Saturday, June 24, 2006

Two Oregon Vets Talk About How to Win a War

Tonight I was listening to two Oregon World War II veterans (my father and my uncle) talk about how unrealistic the standards are today for our military forces.

My uncle was a medic serving in Europe. He helped liberate a concentration camp. My father was a bomber pilot in the Pacific and was one of the two veteran combat pilots in occupied Japan who flew a circuit over Japan every day as a show of force to the Japanese and to the Chinese.

Friendly Fire Scene

My uncle remembered a “friendly fire” errant bombing raid that resulted in the killing or wounding of 1/4th of his small company. He happened to leave the area where the bombs hit just before they were dropped. Some of his buddies were killed. He wasn't.

Nowadays politicians and the press would be calling for someone to be punished for those deaths and wounded servicemen. But that’s not how you win a war. Mistakes will be made–even horrible mistakes. However, if you are focusing on punishing mistakes rather than winning the war, you won’t take the kind of chances and initiatives necessary to win against a formidable foe.

My uncle also spoke about the difference in how medics acted in the European theater versus the Pacific theater. The Japanese were brutal. They believed in all out war with no holds barred. In Europe when a medic tried to aid a wounded German, the German did not try to kill the medic. That wasn’t the case in the Pacific. The Japanese soldier was brutal and wanted to kill as many Allied soldiers as he could--including medics. Consequently, there were few prisoners taken in the Pacific in comparison to those taken in Europe.

Was this American/Allied brutality at work? By today’s standards, yes. But not by standards of men who wanted to live another day nor by commanders, a president, a congress and a country who wanted to win a war.

Rules of engagement are essential in a winning war, but as control mechanisms directing the military--not as humanitarian principles.

One of the problems with Democratic leaders like Rep. John Murtha and Sen. John Kerry is that their view of war has been molded by a losing conflict.

Unlike the two World War II vets, Murtha and Kerry don’t know what it’s like to fight in a way that wins a war. That’s why they have crazy proposals like redeploy to Okinawa (Murtha) or set a timetable for withdrawal irrespective of military events (Kerry).

Imagine General Patton asking for permission to redeploy his troops to a safe spot. Patton is a hero to one of my Canadian cousins, who was set to be in an invading force that would likely suffer heavy casualties in Germany. But, the mission was scrubbed on the day of deployment because Patton and his troops had made an incredible military drive into the area and taken it.

Or imagine General MacArthur vowing that he would return if Filipinos would show they could stand up for themselves within a year or two--otherwise not.

Patton and MacArthur knew how to win against tough odds and brutal enemies. It wasn’t pretty. There were a lot of U.S. casualties, and there were a lot of German and Japanese casualties. There was even a lot of U.S. and Allied retaliatory brutality. Read Patrick K. O’Donnell’s Into the Rising Sun: In Their Own Words, World War II's Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat.

There was even nonsensical brutality. My father tells of his first mission out over a Pacific island. Because it was his first mission, he was co-pilot with a veteran pilot. They saw a native woman walking along a path in an area where pamphlets had been dropped warning people to stay out of the area. The pilot armed the guns to strafe the area where she was walking. Just as he fired, my father pulled back on the controls so that the plane headed up and sprayed the bullets in the air. The pilot was angry, and threatened my father with a court martial. My father said it was her country; maybe she couldn’t read the pamphlets; and even if she could, she was not a military threat. The other crew members sided with my father. And the pilot didn’t pursue the issue. However, had it been a lone Japanese soldier walking along the path, they would have strafed. They wanted to win the war and that meant killing Japanese soldiers.

War is Hell. General Sherman was right. If you can avoid it, all the better. If not, the main goal is to win. The Democrats, with the exception of people like Sen. Joe Lieberman, have not figured this out yet.

No comments: