."

The first week of my higher education could not have been happier. The year before I entered the University of North Carolina, the Texas Longhorns football team had beaten our supposedly invincible Tar Heels 35-0. The next year as a freshman I was one of the happily thunderstruck Carolina students in Chapel Hill's Kenan Stadium witnessing the rawest possible revenge. The first quarter ended 20-0, favor Carolina. Ed Jones, Texas' star lineman, got thrown out of the game for taking a poke at our lineman Bill Wardel. The game ended 35-7, favor Carolina.

As I walked through the woods leaving the stadium while the carillon atop the Bell Tower plinky-planked out the tune of our alma mater, "Hark, the Sound of Tar Heel Voices," I remember thinking to myself: "Can the world possibly get any better? We beat Germany. We beat Japan. And we beat Texas!"

No insult to the faculty of UNC, but I think my greatest moment of real education came just a few days later outside of any organized class. I was walking through one of the classroom buildings on some errand long after class hours and, glancing through one of the open doors, my eye caught an attractive chart a professor had neglected to remove.

I had no idea what it was. It was just a lot of pretty colors in jagged lines headed erratically downward; something like a work of abstract art. Curiosity propelled me into that classroom for a closer look. I'm grateful.

That chart was a linear depiction of the decline of all the great civilizations: Roman, Greek, Persian, Carthaginian, Ottoman, etc.

At that moment of maximum American triumph – 1948 – that chart made me wonder, "Can this ever possibly happen to us?" Don't lay a medal on me for that thought. That was easy. If you want to decorate me, do it for my next thought, which was, "Could the people of those once-great civilizations possibly have reversed their decline through a monumental explosion of national will, cooperation, reconciliation, determination, etc.?"

I didn't know then.

And I don't know now.


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And, yes, the coalition of American news organizations now suing to get more pictures of the Abu Ghraib depravities deserve Ramadan cards from Osama.Get over it!No country in history ever made it easier for its enemies outside and inside to destroy it.It's one of our...
Wednesday, 10 August 2005 12:00 AM
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