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Saturday, August 15, 2015

War Is For Victory–Lessons From WWII, Vietnam, And ISIS

This August is the 70th Anniversary of the Allied atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the destruction of those two Japanese cities has been the subject of revisionist review.  Those who regret the use of nuclear weapons contend that Japan was already a defeated nation and just the threat of an Allied Normandy-style invasion would have made them capitulate. A little bit of patience, these critics say, would have saved thousands of Japanese civilian lives, and would have kept  the most horrific weapon the world has ever known in its silo.



While there is always room for debate concerning any political or military decision, especially one as significant as dropping the bomb, few can contest that the action accomplished all that it had intended. Japan capitulated soon after Nagasaki; the Russians were put on notice; and the world was told in no uncertain terms that not only was the United States a universal superpower, but it had in its hands an almost Biblical power of annihilation and total destruction. In a few seconds it became the incarnation of  Siva the Destroyer and the Old Testament God.

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There is so much patriotism surrounding America’s role in WWII because its victories were total, undeniable, and unequivocal.  Both Germany and Japan submitted letters of unconditional surrender and would for decades be beholden to their conquerors.

The wars in Japan and Europe were just wars.  Germany had invaded Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France with no provocation; and Hitler’s ambitions were clear.  He would not stop until Europe and the world was under his rule. Japan had also attacked without provocation, and the almost total destruction of the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor was indeed ‘A day that will live in infamy’.

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Soldiers went off to war with no issue or complaint.  The threat to America was clear and present.  The Nazis and the Japanese had to be stopped at all costs. Although of course field generals and American high command considered US military casualties, there was no thought about enemy civilians.  The Allies firebombed Dresden and Tokyo killing thousands; and if Curtis LeMay had had his way, Japan would have been bombed back to the Stone Age.  There were no such thing as ‘collateral damage’.  The Pentagon knew that the wholesale destruction of European and Japanese cities and significant civilian casualties would erode the enemy’s will to win.

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Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman was one of the first exponents of this total war approach to military strategy.  He deliberately marched through populated urban areas of the South to demonstrate his power and ruthlessness.  As far as Sherman was concerned, the South would never, ever rise again.

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Something happened to American resolve after WWII.  Although General MacArthur argued strongly for marching north of the 49th parallel in Korea and taking the fight to the Chinese whom he knew he could defeat and with victory eliminate or at least set back Chinese neo-imperial ambitions.  Truman demurred, publically criticized MacArthur and summarily dismissed him.  No one can predict the ultimate outcome of war, especially when one tries to look decades in the future; but there was certainly a case to be made for an all-out, punishing war against North Korea and China.  The stalemate the resulted from Truman’s decision to hold the line was a defeat for the United States and a victory for North Korea and China.

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The political and military history of the War in Vietnam is well-known.  It was fought as much by Washington civilians as it was by generals and colonels in the field.  The United States misunderstood Ho Chi Minh’s nationalism and Vietnam’s hatred of China; and complete underestimated the resolve of the Viet Cong and the NVA. If that wasn’t bad enough the US stuck with an unreliable puppet government in the South, and embarked on an idealistic and totally futile ‘war for the hearts and minds’ of Vietnamese civilians. LBJ thought that American exceptionalism would win out, and that the country would be one over once its citizens had seen and understood America’s goodness.  Although Nixon was merciless in his bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Haiphong Harbor, he resisted calls to annihilate Hanoi in a Hiroshima (although not necessarily nuclear) type assault.  With the calls to respect civilian lives and the consequent hesitation to wage all-out war; the political disarray in Washington; and the military savvy of General Giap, the US never had a chance.

America has never been more vulnerable, inchoate, and weak. The second war in Iraq, whether justified or not, was never prosecuted to assure victory.  The United States once it invaded Baghdad should have set up a punishing occupation in which no breaches of peace or security would be tolerated.  Looters, guerillas, and terrorists should have been blasted from their neighborhood redoubts regardless of civilian casualties. President Bush should have prepared the country for a long stay with specific objectives in mind.

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Of course none of this was possible given the sensibilities of the American electorate.  Killing civilians to attain a military objective was a no-no; and that the hearts and minds of a complaisant if not enthusiastic Iraqi population would be the reward. As a result, the country fell apart along ethnic and religious lines, sectarian violence escalated, and since there was no moderating, controlling occupying army, local militias could do what they pleased.

Afghanistan has been no different.  The US has been totally out of its league when confronting a radical Islamist movement that has only victory in mind.  Civilians to the Taliban have no intrinsic value.  They are either destroyed in the course of war, used as a protective defense, or bargained as poker chips.

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Unbelievable thought it may seem, the current American Administration has hamstrung itself about the use of drones.  Moralistic handwringing over – you guessed it – civilian casualties, has hampered the use of this highly sophisticated tool of war.  Of course civilians will be killed in even the most surgical strike.  They are not collateral damage but military damage, harboring Taliban and other extremist militants.

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Similarly, the US has been more than tentative and circumspect about attacking ISIS with no holds barred.  They refuse to acknowledge the total victory approach of Israel.  Although Israel stopped just short of total annihilation of Gaza in the last conflict, the IDF certainly both damaged Hamas’ military infrastructure and sent an unequivocal message to Palestinians – “You will never win”.

The Geneva Convention was the result of old European pre-WWI gentleman’s rules of engagement; and an idealistic American sense that war should be fought civilly and morally. Even the most casual observer can see that most countries do their best to stockpile chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons; and to use any strategic advantage available to them.  Groups like the Taliban and ISIS profoundly believe that their victory – the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate – is worth any means to achieve it.  If beheadings, rapes, burning at the stake, and crucifixions will put the world on notice of the seriousness of their intent, so be it.

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While the Geneva Convention might have had some influence decades ago, if anything it has made war more acceptable.  A war fought with no holds barred is one to avoid at all costs.  One played by gentlemen’s rules is worth a try.

Since any pretense of civility in war is long gone, then any country deciding to choose armed conflict better be in it to win.  The sooner the savage, barbaric ISIS forces of evil are destroyed, the sooner their inhumanity will cease.

Anyone old enough to remember WWII bridles at the current tentativeness, moral posturing, and refusal to adopt an ‘ends-justifies-the-means’ approach to war. Wars are for winning, and if American soldiers are going to die, then they should die in a victorious cause, not like the sorry, failed efforts in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The Administration of Barack Obama is winding down, and it is clear that he feels his legacy is tied to peace at any price. He has concluded a disastrous idealistic deal with Iran, he refuses to attack ISIS with unmatched military might, and he is still hiding behind progressive curtains of diversity and cultural relativity.

One can only hope that the next Administration is Republican, for the GOP has always shown itself – for all its faults – to be unsparing in its views of radical Islam.  President Obama until recently was reluctant to even name the enemy.

Wars will always be part of life.  Ever since the dawn of civilization families, tribes, ethnic groups, religious movements, regions, countries, and empires have fought to the death.  Since human nature is not about to change, it is high time that America seriously prepare for war. Leave all moral, exceptionalist, idealistic baggage behind and get serious about victory.

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