Allow me to present a little bit of my background here so readers can more readily understand the point I am trying to make. The point I am not trying to make is teaching history to readers. Also, certainly I am not about to present a concise treatise on American military history. That said, the reader will be exposed to a brief review of our military tradition.
Back about a half century ago, as a tenth grader, I became enthralled with the subject of American military history. I have been a student of the topic ever since, and, true to form, I hold a degree in history and became an educator in the field of (naturally) American history with a self-described specialty in our military encounters. True to the faith of my background, I later, in 1971, volunteered for the United States Marine Corps during a major conflict, the Vietnam War. My interest in American military history was not purely academic. It is a part of who I am. Today, I am still fighting for my country. My weapon - the pen.
I am going to bypass the era of Manifest Destiny, thus the Mexican War, the Indian wars, and the Spanish/American War. These wars represent American imperialism, and, thus, the subject of another story and is far from the subject of this article.
The subject of this article is American heroism and might when our form of government and our way of life have been imperiled by others. Notice I did not say "other nations" or "foreign powers," because the first subject of this brief historical review is our own brutal and destructive Civil War. This war began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter near Charleston, S.C. The goal of the Confederate States of America was to split our country in two, and President Lincoln would have none of that. For the first seventeen months of the war everything seemed to go the way of the Confederates, and even our capital was threatened. That all changed on Sept. 17, 1862, when Confederate forces were roundly defeat at Antietam, Maryland. In July, 1863, General Lee's forces were once again defeated at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Miss., fell, splitting the Confederacy in two. For the United States, the turning of the tide toward victory required a mere seventeen months. The Civil War lasted almost four years to the day.
The War to End All Wars, otherwise known as World War One was ignited for the most ridiculous of reasons, the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by a Serb assassin on July 28, 1914. Various alliances between the major powers of Europe caused them to fall into the abyss of war like lemmings over a cliff. The trench warfare was brutal, thousands dying for a yard of dirt and northeastern French cities and towns were reduced to rubble. The eastern front involving Russia was no less brutal. To simplify matters, the United States entered this war on the side of Great Britain and France on April 6, 1917, due to Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare, which was sinking neutral ships, to include American ships. By this time, Britain and France were nearly bankrupt from the war. Most historians agree that once the U.S. entered the war victory for the Triple Entente (Britain, France, and Russia) was virtually assured. Immediate gains were made. Without American help, Paris might have become a German provincial capital and Britain a German island colony. Our involvement in this war lasted one year and seven months.
The seeds of World War Two, the most destructive war in the history of mankind, were sown by World War One. Victorious Britain and France wished to subjugate the losers, Germany and the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. The proud people of Germany and Austria, known for their militarism, did not take kindly to subjugation by foreign powers and turned to fascism created by the Italian ruler, Mussolini. Germany, led by a fanatic named Adolf Hitler, created its own version of fascism and called it Nazism, a blend of super powers by the central government in alliance with huge private corporations who benefited by monstrous military spending, played a role in governance, and controlled the media. The war began with the German invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, although arguments have been made that the war began in 1937 with Japan's invasion of Manchuria. Most historians prefer the September date, however. Once again in the early stages of the war, everything went the way of the aggressor nations, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Their successes were stunning, and with France's surrender on June 22, 1940, Britain was alone in trying to restrain the mighty Nazi war machine. It was a dark moment for democracies.
Incredibly, Japan made an egregious strategic error of the first magnitude. On Dec. 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy," the Imperial Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbor without the benefit of first declaring war on the United States. The massive industrial power of the United States, who could build the tools of war in enormous amounts without being hindered by bombing raids, was added to the equation. The tide began to turn rather quickly for the Allies. On May 4-8, 1942, the U.S. navy scored a victory over the Japanese navy at Coral Sea. A short month later, June 4-6, the American navy delivered a knockout punch on Japan at Midway. Four extremely valuable and irreplaceable Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk along with the loss of hundreds of Japan's best and equally irreplaceable pilots. Germany's reverses began as well in 1941. Most historians agree that once the U.S. entered the war victory for the Allies was virtually assured. Germany finally conceded in May 1945. Millions died in the European fight, and a vital and industrious nation was totally destroyed. Japan followed suit on Aug. 14th after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on her homeland. This mother of all wars lasted three years and eight months insofar as U.S. involvement is concerned.
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Would the madness of war finally end following the unparalled brutality of World War Two and the use of a destructive weapon only the devil could conceive? Would the Earth's community of nations finally agree that in war the enemy is war itself?
Sadly, the answer is no. A brief five years after World War Two ended, Communist North Korea attacked her democratic neighbor to the south on June 25, 1950. The world was again plunged into a disastrous war. This one could easily escalate into a confrontation between the Western powers led by the United States and the Communist lethal war machines of Red China and the Soviet Union. Mother Earth sighed again. Not to be repetitive, again the aggressor had all the successes early on. The North Korean divisions nearly pushed the South Korean and American divisions into the Korean Strait. However, once the U.N. forces led by the U.S. launched their offensive the tide turned quickly. By November the N.K. armies were pushed back to the Yalu River, their northern border. Their neighbors to the north were Red China and the Soviet Union. On Nov. 26, 1950, China reacted by sending in one million soldiers to aid her N.K. friends. Back down they came on the Korean peninsula to the 38th Parallel, the original boundary between Korea, South and Korea, North. There the opposing forces fought to a stalemate until a truce was finally declared on July 27, 1953. This war, sometimes dubbed the Forgotten War, was unusual in a few respects. First of all, it ended the American string of stirring victories in major combat operations, because the war historically is labeled a stalemate. This is offset by the fact that the only way to end this war in victorious terms was to attack China. At the time, all agreed that was a disastrous course of action except the ever popular Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who President Truman fired on April 11, 1952. The war was not a war at all. Congress never declared war on North Korea or anyone else for that matter. The conflict is called a "police action." No treaty was ever signed between North and South Korea. To this day, technically speaking, the two countries are still at war. The Korean War spanned a period of three years one month.
All this is pretty heady stuff for a high school grad, class of '61, later a college grad (1965), still later a young educator and, later yet, a young Marine officer. I was fully convinced American military prowess had no equal. So it is then that the current military situation in Afghanistan and Iraq saddens me greatly and sickens the heart. My beliefs regarding benevolent American might are being assailed by events and shame, not the least of which is American violations of the Geneva Convention and the use of military expediency to deny Americans basic rights under the Constitution. This shatters not only my childhood beliefs in the sanctity of America, but also the adult version of the same beliefs but tempered by reality. Two reviews follow, the first not so good, the second a glorious revival of American military mastery.
To present a capsule view of the Vietnam War, of which I had a role, still another undeclared war, is impossible. It had its beginnings during the Eisenhower administration of the late '50's and did not end until the Nixon administration of the early '70's. That's a bit too much ground to cover in a paragraph. So, I will skip to the conclusion of this complicated conflict. It can be argued with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight that Vietnam was a precursor to our current difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter experiencing a resurgence of the Taliban and the ruthless al Qa'ida, the former a military debacle and a strategic disaster created by an American invasion based on lies and distortions emanating from the White House. Vietnam illustrated an American weakness. With all our tremendous military prowess, our high tech weaponry which can defeat any army, any air force, any navy in the world, we seem to have a great deal of trouble defeating an insurgent militia with small arms, small artillery, hand-held rockets, IED's, and suicide bombers. This was true in Vietnam. It is true today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many historians agree that America was defeated in Vietnam. Reluctantly, I agree with two caveats. American military forces never lost a major engagement in Vietnam. Speaking as a Marine, the politicians in Washington would not allow us to win this war. We could not attack the enemy because he was on the wrong side of a river. I understand. Many would disagree with the last two statements, but they are mine, and I stand by them. They are also beyond debate. Life is too short.
Following the Vietnam conflict, the American military was totally demoralized. They suffered defeat before an enemy that just kept coming despite enormous losses. We withdrew from the field of battle. Ignominiously, we quit. Can you say shame. Vietnam vets were reviled by our citizenry who viewed them as child killers while fighting doped up on opium and heroin readily available in Saigon. Even federal government agencies abandoned the Vietnam vets as not being true war veterans. The Marine Corps kept its head above the waters of derision, keeping its pride, only because it was so small. The draft was abandoned, and the American military became an all-volunteer force. That was a beginning. By any standards this war was very long and very dubious in terms of results. Today we are faced with a similarly disheartening scenario in terms of longevity and results. Pray that I am wrong.
Then came the Gulf War. Remember the yellow ribbons? Remember the pride in our military? Remember the adulation for our President? This was a righteous war fought against an aggressor nation that invaded another. The world supported the war with a huge coalition, and historians generally regard it as the most efficient war in man's history. As wars go, this was a good war, primarily because it was so short and lofty goals were achieved quickly. On Aug. 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Kuwait. It took President George H.W. Bush some time to line up U.N. support, the huge coalition, but mostly getting the troops in place a half a world away. On Jan. 17, 1991, Desert Storm was launched consisting of a devastating air attack on Iraqi forces and their command and control centers. Ground operations began on Feb. 24th. By end of February it was all over. When it all began, the Iraqi armed forces were rated the fourth most powerful in the world. In less than two months, Iraq was suddenly a minor power, if that. Following the Gulf War, a malignant world power was reduced to a mere shell of itself and posed no threat to anyone. U.N. embargoes and the Northern and Southern No-fly zones monitored primarily by U.S. and British aircraft ensured that Iraq's impotence would continue as long as Saddam's heinous regime existed.
September 11, 2001. Having carefully monitored events since that fateful day, having pride in our great country and its past heroic military achievements, it is painful to the extreme to recount events since that day. The horrific mistakes made in the name of our country; the torture mills, the near total ineffectiveness of our troops through no fault of their own, and assaults on our very Constitution by the Executive Branch with the duplicity of the Legislative Branch is enough to make a grown man cry. Indeed, there are times I do.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Al Qa'ida led by Osama bin Laden, quartered in Afghanistan and under the protective umbrella of the Taliban rulers there, attacked the United States. With meticulous planning over a period of years, perhaps dating back to their failed bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, Al Qaida terrorists flew two airliners into the WTC, a third airliner struck the Pentagon, while a fourth never reached its target, perhaps the White House or the capitol. The latter crashed near Shanksville, Penn. Notwithstanding the enormous impact of this attack, all things considered, things went rather well at first. America received enormous sympathy and support from around the world, and President Bush's popularity soared to heights Presidents only dream about. He was our Commander-in-Chief. We were viciously attacked by a wicked enemy. Enormous anger replaced enormous sadness, and Americans sought vengeance. Soon, we got it. A huge coalition of forces attacked Afghanistan on Oct. 7. The Taliban was soon routed, and al Qa'ida was on the run. The search for the most wanted man on Earth was on. Victory and closure was imminent. Earlier, mistakes were mentioned. Because of them, six and a 1/2 years later, we are still there, still fighting, and Osama is still happily producing videos and audios while secure in his Pakistani hideaway. Worse, both the Taliban and al Qa'ida are resurging. How could this be? The answer is our military strength was diverted toward a nation that had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 and "posed no threat to anyone," least of all, America.
The very first crucial step in war is proper enemy identification. As the reader has seen, ordinarily, that does not require a doctorate's degree. That crucial step, however, has proven to be an insurmountable task for Bush. Columnist Robert Scheer writes, "In the name of fighting the 9/11 terrorists, the Bush administration overthrew the one Arab government most adamantly opposed to the Saudi financiers of that son of their system, Osama bin Laden. Instead of confronting the royal leaders of a kingdom that supplied 15 of the 19 hijackers, we invaded a nation that supplied not a single one. While Bush overthrew Saddam Hussein, who had no ties to the hijackers, he embraced the leaders of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the only three nations in the world that had diplomatically recognized and supported the Taliban sponsors of al-Qaida." It should be added that Saddam was a virulent enemy of al Qa'ida, because the latter was a deadly threat to his regime. Saddam simply did not allow the presence of al Qa'ida in Iraq.
Equally shameful, is why we attacked Iraq. Most know now what I and a few others knew in March 2003. There was virtually no reason to attack Iraq. There was a plethora of reasons not to. And with the war now over five years old, those reasons are raising their ugly head. We commenced the ruthless invasion of Iraq based on false premises rooted in manipulated intelligence and lies from the White House. Do not allow anyone, Tenet's memoirs, Rumsfeld's memoirs, Bush, Cheney, Rice -anyone- tell you that that the intelligence was flawed other than to agree it was flawed because it was manipulated, put a different way, manufactured. Lies? For years after March 2003 a vast majority of Americans thought Iraq had some hand in 9/11. Incredible, but why? Because Bush and Cheney said so, many times.
So, here we are over five years later. We are no closer to ending this thing then when Baghdad fell in early April 2003 or the "mission accomplished" fiasco in May. I am afraid the matter is actually worse than ever. Muqtada al-Sadr's bunch, the Mahdi Army, may soon declare war on the Iraqi government, ending only with liberation from American occupation. Al Qa'ida of Mesopotamia is resurging, trying to prove Bush's surge was an utter failure. Also, characters in Iraq, al-Sadr, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, al Qa'ida, even the mullahs of Iran could determine the outcome of the American Presidential elections. The National Defense University, the Pentagon's own premier military educational institute, has labeled Iraq "a major debacle" and the outcome "is in doubt." It can be argued that Bush made an egregious strategic blunder similar to Japan's outrageous strategic blunder at Pearl.
Could matters get any worse? Where Bush is concerned, that always seems to be the case. How about turning the entire Iraqi crisis over to a theater commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus. Bush has declared that whatever David wants, David gets, even at the cost of David's immediate superior, Adm. William J. Fallon, who recently resigned, and in defiance of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are rather concerned that the army is simply worn out, too many stop/loss victims, 15-month tours in Iraq (unprecedented, by the way, even during WWII), and far too many tours in Iraq while the states' militia, the National Guard, are equally stressed. Politically, the surge has failed. Iraqi leaders have accomplished very little during the respite the surge provided, and that respite is about to end, if it has not already.
It is time to sensibly leave Iraq, and sooner is better than later.
During my lifetime, I have been accused of many things. To one particular charge, I plead guilty. I am a devout American patriot. I proved that by committing my life to the defense of my country. During these times, that compassion has grown even stronger. Why? I see a threat to our very existence, America as we know it. The U.S., with its criminal invasion of a sovereign nation that "posed no threat to anyone," has earned the enmity of nations. Even the mighty United States cannot stand alone, and history proves the mighty have fallen, the Roman Empire, the Egyptian Empire, the British, French, Spanish, so many empires. Each fell from within, destroyed by its leadership. The Iraq war is costly from every standpoint, human tragedy and the spending of funds we do not have, making us financially subservient to nations like Red China. Our economy could collapse - is collapsing - and the Iraq war is serving no purpose other than to enrich the corporate powers supporting the Bush administration, some of whom have transferred their corporate headquarters to tax haven nations. In the meantime, the corporate media cooperate by teaching Americans to be ignorant. By both omission and commission, the mass media is turning Americans into mushrooms, living in the dark and surviving on excrement.
What a way to fight a war.
Sandy Shanks is the author of The Bode Testament and Impeachment and is also a retired columnist who specialized in political/military affairs.
I am the author of two novels, "The Bode Testament" and "Impeachment." I am also a columnist who keeps a wary eye on other columnists and the failures of the MSM (mainstream media).
I was born in Minnesota, and, to this day, I love the Vikings (more...