American soldiers are as impressive abroad as we are embarrassing at home.
by Victor Davis Hanson
These are not really dark times. Rather I think in some ways they are among the finest in our history. No other country would or could send its youth 7,000 miles away to end fascism, implement consensual government, and adhere to its principled mission amid cynicism, cheap caricature, and increasing danger.
Let us pay little attention to a commission of ex-politicians, media-hungry know-it-alls, and Washington insiders. In the current 9-11 hearings, along partisan lines and to the hisses and applause of the stacked gallery, grandstanders have tried to take apart a government even as it wages war for our national survival. None of our ancestors would have entertained such a circus—haggling over Roosevelt’s culpability for Pearl Harbor as Americans were dying at Okinawa.The performances of Mssrs. Ben-Veniste and Kerrey, along with Ms. Gorelick, are so self-contradictory, so at odds with their own past recorded statements, and so patently partisan that they have managed in a space of a few days to question what heretofore have been mostly reputable careers. So pay no attention to them at all. Any good that will come out of such an investigation in the midst of a terrible global war has already been forfeited by the commission’s election-year timing and cheap manner of inquiry. If we wished to win this war, it would be far better instead for Americans to review those so rarely played tapes of the falling towers, the innocents jumping from so high above, the toxic cloud that engulfed the city, and the mug shots of those creepy Middle Eastern mass murderers than to allot blame to us rather than to them.
Let us pay no attention either to a series of pundits, senior statesmen emeriti, and public triangulators who opposed the Iraqi war, then quickly got on board after the three-week victory (“we are all neoconservatives now”)—only most recently in their infinite wisdom they claim that the entire enterprise was flawed and mistaken from the outset as the Marines renew war in the streets of Fallujah. If in two weeks, the US military crushes Mr. Sadr, disbands his militias, and subdues the Sunni Triangle, as the Iraqi interim government suddenly basks in its reflected glory, these same critics will metamorphosize yet a third or fourth time into supporters of “remaking the Middle East landscape.”
No, instead let us think today only of American soldiers and the cause for which they fight. Never has America fielded more skilled warriors or sent them into battle for a better cause—the security of thousands of Americans at home and the promise of something better for millions abroad. Any scarred veteran of a past age—a Macedonian, Roman, Ottoman, Russian or Englishman—would warn us that even an imperialist does not go into the Balkans, Afghanistan, or the Mesopotamia for lucre. These are not nice places and their perennially murderous and internecine clans historically unite only to turn on the invader. Yet into precisely these desolate realms the Americans have gone to rid the world of Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein, the latter all in their own singular ways worthy successors to the spirit of a Hitler or Stalin, their evil inferior only by magnitude rather than intent. Seeking not tribute or oil, our soldiers have deposed such monsters and in their place implanted the seeds of democracy—and succeeded entirely due to their own skill and élan rather than the uniform support and attention of us at home who sent them.
How many times did prominent Washingtonians assure us that the Balkans were our graveyard, that the peaks of Afghanistan would be our Little Big Horn, or that Iraq is a modern Sicilian Expedition? And how many other ignorant elites assured us of secret Afghan pipelines and Enron’s designs on the Iraqi oilfields? The more banal truth all along was such battlefields held no profit, but rather much danger—that was trumped in every case by the skill and courage of the American soldier, mostly to silence back home. I reckon that for the ultimate health and safety of this nation one American Marine in Fallujah is worth more than the entire 9-11 board of inquiry in Washington—and I would prefer a single American officer to a hundred of those grandees who assure us that what we are doing is either wrong or impossible.
This past week the enemy has made a grave mistake by coming out of the nocturnal shadows to face at last the American soldier in daylight and in a shooting war he cannot win. Indeed, all that stands between the Iraqi insurgents and their own annihilation is our own sense of American self-restraint and doubt. In his latest boring fatwa, Bin Laden is asking for terms—worse still, mimicking the American Left’s litany of hatred against Halliburton, oil companies, Zionists, Israel, and the associated bogey-men who, he thinks, have exiled him to his cave. Mr. Sadr is sending mixed messages from his Arafat-like rubble pile. Those in Fallujah claim they suddenly prefer a cease-fire to paradise. None of these ogres are conciliatory because they like us, but rather because they are only now beginning to fear us—and they are beginning to fear us only because the American military is far better than they and if let loose will make short work of them all.
The world is watching the Baathist and Islamic warriors of the Sunni Triangle and the Shiite militias and what they see they most surely do not like—for these fascists and theocrats are as foul and odious folk as they are on the wrong side of history. For a year now our soldiers have privately assured us that they were dealing with an enemy primordial and cruel. Now with the proof of filmed executions, desecration of the dead, the macabre hostage taking, and the shooters caught on tape firing from mosques and schools, the global community at last sees that this really is a war between civilization and barbarism, and one, for the world’s own sake, we Americans cannot and will not lose.
At a time when bin Laden assured the Middle East that Americans were weak and decadent, the US military tore apart the most fanatical and savage fighters of a savage Middle East—the only reprieve came from diplomats who fretted about the rhetoric of the hapless Arab Street. Far better than we at home, our soldiers grasped that fighting fascists for consensual government is a noble cause and should have been the source of great pride among the American people.
No, despite all the chaos in Washington, these are not bad, but rather noble times, among the best I think in our history. So let us remember the famous words of Virgil –indeed perhaps the most moving in all of Latin literature.
Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit
“The day will come when even this ordeal will be a sweet thing to remember.”
And so it shall be when it is all said and done.
© 2004 Victor Davis Hanson