Monday, September 24, 2007

The War

Last night I and a World War II Pacific bomber pilot watched the first installment of Ken Burns’ The War.

The War underlines some of the key facts about mobilizing a nation and winning a war. It does this in the engaging, deeply moving way that has become Burns’ hallmark.

President Roosevelt and his advisers realized that mobilizing and maintaining public support was key. Concerns about civil liberties, open government, and free speech and press were secondary.

1. The government didn’t give information on US weaknesses and failures. (Only after the war did the public find out about U.S. military weakness and lack of response to the plight of U.S. servicemen fighting in the Pacific theater.)

2. Reporters had limited access to the war front. (When, after seeing how the Japanese treated American captives, American soldiers killed Japanese prisoners, no one was there to report it--and there is no indication that they would have or could have reported it in any case.)

3. The civilian government ran the war with an eye on political necessity even going against military counsel at times (opening a front in Africa--not Europe).

4. The war effort was 100%

- Tens of thousands of American citizens were deprived of essential civil liberties merely through executive order. Executive Order 9066 forced relocation to camps for Japanese-Americans (and to a much lesser extent German-Americans and Italian-Americans) with the loss of personal and business property that comes with forced removal from one’s home area. And, of course, there was the censoring of every military person’s correspondence home.

- Volunteers poured into the military service.

- Draftees reported without anti-war demonstrations or significant attempts to evade service.

- Citizens invested heavily in war bonds.

(In upcoming installments one expects to see treatment of the extensive nation-wide rationing program and the dropping of the atomic bomb. Both of which had extensive public support at the time--and still today among most of those who served during the war.)

The World War II vet thought it was a good representation of what really happened based both on his personal experience and extensive reading on World War II.

I thought it said a lot about why the US has had trouble winning even small wars since then.

President Reagan’s military-economic “outspend them” tactic has been the only wildly successful plan. Korea is still a mess. Vietnam was a loss. Iraq 1 didn’t settle much. Bosnia is still a trouble spot. Afghanistan has had success but still has smoldering embers. And Iraq 2 is just starting to see progress.

Military might doesn’t do well in a limited engagement format. Our only rousing military success (besides the Revolutionary War) is World War II. What worked then was a massive response (at home and abroad) and “unconditional surrender” policy. That brought not only military victory, but those we defeated actually became our friends and allies.

The War gives a lot to ponder.

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