In the Eye of the Beholder

Imagine if we’d reported and opined on WWII the way we do now.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

I think Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Henry Stimson, and George Marshall conducted the Second World War brilliantly, despite “thousands of mistakes.” But I can also envision how our present intelligentsia and punditocracy would have sized up their sometimes less than perfect efforts or applied their own reporting to the struggle against Japan and Germany. So imagine something like the following op-ed appearing, say, around May 1, 1945.

The Present Debacle

May 21, 1945 — After the debacles of February and March at Iwo Jima, and now the ongoing quagmire on Okinawa, we are asked to accept recent losses that are reaching 20,000 dead brave American soldiers and yet another 50,000 wounded in these near criminally incompetent campaigns euphemistically dubbed “island hopping.”

Meanwhile, we are no closer to victory over Japan. Instead, we are hearing of secret plans of invasion of the Japanese mainland slated for 1946 or even 1947 that may well make Okinawa seem like a cake walk and cost us a million casualties and perhaps involve a half-century of occupation. The extent of the current Kamikaze threat, once written off as the work of a “bunch of dead-enders,” was totally unforeseen, even though such suicidal zealots are in the process of inflicting the worst casualties on the U.S. Navy in its entire history.

Worse still, our sources in the intelligence community speak of a billion-dollar boondoggle now underway in the American southwest. This improbable “super-weapon” (with the patently absurd name “Manhattan Project” — in the midst of a desert no less!) promises in one fell swoop to erase our mistakes and give us instant deliverance from our blunders — no concern, of course, for the thousands of innocents who would be vaporized if such a monstrous fantasy bomb were ever actually to work.

We are only now coming off even more terrible losses in Europe, after being surprised by a supposedly defeated enemy in the Ardennes where another 20,000 Americans were killed and another 60,000 wounded or missing — again, due to our continued strategic incompetence and abject intelligence failures. Macabre reports of American bazooka shells bouncing off German Tiger tanks and our Shermans ablaze like Ronson lighters have only now come to light as we plow the Belgium countryside for yet another new American war cemetery. Tragically, this is not the first, but the fourth year of this war, when victory rather than endless bloodshed has been long promised.

A number of issues arise. Why is Henry Stimson (“Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail”) still Secretary of War? After the debacles at Pearl Harbor, the Philippines tragedy, the Kasserine Pass disaster, the unforeseen bocage in Normandy, the Falaise Gap escape, the Anzio mess, the fatal detour to Rome, the surprise at the Bulge, the bloodbath at Tarawa, and now the Iwo Jima and Okinawa nightmares, is not five years of his incompetence and arrogance enough? A number of our retired generals seems to agree, who have recently bravely come forward to remind us that Sec. Stimson long ago tried to dismantle key elements of our intelligence services, attempted to curtail the operational command of our Army Air Corps generals in conducting bombings of Europe, and has on more than one occasion intervened to remove targets from Gen. LeMay’s campaign over Japan.

As we see thousands of Americans dying and our enemies still in power after four years of war, it is also legitimate to question the stewardship of Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall. The Sherman tank tragedy, the daylight bombing fiasco, the absence of even minimally suitable anti-tank weapons and torpedoes — all these lapses came on his watch, and the man at the top must take full responsibility for mistakes that have now cost thousands of American lives. Indeed, it is not just that America has worse tanks and guns than our German enemies, but they are inferior even to the rockets and armor of our Soviet allies. The recent publication of “The Sherman Tank Scandal” follows other revelations published in “Asleep at the Philippines,” “The Flight of Gen. MacArthur,” “Gen. Patton and the Atrocities on Sicily,” “Do Americans Execute P.O.Ws?” “Torture on Guadalcanal,” “Incinerating Women and Children?” and “Civilian Massacres in Germany” — publications in their totality that suggest a military out of control as often as it is incompetent.

Such problems start at the top. It is not out of “Roosevelt hating,” but out of the need for truth that requires this paper to remind the American people that Mr. Roosevelt, in whose hands our collective fate lies, has been untruthful to his wife about his liaisons, untruthful to the American people about the extent of his crippling illness, and thus, not surprisingly, untruthful to the United States Congress about the extent of our prewar involvement with the British Empire in its European war and the secret nature of our present commitments.

Recently we have learned that President Roosevelt, the former law school dropout, once again has violated basic freedoms enshrined in our Constitution. Supposed German suspects were subject to military tribunals, tried in secret, and then executed. Tens of thousands of Italians, Germans, and Japanese war-captives are detained in hundreds of American prison compounds, without charges and often in secret. How many were truly captured in uniform, and under what conditions, is never disclosed.

Unfortunately this violation of American values comes not in isolation, but on the heels of the unlawful internment of thousands of American citizens in Western concentration camps, the cover-up of the Cobra disaster in Normandy and the criminally negligent killing of General McNair, and still more rumors that hundreds of American soldiers perished in secret in training exercises on the eve of the Normandy invasion. Yet, the American people to this day have no precise idea how many of their enlisted men and officers have been killed, much less where they perished or how.

Indeed, what little we know comes to light only due to the brave efforts of a few unnamed operatives in the Office of Strategic Services who have in secret provided such information concerning patently illegal activities to the responsible news organizations.

Yet even this government’s propaganda efforts ring hallow, as we noticed with the recently released film footage purportedly showing Adolph Hitler incompetently handling a Colt .45 revolver. In fact, such a weapon, little known in Germany, is hard to load and shoot, especially the early model that the Fuhrer was shown trying to fire. To be fair, his apparent unease is not necessarily proof that Mr. Hitler was unfamiliar with firearms, much less fraudulent in his demonstration of military experience.

Remember as well that these clandestine transgressions of this administration follow a long record of constitutional disrespect — whether trying to pack the Supreme Court with compliant justices, unilaterally turning over our destroyers to the United Kingdom, or, well before Pearl Harbor, ordering, by fiat, attacks on the high seas against German submarines. Such abuses of presidential authority, characterized by intrigue with British agents and unauthorized spying on foreign nationals, go a long way in explaining the German decision to declare war against us on December 8, 1941, presenting the United States with the present catastrophe of a two-front conflict.

We can envision that when this lamentable war is over, fought with such malfeasance, the real heroes will not be Gen. Marshall, Secretary Stimson, or yes-men like Gen Eisenhower, but courageous mavericks such as a Charles Lindbergh or Senator Robert Taft, who long ago warned us that we were provoking an unnecessary war, one that, as they feared, was subsequently to be waged barbarically and yet incompetently at the same time.

The final irony is that we may well end up friendlier with our current fascist enemies than with our Communist allies. It is not hard to envision a policy looming on the horizon that soon coddles Hitler’s current friend Gen. Franco, while opposing his dire enemy Joseph Stalin. We have it on good authority that already there are postwar contingency plans to train and reform the Japanese and German militaries to serve as a bulwark against a Communist Soviet Union and a soon to be Communist China, as America readies for yet another war, one that may last not five, but 50 years. How ironic that a struggle that started out in 1939 to ensure a free Eastern Europe and China may well end up, at best, guaranteeing their enslavement to totalitarians every bit as cruel as Hitler and Tojo.

Citizens should not have to look to our actors and intellectuals for answers, but, in the absence of political accountability, they often do. After the release of The True Story of the B-17 Slaughter, Gary Cooper thankfully came forward to remind us how President Roosevelt took us into a British war that we were utterly unprepared for. Next look for Coop’s recently completed and powerfulAmerican Gestapo this fall. Likewise, Jimmy Stewart remarked from the front lines above Germany (so unlike our president, who failed to serve in any of America’s past wars) that it is hard to know who the real enemy is after we have bombed the children of Hamburg. And Clark Gable is currently preparing a documentary on the Pacific theater, 12/7, that outlines the racist nature of that campaign that seeks the extermination of all the living Japanese we encounter.

Finally, we welcome the upcoming courageous anthology edited by John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner, Worse Than Our Enemies?, that charts the near criminal direction of American foreign policy under this administration’s plans of total and endless war, of preparing for a new imperial conflict against the Soviet Union before the current one with Germany and Japan is even over. It is in this context that the venerable John Ford recently resigned from the Navy, and instead will produce a series of films Why We Shouldn’t Fight that will reveal what was really behind this needless campaign of annihilation against the Japanese.

©2006 Victor Davis Hanson

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