Seventy years ago, today, of course. Allied forces landed at Normandy and after a hard fight, secured a lodgement upon the continent of Europe which ensured that, come what may, Hitler’s regime was doomed. It was a bloody business, allied forces losing more than 4,000 dead on the first day, with the worst of it being a Omaha beach, which was a bloody shambles, redeemed only by the sublime courage of soldiers who even after everything went wrong, made the decision to press ahead against odds until the Germans were driven off the beach.
Many have made the observation that there does not seem to be that spirit alive in America any longer. Our modern youth simply could not take on the sort of men who manned Hitler’s Atlantic Wall with any hope of success. There is a bit of truth in that – in the sense that some of America’s youth are so demoralized that they not only couldn’t wade under fire towards an enemy-held beach, but probably wouldn’t even be in the military, no matter what the stakes of the war were. But there is also in America a large number of youth who would do it. They are the men and women who are currently in our military today; and the several million who have passed through recently. We mobilized a bit more than 12 million personnel in World War Two and today, I think, even if we made it entirely voluntary, we could raise that amount for a putative World War Three – and keeping in mind that only about 10-20% of the WWII mobilized actually saw combat, that would be sufficient for us to crush any combination of enemies out there.
The big question becomes: would we actually desire to crush them? That is where the Bergdahl case comes in. We don’t know precisely what happened to him at this point – leave aside stories you might have heard, the bare-bones are that he was a US soldier who left his post. Whether he left is post in a fit of pique, an abundance of folly or with malevolent design is entirely unknown. In brief, he is a deserter, but we don’t know much else about it. But let us consider the war we had Bergdahl fight. There is no demand for victory; no desire for victory; not much attention to the effort paid by the Commander in Chief; our enemies are free to use whatever tactics they think best while our troops are hemmed in by rules of engagement; and our enemies, if captured, are held in Gitmo – while our liberal friends paint that place as a house of horrors, it is really not all that bad a prison and it is absolutely clear that nothing bad will ever happen to the prisoners. Meanwhile, soldiers like Bergdahl can easily access websites which tell him – from American sources! – that our effort in Afghanistan is criminal and that we are the bad guys. Small wonder that a soldier or two might get disillusioned and walk off. The problem with Bergdahl is not that he deserted and its not even so much that five Taliban were released to get him back – the problem is that we aren’t fighting for victory and that there were five Taliban to be released. Things used to be done a bit differently.
D Day was pretty much a straight-up fight between professional armies – but even so many thousands of French civilians were killed. By aerial bombardment, artillery, cross-fire – and I’ll bet because of horrific mistakes. A squad of US soldiers hears a sound coming from a basement and tosses in a grenade or lights up the place with a flame thrower…only afterwards discovering that it was mom, dad and three kids hiding in there. It happens. It is horrible. But these days it would be classed as a crime by our liberal elites, the MSM would go nuts and the soldiers would be lucky to get off with dishonorable discharges. War is a nasty business. It is best not to fight them – but once you’re in a war then you are, indeed, in a war. People will be killed.
But even in World War Two, there were irregular combats, and combatants. Later, after D-Day, a German mission was to put their troops in US uniforms and send them behind our lines to sow confusion and panic. Some of these German troops were captured, in US uniform. Three of the German troops were captured on December 17th, 1944. They were given a court martial on December 21st, 1944. They were sentenced to death. The death sentence was carried out by firing squad on December 23rd, 1944. Six days from capture to firing squad, boys and girls. That is war. That is what you do with irregular forces who are captured. The five Taliban we gave up for Bergdahl should have been dead years ago – and dead per the Geneva Convention, as those captured Germans were dead per the Geneva Convention (liberals love to throw the Geneva Convention out there – but I wonder if any of them have actually looked at the Convention in relation to irregular forces? I doubt it very much).
I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Breaker Morant – about a trio of Australian soldiers being tried for murder during the Boer War. One of the accused explains how things work in this short scene:
The movie is great and I highly recommend it, because it points out the absurdity of trying to apply civil court procedures and rules of evidence to a war. A war is by its nature an extraordinary thing. It is bound by rules and some of these rules are iron-hard – but the purpose of your military in a war is to destroy the enemy. Have many thought about that of late? Destroy. Wipe out. Render incapable of any further resistance. That is what is being sought – and you can’t do that by being gentle with terrorists, nor bringing your own soldiers up on charges because they did something in the heat of battle which you, safe and dry at home, feel was distasteful.
Soldiers are to be brave. They are to defend the weak and oppose the strong. A good soldier will lay down his life for his comrades – and for women and children…but a good soldier might also shoot an enemy out of hand, or toss that grenade into the cellar, thinking it’s the enemy down there, when it later turns out it wasn’t. Commanders in war are to seek victory – victory at all costs. Since the end of World War Two, we haven’t sought victory at all costs…and over time we have told soldiers to be less and less like soldiers and act more and more like social workers with guns. But our enemies haven’t changed. They want victory – and they are willing to give all they have to get it. It is small wonder that we lost in Korea, lost in Vietnam…and will now lose in Afghanistan. Small wonder, also, that some US soldiers get confused and walk off their posts.
We need a national debate about this – 2016 would be a good time for it. The Presidential candidates should be asked just what does it mean to be at war. They are seeking to be Commander in Chief, after all, so let us get some idea of what they think of the job. Will they put on trial a soldier who urinates on a dead enemy? Who kills civilians in a cross-fire? Will they keep terrorists alive and well fed for years, or shoot them within 6 days of capture? If we go to war, will it be for absolute victory, or just something to do to keep the poll numbers up until after the next election, and then flush the whole business down the toilet? It is important to have this because it is important, also, that we, the people, consider what we want. Do we even want to have an armed forces? Do we understand what armed forces do? Are we willing to send men and women into unimaginable horror with unclear orders and civilians second-guessing every move? Or will we send them into that horror with orders to kill and to win? The answers will go far to determine if, indeed, we could stomach another D-Day – whether we can ever win another war.