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4. TARAWA, IWO JIMA, OKINAWA AND OTHER BATTLES REMEMBERED: WITH FURTHER THOUGHTS ON THE WAR ON TERROR (Jan. 2004)
Americans don't know what real
war is anymore, and may they never relearn, for real war is to war in Iraq and
Afghanistan what a nuclear strike is to a pileup on a highway.
Tarawa-- one of the epic battles in American history, one of the bloodiest--
recently passed its 60th anniversary, with virtually no notice in the media or
in our consciousness, as if it never happened, and the good world we enjoy-- and
it is a good world by history's standards, whatever its dangers and
challenges-- as if this good world simply popped into existence all by itself
one day, like a sudden mushroom, and wasn't won inch by torturous inch, yard by
It began on the morning of November 20th, 1943, when the 2nd Marine Division, because of a planning mistake, was essentially dumped into the sea off Betio Island in the South Pacific. (Tarawa isn't an island itself, but the name given to a group of small low tropical islands making up the Tarawa Atoll.) A hundred years earlier Betio would have been a nicer place to visit, warm, sandy, palm-shaded, its handsome Micronesians living simply but satisfactorily through farming and fishing, and (the Marines would have appreciated this) sexually free of the party-pooping Judeo-Christian strictures the missionaries would later bring. But 5,000 Japanese had converted the island into a fortress, dug into an amazingly strong and complex warren, and the natives had been sent off to other islands, except for an occasional laborer.
The Japanese Commander, Rear Admiral Shibasaki, was confident his men had prepared well, with some reason, and boasted that "the Americans could not take Tarawa with a million men in a hundred years".
Whether it was even necessary to land on Tarawa (Betio was the main battleground, but the other islands in the Atoll were also seized), whether we simply couldn't have gone around it, as we did so many other islands, has been debated for 6 decades. The overall commander of the invasion's 5th Amphibious Corps, Marine Major General Holland M. ("Howlin' Mad") Smith, later called it "a mistake from the very beginning", and blamed it on the Joint Chiefs forcing the operation. A similar battle today would result in colossal controversy and media frenzy, marches through the country, uproar on our campuses, and perhaps the fall of a President.
There was a furious bombardment and a ridiculously light air attack before the landing, but the Japanese were reasonably safe in their almost impenetrable fortifications, among the strongest on earth, awaiting the Marines with everything from rifles to huge artillery pieces.
The sun had come up. It was getting hotter now, and in the little landing craft miles offshore some Marines were vomiting up breakfast. It wasn't a quick charge to the beach. The craft had to get into formation, in the ocean; the Marines would spend hours bobbing up and down in the sea, more and more of them becoming seasick. Urination was problematical; defecation-- forget it.
And many of the craft had no landing ramps; the Marines would have to clamber over the sides, and lift their equipment over.
Shockingly, coral not covered by sea was visible here and there as the craft headed for the beach. That meant the tides were wrong for the invasion and the bigger craft, which needed deeper water, would be stopped hundreds of yards from the shore. The brass had blown it with the tides, ignoring some warnings. (If they'd just waited 2 days the tides would have been fine, as some Marines would bitterly notice.)
By 700 yards out the landing craft were taking machine gun fire. Soon artillery and mortar fire joined. The firing quickly became furious. Even many of the smaller craft wouldn't make it now, they were being torn up.
And so the Marines went to their deaths. Some never made it into the water, their bodies riddled in the landing craft. Others jumped into the sea, as far out as 700 yards, where the water was over their heads, forced to wade the rest of the distance, those that didn't drown, under withering fire. Some sailors piloting their craft, overwhelmed by fear, refused to go forward, dumping the Marines into as much as 15 feet of water, many drowning horribly, tangled up in their equipment. "This is as far as I go," one coxswain shouted. Many of the Marines still moving forward would keep ducking down into the water, partly to hide, but also instinctively seeking protection though water provides none. Major Michael Ryan, who would receive the Navy Cross, moving shoreward with his men, later said "Looking back, I saw that the men were leaving the boats without hesitation; the courage of these young men, many of them not out of their teens, still is a source of pride to me. These were not fanatical and seasoned troops...but ordinary young people faced with an unimagined horror...."
Nothing awaited them on shore but frenzied struggle for 4 days. The vignettes of courage were endless. Not just the Marines. If some coxswains, so humanly and understandably, had lost their courage, other sailors on shore made up for it, from the endlessly brave Navy Medical Corpsmen who ministered to the Marines to the Navy Seabees-- my father was one, though not at Tarawa-- armed simply with bulldozers, attacking pillboxes with nothing but their loads of sand and coral. Surviving the day's horrors led only to the hell of night-fighting: "it was hand-to-hand again: a nightmare of stabbing and chopping at half-seen figures with bayonet, entrenching spade and rifle butt-- even of desperate clawing with bare hands for the throat or wrist of a shockingly violent and almost invisible enemy who came hurtling and panting on top of you out of the dark." (Derrick Wright, Tarawa)
Look closely at only one hero, Marine Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman, who rallied men pinned down on a long pier, lead them to the beach against terrific fire, then in attacks against installations, and made his stand on top of one defended by several hundred Japanese, until an enemy charge overwhelmed and killed him. His sheer heroism and self-sacrifice, for which he posthumously received the Congressional Medal Of Honor, are overwhelming, but what resonates most strongly with me is that he didn't have to be there, and today he wouldn't be there. He was a Princeton graduate, married, with 3 children, and the owner and operator of a copper mine. He was legally deferrable. Instead, he joined the Marines as a 30-year-old private, and he had already survived another brutal battle, Guadalcanal. His kind, Ivy League, rich, by his picture exceptionally handsome, part of the American elite, virtually never serve today, letting the poor and working class and some of the middle class do the fighting for them, though in the end they gather up more than their share of American wealth. (Of Princeton's 1,000 graduates in 2002, 3 joined the military. A Stanford Professor said in 2002 that in his 10 years at the University only 15 of 15,000 graduates entered the military. And let it be noted, looking at our 535 Congressmen and Senators, many of them howling hawks, only 4 of their children were serving as of 2003 [3 officers, 1 enlisted].)
There were many Bonnymans back then. To try to enter their world more fully, I went to the library and began reading microfilms of the New York Times, starting with late November 1943 and continuing for some months. To read New York Times war coverage from 60 years ago is to enter an alternative universe. (And to make it even more of a Bizarro World, the President leading this war was a liberal Democrat, with huge Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. Who under 50 has memories of Democrats as anything other than anti-military and impotent?)
From the New York Times' Tarawa story, Nov. 24, 1943:
"...our invasion of other islands is progressing well...we invaded...the Central Pacific offensive...is initiating a new and brilliant phase...we are surging ahead...."
"Our". "We". Words it would never use today. Every time I read "our" or "we" I practically jumped. We've gone from the "our" country to the "them", "they", "those", "those people" country.
So utterly different.
From Nov. 27, 1943:
"Major William C. Chamberlain of Chicago, former Northwestern professor of economics, plunged shoulder deep into the water and with his men behind him began walking to the shore in face of direct machine gun fire, and the fire of snipers hidden on the beach....Major Chamberlain was shot through the shoulder but he ignored the wound and for the whole sixty hours, sleepless, he carried on."
Wait, wh, wha?, a Professor of Economics, machine gun fire, what?
Reminds of another Professor named Chamberlain, Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain of Maine, Professor of Rhetoric and Modern Languages at Bowdoin College (where he'd later become President), whose men held the extreme left flank of the Union line at Gettysburg on Little Round Top, those not dead or badly wounded, and, out of ammunition, broke the Confederates with an epic, yelling bayonet charge down the hill, possibly even saving their country, our future.
And, on Nov. 27, 1943, a Times editorial memorialized Col. Gardiner Conroy, Army National Guard, New Yorker, 54, who was killed in the assault on Makin Island, also part of Tarawa Atoll: "A lawyer, successful in his profession...When this Second World War began he was over 50."
After 4 days the battle was won, except for a bit of mop-up. Virtually every Japanese was dead. (17 were taken prisoner.) But the dying wasn't over. Offshore, on Nov. 24, the light aircraft carrier USS Liscomb Bay was hit almost simultaneously by 2 torpedoes from a Japanese sub, and blew apart in a titanic explosion, its human debris landing on another vessel almost a mile away. 645 died.
In a few days of battle, to capture a 1 square mile island, tinier than New York's Central Park, around 1,000 Marines had died (there are small disagreements among sources as to exact numbers), plus 645 on the Liscomb Bay, plus 43 on the USS Mississippi (a battleship one of whose gun turrets was torn by an explosion), plus some 25 to 30 Navy Medical Corpsmen on land, plus 50 to 100 casualties among the coxswains of the landing craft and some other sailors, plus 64 Army dead on Makin Island, and probably a few others. Over 2,500 were wounded.
This, readers, sitting in the warmth and comfort of your 21st Century home, office or school, reading an essay on a computer, is war. Real, staggering, blood-drenched, mind-killing war, and to fight it is like forcing yourself to jump into a furnace. And just yesterday that is what Americans did.
Yet we mustn't think of them as less human (or more human) than us. The cost told on them. They felt, and understood, the horror of what was happening, indeed, more than we do, because they were closer to it, and some questioned the cost, and some raged against it. Especially since there were mistakes made at Tarawa. As what took place on that battlefield became clearer, a questioning tone began to seep into some Times editorials, and elsewhere in the country other editorials were stronger and more challenging. One distraught mother wrote to Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-In-Chief of the Pacific Fleet: "You have murdered my son." Today a President might fall after such a battle, and a war be lost. We fled from Lebanon and Somalia after much less, as some say we should from Iraq. But then, for all the pain, they were unflinching.
Iwo Jima was a larger island, a little less than 8 square miles, and not flat
like Betio. It rose to the height of a 550-foot hill we call Mount Suribachi.
And it was much closer to Japan, just 660 miles from Tokyo, and much later in
the war, Feb. 19, 1945, and this time 3 Marine Divisions would be thrown against
the Japanese, and supported on the island by some Navy and Army units, as well
as the ships offshore. There wasn't much questioning of the need to take it, as
with the previous island, though tactics would be questioned, and rightly so,
and this time the media would be even louder with criticism, and we can see
modern America coming into being. Indeed, my recent reading on WW II has showed
me something I hadn't realized before, that the "casualty phobia" which rendered
Bill Clinton militarily inert, and renders even George W. Bush too militarily
cautious, really predates Vietnam, and even Korea. It dates back to battles like
Tarawa and Iwo Jima, with their enormous tolls in such short time and in such
small places. And this is when the American media circus began too. The first
crude TV image flickered to life in 1927. (Philo Farnsworth's invention), and in
1928 Al Smith's image and voice were broadcast as he accepted the Democratic
Presidential nomination, but wide distribution awaited the end of the Depression
and World War II. (RCA's primitive 12-incher sold for $600 in 1939; you could
buy a car for just twice that. Anyway, the U.S. government suspended TV sales
during the war.) So the American military was able to fight its last war not on
TV. But the media coverage at Iwo Jima was still huge. There were around 100
writers, photographers and radio broadcasters on hand for radio networks,
newspapers, magazines, wire services and picture agencies, American, British,
Australian, plus dozens of military correspondents, plus scores of military
still and motion picture photographers (in color, too), and for the first time
ever the press would be able to send their stories from the battlefield by
radioteletype. Vice Admiral Richard K. Turner and Lieutenant General (he'd been
promoted since Tarawa) "Howlin' Mad" Smith were interviewed on the beachhead by
a CBS correspondent. More than ever war was being sent into the homes and
becoming realer for civilians, and thus harder for civilians to handle.
The modern world was coming-- we can see it in this letter a woman wrote to the Navy, which released it on March 16, 1945:
"Please, for God's sake, stop sending our finest youth to be murdered on places like Iwo Jima...Why can't objectives be accomplished in some other way? It is almost inhuman and awful-- stop! stop!"
Substitute "Iraq" for "Iwo Jima" and this could be a letter to the New York Times or Washington Post in January 2004. (And in the letter we can spot the beginning of the post-War feminization of America-- personal feeling overriding larger social need.)
Yet the truth is, Iwo Jima was a horror. Here we faced not 5,000 but 21,000 Japanese troops, superbly dug into fortifications, armed to the teeth, including artillery, and willing to fight to the end. In the face of such a foe American military doctrine was stilted and unimaginative, continually and simply pressing forward to overwhelm with numbers and ordnance and technology. Slow, straightforward, dig-them-out-yard-by-yard-- a battle that would take 36 days. In the end, 20,000 of the 21,000 Japanese would be dead. 6,821 Americans would be dead, and 19,217 wounded. On the first day alone 600 Americans were killed and almost 2,000 wounded, about 2 years' worth of present-day casualties smashed into a few hours.
With numbers, ordnance and technology-- and a bravery that was holy. Indeed, and I know this sounds hysterical, but you will soon see that it is true, some of the actions of the Marines and sailors can only be called Christ-like. I offer but a few instances, their kind repeated many times.
On March 3rd: Corporal Charles J. Berry and Private First Class William R. Caddy, 21 and 19, both leaped onto grenades, and gave their lives for others. Pharmacist's Mate Second Class George Wahlen, wounded 3 times in 6 days, continued to treat the wounded, crawling to them, till he collapsed. Sgt. William G. Harrell, fighting alone, had his thigh broken and his left hand torn off by a grenade, but he fought on. Another grenade tore off his right hand, but he held his post and fought on, till he was carried off by others. Jack Williams, 20, Pharmacist's Mate Third Class, was shot 3 times in the abdomen and groin, but bound himself up and continued treating others, till he was shot dead. All 5 would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor and, amazingly, Wahlen and Harrell actually survived to accept their Medals.
And this one shook me:
"...[Marine First Lieutenant] Jack Lummus, twenty-nine, of Ennie, Texas, ran out in front of his rifle platoon and was knocked flat by a grenade....He arose, shook himself, and ran forward again, overrunning a gun emplacement and destroying it. Again a grenade downed him, this time shattering his shoulder. Lummus got up, charged and killed every man in a second enemy position, then turned and called his men....Suddenly he was in the center of a powerful explosion, obscured by flying rock and dirt. As it cleared, his men saw him, rising as if in a hole. A land mine had blown off both his legs, the legs that had carried him to All-American football honors at Baylor University. They watched in horror as he stood on the bloody stumps, calling them on. Several men, crying now, ran to him and, for a moment, talked of shooting him to stop his agony.
"But he was still shouting for them to move out, move out, and the platoon scrambled forward....Lummus, amazingly, lived on for a time....'Doc,' he said, 'it looks like the New York Giants have lost a damn good end.'...Lummus was still smiling as he closed his eyes." (Richard F. Newcomb, Iwo Jima)
He too received the Medal of Honor.
How many All-American wide receivers, or point guards, or shortstops would need fear such a fate today? Their fame, their glory, comes in meaningless play, where tragedy is a sprained ankle and heroism means playing with it the next day, and yet they may reap the reward of gods-- panting groupies, colossal cars, gold chains and diamond-spotted rings, houses big enough for a tribe, and more money just for themselves than an entire Marine Division earned in all of World War II. Yet the feathers of their wings are woven from the flesh of heroes they've forgotten.
As at Tarawa, the American elite, not apart then from the others, not isolated or protected by fame or wealth or class or artistry, fought. The Marine's 4th Division was commanded by Major General Clifton B. Cates, who left the University of Tennessee Law School "in the middle of his bar examinations" to join up for World War I, and never looked back. "Howlin' Mad" Smith had also quit the law to become a Marine in 1905. Naval Lieutenant Byron R. White was there. Before the war he had been the nation's top collegiate football player, then the NFL's highest-paid player, and had led the league in rushing for 2 seasons (with the Detroit Lions), while squeezing in being a Rhodes Scholar and attending Yale Law School. Among his later accomplishments would be 31 years on the Supreme Court. Ensign Bill Starr, violinist, of the Kansas City Philharmonic, was there. Sergeant Fritz G. Truan, 27, of the 4th Division, died leading his platoon into battle. He was a World Champion Cowboy in rodeo, best all-around at Madison Square Garden in 1940, and a bronco-riding champion. In 1945 all stood in Honolulu Stadium as his riderless horse was led around the ring. Major George A. Percy also led his men into battle. He had been a New York stockbroker, but quit the job at 45 to join the Marines. Marine First Lieutenant Nion R. Tucker Jr. died on the first day. He was the only son of Phyllis de Young Tucker, one of the owners of the San Francisco Chronicle.
To take 9 square miles of land on 2 islands: Nearly 9,000 dead and almost 22,000 wounded.
Okinawa was the last battle, though no one expected it to be. The invasion of
Japan was coming, and the American casualties were going to be in the 100's of
1,000's, war as Holocaust (and for the Japanese tenfold), and that was
understood and, reluctantly, even bitterly, accepted. (The atomic bomb was kept
secret even from the likes of Fleet Admiral Nimitz and General of the Armies
Douglas MacArthur, though Eisenhower was told.) Before then there would be
Okinawa, a bigger operation than D-Day at Normandy. 1,600 ships brought 545,000
Marines and GI's across the Pacific. Here, 375 miles south of Japan, on an
island of 485 square miles, its terrain murderous for battle, 110,000 Japanese
troops waited, as well dug in as at Tarawa and Iwo Jima. And from Japan would
fly almost 2,000 kamikaze planes, to wreck their havoc and death. 100,000 of the
Japanese would die, not far short of the combined total at Hiroshima and
Nagasaki (variously estimated at 105,000-120,000 initial deaths, others
succumbing later from radiation, wounds and burns). 2,938 Marines would die at
Okinawa, along with 4,675 soldiers and 4,907 sailors. The total American
casualties would be 12,520 dead and 36,631 wounded, in a battle lasting from
April 1 to June 22, 1945.
The ensuing story of struggle, death and heroism is similar to Tarawa's and Iwo Jima's, though on a vaster scale, and just one instance will be detailed here, for what it says of then, and what it says of now.
Unable to take a hill called Sugar Loaf on May 14th, with the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Regiment reduced in numbers from 150 to 40, supplies gone, night falling, Major Henry Courtney called for volunteers for "a Banzai charge of our own." Robert Leckie, a Pacific Marine veteran himself, in his book Okinawa, tells of a Marine he calls the Glory Kid, Corporal Rusty Golar, stepping forward with a grin and saying "I hate to sound like a guy in a dime novel, but what the hell did we come here for?" 19 other volunteers, plus 26 fresh Marines who suddenly appeared from elsewhere, charged up the hill. They still held the top of it at dawn, but only 20 were alive. The battle continued in morning, Golar shouting "Yeah!" as he fired his machine gun, fighting "the battle he had always sought." Most of the Marines with him died, but he kept firing till out of machine gun ammunition, then firing his pistol, then throwing it at the Japanese, then picking up grenades from dead Marines and throwing them, then picking up a dead Marine's rifle and fighting on. He fired till it jammed. He was shot.
"He walked to a ditch and sat down in it, pushing back his helmet like a man preparing to take a snooze-- and there he died."
For this he received no medal, not even the Bronze Star, though Leckie says he "remains a legend in the annals of his gallant corps." Not even a Bronze Star, the same Bronze Star that streams like a titanic Pentagon diarrhea down on the soldiers in Iraq. (By the end of 2003, over 5,000 had been given away. By comparison, the Marines, unwilling to debase the Bronze Star as the Army's done, awarded only 71 as of Sept. 22, 2003.) Meanwhile, Jessica Lynch, little Jessica Lynch, the Army supply clerk, America's sweetheart, who is acclaimed a hero, though she admits she wanted to back out of her enlistment agreement after 9/11, and spent her single combat experience with her head on her knees, cradling herself, and praying "Oh, God, get us out of here," was awarded 3 medals on July 21, 2003-- including the Bronze Star.
We've been looking at the Pacific, which emphasizes Marines and sailors, but in some ways the Army's soldiers were even more heroic, since the Army was primarily a draftee force, the Navy and Marines primarily volunteers. The Army fought hard in the Pacific, but its real hell was the European theater, where it suffered casualties unimaginable today. In the Battle of the Bulge, which lasted from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 28, 1945-- and hit when many soldiers were congratulating themselves that the war was just about over-- around 19,000 Americans were killed, 48,000 wounded.. "In the ghastly weather, you either fought back a bit against the bayonet and the grenade or you took off. If you were wounded outdoors you froze to death within a half hour....The boys were young and they had been drafted and were not terribly well trained." (Paul Fussell, The Boys' Crusade) Overall, 135,576 Americans died in northwest Europe between D-Day and the end of the war, and 586,628 were wounded. The casualties among single divisions are mind-boggling. The 2nd Infantry Division, for instance, suffered 2,999 dead and 10,924 wounded in 303 days of combat starting June 12, 1944. Other divisions too suffered over 2,000 dead. The 4th Infantry Division, which landed at D-Day and fought for 299 days, suffered 4,488 dead and 16,985 wounded. On Utah Beach yet another member of the American elite, its Assistant Commander, fought. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor, and he was a President's son. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., despite his rank, and his age (56), leading the first assault wave in person. And before returning to the present, we must look back at one last unit, the 10th Mountain Division, a winter/ski division, which lost 992 killed and 4,154 wounded in 114 days of fighting in Italy in 1945, and which perhaps more than any unit in the history of the American military attracted the rich and the bluebloods and the Ivy Leaguers and the world-class athletes. One battalion alone was said to contain 10 to 15 of the top skiers in the world. Sergeant Al Nencioni remembers: "A lot of these guys were college guys; they'd been on their college skiing teams, including the captain of the Dartmouth skiing team....The first two regiments probably had the highest IQ of any infantry ever in the history of the Army...They told us the regiment I was in had an IQ of 122, which meant that everyone could go to OCS [Officer Candidate School], but hardly any of them went because they wanted to stay enlisted." Imagine, try, try to imagine the American elite sitting around their fireplaces in the likes of Aspen or Vail today, the Xanadus where they escape from the rest of us, talking of how hungry they are to join up and do their part-- or could they get their kids in?
New world. Different century. Another millennium. If the elite talks of America
at war now, whether in Vail, or Beverly Hills, or the offices of Time
Magazine or CBS, or in the classrooms of Harvard or Berkeley, it is to
verbally spit at it, convinced of the profound wrongness of its course. Time
Magazine chose the American Soldier as Person Of The Year for 2003, but it
seems to be with a sense of pity, for brave and skillful young innocents trapped
and used by amoral and befuddled elders like President Bush or Secretary of
Defense Rumsfeld. It is no mistake (these things never are in the media) that on
the Table of Contents page for this issue, Time silhouettes an American
soldier's head beneath a piece of wall graffiti somewhere in Iraq:
AND WHEN HE GETS TO HEAVEN,
TO SAINT PETER HE WILL TELL:
"JUST ANOTHER SOLDIER REPORTING, SIR.
I'VE SERVED MY TIME IN HELL."
Iraq as hell, a quagmire, Vietnam with sand. All of a piece with these undeniable truths: War is hell. And always bad. Its toll obscene. Dangerous for children and other living things. If only-- we could give peace a chance. If only-- the best were in charge-- to rescue us from this insanity. "Stop, stop!"
But in response I can hear the voices of Bonnyman and Lummus and the Glory Kid now asking: "Where's the war?"
As of late January 2004 America's casualties in Iraq have amounted to 512 dead and 2,916 wounded (globalsecurity.org), and in Afghanistan 100 dead and 300 "seriously injured" (unknownnews.net), over 2 years of warfare that calculate out to 1 typical day on the battlefield in World War II. In truth, all the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan adds up to nothing more than a string of minor skirmishes by World War II standards, and can really be considered more policing than warfare. (Back in the 1980's around 150 on-duty law enforcement officers were killed each year; for instance, 152 in 1983 and 147 in 1984. Did anyone say that police should be pulled out of neighborhoods? [Well, actually, some on the left did.])
By referring to "skirmishes" am I demeaning the sacrifices of those 612? No. Their lives were precious, their deaths tragic and enobling, for a cause beyond themselves. I am being realistic. For what we have accomplished so far in the War On Terror, which some have started calling World War III, the cost has been surprisingly low. Mistakes have been made (as were made in previous wars), including some huge ones (see my first Extended Political Essay, "Bush As Commander In Afghanistan"), and there's actually a chance we could still lose. There's room for criticism of U.S. action (or at least tactics) in Iraq, but the storm that rages against it is of a different kind: One vision of right human conduct against another and, to complicate and embitter things, each demanding acknowledgement of its supreme idealism.
We are faced with the same problem here that faces someone trying to find a religious faith: All who he listens to speak with fervor of their truth. How to choose?
I think the answer is: You with the visions, show me your miracles.
World War II was a miracle or, really what I mean is, its results were, as history goes.
To the left I say: Show me your miracles. Not in a United States, where miracles can happen through the democratic process (the Civil Rights Revolution, the birth of Social Security, which largely ended poverty among the elderly, etc.). Where was your miracle in Rwanda? None, because you wouldn't fight. A vast holocaust followed. Cambodia? None. Because you wouldn't fight. In terms of percentage of a national population killed (30%), the greatest holocaust in human history. Finally, that holocaust was brought to an end by a Vietnamese invasion (done for its own realpolitik, not moral, reasons). Even in the United States, slavery had to be ended by war, a war so vast in its bloodiness it makes Afghanistan and Iraq look like training exercises.
As gays had walls toppled on them and women were forced into illiteracy and home-imprisonment and starvation spread across Afghanistan, where was the left's miracle? None. Somehow the handful of missiles Clinton, momentarily rousing himself from his impotent torpor, threw at the Sudan, didn't do the job. Only war, launched by a figure the left hates with a ferocity I have never seen in my lifetime, has offered some imperfect hope in Afghanistan, some amelioration at least.
Force's opponents have become so divorced from the enraging realities of life on this planet that the possibility of its good use has simply left their mental universe, the way memory leaves an Alzheimer patient's universe. And that is what this essay is about. Memory. We don't study the ungodly heroism of Americans of the recent past, their hard but ultimately idealistic willingness to kill and die, because it's a sensation, an amazing but ultimately irrelevant tour de force like a trapeze act or flame swallowing, but because it is a realistic lesson from our betters. We should open ourselves to-- embrace-- our inferiority to them-- so more among us might shuck off a debilitating "wisdom".
Do I hear the obvious counter-argument? That World War II was a different situation, with a moral clarity now lacking, so worth the vast price? But the price being asked for now is so relatively tiny that it more than offsets any moral ambiguity, which, looked at objectively, is less than the left concedes anyway.
We take stabs at life. We try. We're imperfect. We live materially, but our minds also shoot visions ahead of us and we run to catch up. When an ordinary person jumps on a grenade and sacrifices himself, or smiles and jokes though his body is torn and he feels death settling on, it's because he has incorporated that most appalling experience into a larger and sweeter vision. Potentially, the vision is nonsense. Nazis also jumped on grenades. The survivors find out later who was right. A stronger, tougher, braver, more together, less impatient and critical group of Americans than us did what we probably wouldn't do-- and it panned out. They were on to something. So those who would question the present-day equivalent need to at least show a little humility, a little less self-assurance. The same wild, horrid thing war has actually worked before. Remember, we are dwarfs who live in a mansion built by giants, and we should try to respect and learn from the existential architecture of their lives.
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