Tags: U.S. | Needs | Declare | Total | War

U.S. Needs to Declare Total War

Saturday, 21 June 2003 12:00 AM

Sooner or later, every honest American will admit it was a mistake. Not the worst possible mistake, but a pretty bad one. I'm ready right now.

After 9/11 our leaders had to make a choice. In those early days, when our national mood was molten and malleable, we could easily have been led into a "total war" kind of mood in which every citizen who didn't volunteer some way in the national effort would face and feel public shame.

That's the mood I remember from World War II. We Boy Scouts served as messengers for air raid wardens, while our younger brothers served as OUR messengers, running inside the apartment building and telling Mrs. Brown in apartment P5 to re-adjust her blackout curtains.

No child today could thrill as much to a new Pokemon card in his collection as we patriotic pre-teens did when we were able to paste a new pink 10-cent or a green 25-cent War Stamp in our album, which, when it rose to the value of $18.75, would be traded in for a War Bond.

Our mothers saved fat from the frying pan in mason jars and took them down to the collection point to be converted into explosives. And Daddy was either in uniform, in a vital defense industry, old, infirm, or had a damned good excuse.

For some reason, after 9/11 our leaders chose to shift the nation into the opposite mood. It sounds like satire, but the immediate post-9/11 battle cry from Washington was, literally, "WE will fight. YOU go shopping!"

What Washington really wanted was a nation that would SUPPORT a war on terrorism while looking on and eating peanuts and cheering the good guys from the business-as-usual bleachers.

And it worked well all the way until about a month after victory in Iraq.

I can't be the only American who wants to throw a piano through a plate-glass window as CNN endlessly carps about the number of Americans killed in Iraq since President Bush (ha-ha-ha) told us that the ground fighting in Iraq was over. Or how demoralized our troops are who fully expected to be home by now. Or how devastated their wives and children are to have their men still deployed this long after a victory that doesn't seem so much like a victory anymore.

I claim no supernatural powers, but I sense that those in the media dishing out that line revel in the shooting of our troops and fear the total will be too few to justify their neat little mantra of "An average of one American a day has been killed since the president assured us the war was over!"

I don't want to shoot the messenger. But I've got the right not to like his attitude.

As for slumping morale among our troops – come on, fellows. I've been a journalist and I've been a soldier, and you know as well as I that those stories are what baseball calls a "fielder's choice." At no extra cost I could lead you to troops and units that would give you a happy, thumbs-up assessment of their situation with pride in their achievements and adult acceptance of their delay at being reunited with their loved ones. And that goes ditto for those loved ones waiting homeside for their safe return.

No one except their family members could possibly be sadder than I am at the loss of those Americans killed both before and since Saddam's regime collapsed. But thanks to the "Go Shopping" mood, the anti-Bush, anti-liberation media feel they have the right to try to reclaim the pelt our military success stripped off their hide by now caterwauling about the "almost one a day" lost to enemy activity in post-Saddam Iraq. (To approach their "one a day" average they have to include those lost in vehicle and other accidents.)

Go ahead and accept the grotesque assumption that such loss will continue for a whole year. That's 365 American troops killed! Do you remember how many THOUSANDS of American troops were lost on the FIRST DAY of the Normandy invasion – much less later? We'll defer the same question about Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Tarawa, the Battle of the Bulge, Okinawa and all the many bloody etceteras.

Why was there no anguished American wringing of hands and soul-searching and blame-fixing and second-guessing at that time? Because the national mood at that time, from the Oval Office down to the Boy Scouts of North Carolina, was Total War!

President Roosevelt said after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, "We shall gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God!" And the leader of our British allies, Winston Churchill, said, "I have nothing to offer you but blood, toils, tears, and sweat."

There wasn't much in those messages about going shopping.

Our choice of "modified normalcy" after 9/11 instead of total war depresses our ability to focus American power and maintain momentum to maximum effect in the war on terrorism.

True, we're no longer limiting military operations to bombing from 35,000 feet. True, we're not withholding military punches to ensure zero casualties. But it's got to be lurking in the minds of our political leaders and military commanders that much will be made of mounting American casualties, even if they mount at the rate of just one a day.

Can you imagine generals Eisenhower, Patton, MacArthur and Bradley pausing in their command tents and thinking: "Let's see. We lost a soldier yesterday. We dare not lose another one today lest the dominant media back home in America intensify their cries of 'Who's really winning this war, anyway?' "

Generals involved in total wars think only of how to win. Generals involved in modified normalcy have to tiptoe around these psychological sinkholes on the highway to victory.

President Bush as well as his domestic foes are now well aware that we are merely one more "Nasiriya"-type disaster away from the leave-Saddam-alone forces rising up and saying: "Spit out all that April embarrassment, team. We're making a comeback. Pull out your April notes and review the script. You remember: 'Bogged down!' 'Quagmire!' 'Viet Nam!' "

We will rise to that World War II level of resolution only when we are called upon to do so. When the urging from the leader is NOT "We're in total war" but rather "Don't let terrorism interfere with your next vacation," we will perseverate upon the loss of even one American soldier per day and join the families of service personnel in co-depression that their loved ones, though alive and well, aren't home yet.

From earliest childhood I was taught to "Remember the Alamo!" "Remember the Maine!" and "Remember Pearl Harbor!" When's the last time anybody exhorted you to "Remember 9/11!"

The loudest I ever heard my parents laugh was one night when a Jewish friend from New York who spoke fluent Yiddish came south to visit. He not only knew the language but also had a comedic Yiddish accent to boot, and he regaled them with a story about a Jewish soldier who was running so fast from the front lines he literally ran into his captain and almost knocked him down.

"Why aren't you with your unit up at the front, soldier?" demanded the captain.

The punch line, which was much funnier in Yiddish, was "Good God, man – you can get KILLED up there!"

(The history of Israel fortunately amended that template of the Jewish fighting man.)

Those who join the all-volunteer military are quite familiar with the downside possibilities of their chosen career. Are they unhappy they're not already home? You bet they are. Do they want to find and wring the exaggerating necks of those cut-rate Cassandras who promised that all Iraqis would welcome our troops and thank them for their liberation? Definitely.

Dogs bark. Horses neigh. Troops gripe. But I don't believe our American troops in Iraq would initiate a whimpering campaign or even participate in one if CNN didn't stick a microphone in their faces and insist on one.

And about the facts on the ground in Iraq?

I wished and believed the entire Iraqi population would arise in unison and hug and kiss the liberating American and British troops.

Some of that happened. In fact, a lot MORE of that happened than our mysteriously anti-American media like to let you know. But it wasn't a landslide.

Why? Fear! The Iraqis remember 1991, when Saddam was totally defeated but nonetheless arose again. How do THEY know the thickness of our resolve to stay there?

The Iraqis must be excused for their fear. The Saddam leftovers and Ba’ath Party holdouts are warning, "We'll be back."

In 1956 an American visiting Moscow marveled at the length of the lines of people waiting to view the embalmed bodies of Lenin and Stalin in Red Square.

"Are Lenin and Stalin still so revered by these Russian people?" the American asked a Russian friend.

"No," replied the Russian. "They just want to make sure they're dead."

When the Iraqis are sure Saddam and his Ba'athists are dead, or beyond all possibilities of return to power, THEN they will give us the hugs and kisses I missed so much when the Saddam statues fell. Be patient with them.

Afghanistan. Iraq. We were so close to scaring the sympathy for terrorists out of every terrorism-supporting state on earth. Now, I sense, they're wavering and wondering: "Maybe America's had enough. Or almost enough. Maybe if those Iraqi holdouts kill just a few more Americans, the Americans will say they won and go home."

By the way, there's nothing wrong with going shopping.

And while you're at it, try to pick up something by or about Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

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Sooner or later, every honest American will admit it was a mistake.Not the worst possible mistake, but a pretty bad one.I'm ready right now. After 9/11 our leaders had to make a choice.In those early days, when our national mood was molten and malleable, we could easily...
Saturday, 21 June 2003 12:00 AM
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