July 02, 2004

ATTRITION

As I finished the Band of Brothers series the other day, it was hard not to view the end of WWII through the lens of the war in Iraq. Germans were forced to bury the dead bodies in the concentration camp. Civilians were threatened at gunpoint; some were shot. The soldiers made it to Eagle's Nest and looted Hitler's stuff. There were so many images that I knew we could never get away with today.

Does Dick Winters feel bad about taking Nazi silverware or Lewis Nixon for drinking Hitler's booze? Does Ronald Speirs regret making a souvenir of the Nazi flag? I hope not. Did David Webster feel guilty about taking his anger out on a raving shopkeeper after liberating a concentration camp? He shouldn't have to. Should Easy Company have forced regular German citizens to clean up the concentration camp and bury the emaciated bodies? Perhaps. That's what a war of attrition requires.

Some have written lately that this war won't be won with our accommodating nature. The only way to win a war, they argue, is to kill. Or crush the enemy's spirit. We don't do that today. We drop food rations with bombs, and we apologize for Abu Ghraib while one by one our contractor's heads are being ripped off. We're too damn nice.

The fact is, we Americans do not like staring into the face of evil. It is in our progressive and optimistic nature to believe that human beings are basically good, or at least rational. When we stare into a cave of horrors, whether it is in Somalia, Beirut or Tikrit, we see a tangled morass we don't understand. Our instinct is to get out as quickly as possible.

Amritas has a wonderful post up asking many questions that don't have clean answers: Will we get our investment back? Is it worth it? If the US isn't going to take advantage of their forces in Iraq soon, why bother? Is it really 'noble' for American Soldiers to sacrifice themselves to rebuild and police another nation when they could be doing their real job: defeating the enemy? How do we win the War of Ideas?

I add another: Can the war be won while being nice?

The Germans were done. They surrendered, turned over their weapons, marched dutifully to POW camps, and accepted defeat. The war was over. Iraq is not the same game. There will be no surrender, no dutiful march, no end short of death. I don't think our society (or our media) will let us do what we need to do in order to win. We've won several battles -- al Sadr is done, sovereignty is transfered -- but we have a long way to go to win the War of Ideas, to defeat the fantasy ideology.

I have no more answers than Amritas does. I hope history shows that our blood was worth it, that Iraq, despite her many flaws, can develop into an ally and friend. I don't want to find that we should have just taken the silverware and left.

Posted by: Sarah at 06:10 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 I think one difference (at least to my limited knowledge) is that the German people supported Hitler in a way the Iraqi people do not (did not) support Saddam. (Even the Iraqi's made much of the fact that the "army" did nothing to stop our troops rolling into Baghdad.) So we weren't/aren't really at war with the people of Iraq. In some ways this all would have been much easier if we were, then we wouldn't have to play so nice.

Posted by: Beth at July 02, 2004 08:31 AM (j1526)

2 Beth has a good point. More on your "nice" theme, however... I watched a documentary about a German POW camp on PBS awhile back, that was liberated by Americans. The camp was filled with British officers, and one of them told a story at the end of the show. He described being with an American soldier right after they had also liberated a concentration camp in the area of the town. He said there were two German guards that were being watched by this soldier while other Americans were attending to the sick and wounded in the concentration camp. The soldier asked one of the German prison guards to get water for the sick, and the German refused. The American shot him, dead. He then turned to the other German, who complied. Do I fault that soldier? If I had seen the horror of the concentration camp, I don't know what I would have felt. Those camps were full of civilians-- just like the twin towers on 9/11. Just like the recent hostages that were beheaded. And how would today's media have covered the WWII incident, had they been there? Would our democratic Senators be comparing our military to the SS? It's War. When do we figure that out?

Posted by: Jack Grey at July 02, 2004 09:37 AM (3nn57)

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