The Long Riders

How do our soldiers do it all?

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

The screen graphics, television glitz, punditry, lead-in music — all that hype of the news sometimes disguises the sheer improbability of what we are attempting. Too many forget about the obstacles of time and space altogether. But Iraq is over 7,000 miles away. The weather is windy; sandstorms are common; and sleep is impossible. We are trying to conquer a fascist regime in the Middle East, fighting in a sea of outright enemies or duplicitous friends. The world is turned upside down as a Kuwait is more trustworthy than a France or Germany.

All in the Middle East claim they want democracy; few wish to fight for it; most begrudge those who do. Tactical surprise was lost long ago. In fact, never in the history of military operations have so many troops had to invade so exposed from such a narrow front. Patton yelled to “______ the flanks” and plunge ahead; but even he would have never been so audacious to send thousands barreling nonstop ahead in a narrow motorized column. It took Sherman three months to slice through the Carolinas; Patton romped his 400 miles in two months; we are impatient that it might take us five days to cover the same distance to Saddam Hussein’s bunker.

Baghdad is their target, but Baghdad is also far away, and the path of desert, marsh, and town is choreographed, and progress televised and watched by the world. Most parents do not leave their teens alone on weekends; but hundreds of thousands of them now are driving tanks and trucks to their rendezvous with the Republican Guard, a modern SS mercenary band of killers and criminals. Scuds that we were assured by the U.N. did not exist are launched to kill our soldiers — shot down by Patriot missiles we were told would not work. In response, 48 hours into a war snarly foreign journalists demand proof of Weapons of Mass Destruction — who we know will be silent when evidence of them soon appears.

Meanwhile thousands of Americans ride alone on to Baghdad.

Friends like Turkey bar a second northern front; but once our soldiers take on the enemy, they sneak across the border to intimidate Kurds who are at least real allies. Our bombs are among the most selective in the history of warfare, hitting the headquarters of fascist killers, the modern-day equivalents of Hitler, Goering, Ribbentrop, and Himmler — even as Western journalists ask whether we are seeking a repeat of a Dresden and Hamburg.

CNN tele-journalists are expelled from Baghdad; and in perplexity (given their own slant and bias) they whine that a suddenly ungrateful Saddam Hussein usually was fairer to them than the United States. Arab papers lie that atomic bombs were used. Hamas calls for suicide murdering. Our own New York Times’s headlines blare “Oil Wells Burn” even as we read that less than a dozen, not 600, are ablaze. Its columnists in a time of war call for the resignation of the secretary of state and claim protesters not soldiers under fire are our true heroes. Articles allege that the news is slanted — and in the Pentagon’s favor no less! Most of us in response sigh that at least we are spared from more of the nightly nonsense of Scott Ritter, Dominique de Villepin, and Hans Blix.

And thousands of Americans ride alone on to Baghdad.

The rules of this surreal war are as contradictory as the hoplite protocols of old Greece. We can bomb the headquarters of a terrorist state, but not hit anyone but outlaw generals — as if a criminal society exists only because of the evil of a handful of men who must be distinguished at night from a nation of 26 million. Trenches of oil are ignited to thwart our laser-guided bombs; civilians are put as shields in harm’s way; the sky is lighted up with antiaircraft fire — but a bomb deflected, a missile sent astray is our fault, not theirs. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers surrender as crowds of civilians cheer; in response the Arab Street at a safe distance threatens us with death, and protesters in free societies slur the liberation of those under fascism. Our soldiers must not die, but nor should they kill either; instead they must find a way through lights and fire to scare a Reich into submission.

And thousands of Americans ride alone on to Baghdad.

How do such men and women do such things, against such material, cultural, military, and psychological odds? I don’t know. But in the last year all those who have bet against the Americans now riding into the desert — elite journalists, out-of-touch academics, and self-satisfied Europeans — have been consistently wrong in their shrill predictions that we were either incompetent or amoral or would fail.

Why is this so? It is not merely that so many are so ignorant of history, or that most who are degreed and certified are glib and swarmy, but not educated. No, the better explanation is that they rarely work among, know, see or care about the type of Americans now barreling to Baghdad — who are still a different, and I think, a better sort of people.

And now thousands of them ride on to Baghdad.


©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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