D-Day, Bergdahl and the End of American Warfare

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.

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16 thoughts on “D-Day, Bergdahl and the End of American Warfare

  1. Retired Spook June 6, 2014 / 1:34 pm

    Among military types there’s something known as the 3% rule, which has held true since the American Revolution. That is, about 3% of the population will step up to do whatever is necessary to save the Republic. Given the current population of appoximately 315 million, 3% would be about 9.45 million. I think that’s enough to handle whatever circumstances come our way. That could all change, though, if the ROE don’t accurately reflect the threat.

    I can’t find the link to it, but I heard a clip of Bob Shieffer this morning (not from Face the Nation last Sunday) in which he questioned whether Obama had been properly briefed on the Bergdahl situation, and just didn’t know the facts before making the trade. You really can’t make this sh*t up. All he had to do was read Hillary’s book. Or, maybe it was all Bush’s fault. Who knows at this point? Or, more on point — “what difference does it make?”

    • M. Noonan June 6, 2014 / 7:41 pm

      Spook,

      I remember reading one of the Durant’s histories and commenting about a battle in which few prisoners were taken, the comment was made, “the soldiers did not propose to fight these men, again”. This was during one of Rome’s civil wars and the soldiers had seen the politicians make “peace” several times, only to have war re-erupt…the troops decided to end it, right there. Another thing I’ve noted through history is the desire of the troops to have it over with – and their willingness to follow a commander who risks their lives again and again but who is clearly shooting for absolute victory. Robert E. Lee is a prime example of this – he shoved the Army of Northern Virginia into the shambles again and again in a bid for victory and his troops never wavered, and came to love him with sublime devotion. Contrast this to how the troops felt about McClellan – they liked him because he clearly cared about the troop’s welfare, but the troops ended up much preferring Grant who just kept fighting until victory was won. Over the long run of human history, plenty of people have not understood the nature of war – of course, I think it is more true today than at any time, at least in the West.

  2. Retired Spook June 6, 2014 / 11:34 pm

    Our local paper reprinted an Ernie Pyle column from just after D-Day on their editorial page this morning. Something every young person should read to understand the sacrifice that was made so future generations could be free and every politician should read so that it never happens again.

  3. 02casper June 7, 2014 / 6:08 pm

    An interesting article.

    http://online.wsj.com/articles/at-the-end-of-history-still-stands-democracy-1402080661

    “Retired Spook June 7, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Watson, at least we’re curious about what makes you tick, while all you seem to be intent on is criticizing and attacking what makes US tick.”

    Some of us are interested in what makes you tick, which is why I continue to read this blog and why I sometimes ask questions.

    • Amazona June 8, 2014 / 11:05 am

      This is an interesting article. Most of it supports the opinion that people yearn to be free and that the most important aspect of that freedom—how to gain it and how to express it and how to keep it—–is the ability to choose our own government.

      One paragraph stood out, though, in its assumptions: “The biggest single problem in societies aspiring to be democratic has been their failure to provide the substance of what people want from government: personal security, shared economic growth and the basic public services (especially education, health care and infrastructure) that are needed to achieve individual opportunity. Proponents of democracy focus, for understandable reasons, on limiting the powers of tyrannical or predatory states. But they don’t spend as much time thinking about how to govern effectively. They are, in Woodrow Wilson’s phrase, more interested in “controlling than in energizing government.” ”

      I read it several times and realize that it is based on an acceptance of “societies aspiring to be democratic” as societies which act on impulse rather than on thoughtful analysis.

      Impulse is always to take the easy way out—–in this case, to have “government” simply PROVIDE things. Thoughtful analysis leads to the conclusion that any government which has the power to provide also has the power to take away, and this level of authority contradicts the desire to choose our own governance.

      Many of us in this country are reevaluating what seemed like such a noble and even essential idea—-that a responsibility of government is to provide education. While the idea is still great, the execution leaves a lot to be desired, because when government provides education government controls education, and this inevitably leads to government providing the kind of education it has decided is best—and this can, as we see now, range from indoctrination of political philosophy to dumbing down education to make one size fit all.

      Thoughtful analysis is now trending toward having education paid for through a governmental process—–taxing—-but leaving decisions on the actual nature of this education to the parents and the students.

      “Personal security”? What is this? Is it a framework of laws prohibiting criminal behavior, such as theft or murder or fraud? Or is it a more nanny-state term, meaning that the government should PROVIDE “personal security” in the form of housing, food, etc.?

      Impulse said gee, wouldn’t it be great to have government PROVIDE health care, at least to the elderly. Thankfully, the government has not yet gotten into providing actual health care, but has gone so far as to PROVIDE payment for health care for older citizens, and we have seen that this is not a very good approach to the problem. We are stuck in the middle of this, as people have become dependent on a mediocre solution to a perceived problem, and it will hard to unring that bell, but we can learn from it. And the lesson to be learned is that government is really really bad at things like this, and that the real way to approach it is to have a system which offers so much opportunity for people that they can PROVIDE for themselves. A compromise which may be necessary would be to have the federal government step out of this and have state and local governments take over, to diminish the sizes of the bureaucracies involved and provide more oversight and control, while at the same time having a political system which makes it easier for people to assess their own needs and PROVIDE their own solutions—-and to have the freedom to choose between government assistance and independence, instead of making participation in the government plan mandatory.

      Another thing I noticed about the article is its sweeping use of the word “government”. In this country, anyway, we have (or at least should have, according to our Constitution) a federal government severely restricted as to size, scope and power, and myriad state and local governments with great scope and power, limited only by the few specific prohibitions in the Constitution.

    • Amazona June 8, 2014 / 11:07 am

      The article also uses the term “democratic” in a nonspecific way. Pure democracy is mob rule, while our system was designed as a hybrid, a democratic republic, which works well when implemented.

    • Amazona June 8, 2014 / 11:10 am

      When I read of Woodrow Wilson’s fretting about “energizing government” my blood runs cold. This is an innocuous-sounding phrase until seen in the context of Wilson’s Progressive political philosophy, in which “energizing government” meant vastly expanding its size, scope and power, and giving it authority not only never intended by the Founders but moving it in a direction they tried to make impossible by the way they constructed the Constitution.

    • Amazona June 8, 2014 / 12:09 pm

      “Some of us are interested in what makes you tick, which is why I continue to read this blog and why I sometimes ask questions.”

      Yet merely asking questions is nothing but a superficial exercise if the answers are ignored or dismissed. What I have seen here is that you wait for something to be said that you feel you can respond to, and then you pounce, often with a silly pseudo-question framed as “So, are you saying ________??”

      When answers are provided to you, you apparently do not process them and integrate them into your own thinking, but merely use them as springboards for more pretend questions, all of which is an effort on your part to dismiss or denigrate points of view that are not consistent with yours.

      Reading this blog to see what makes us “tick” and asking questions in the pretense of wanting more understanding are nothing more than shams, just like your alleged study of the Constitution in the Hillsdale course. You get answers but you don’t like them so you persist in your own deeply ingrained emotion-based allegiance to a political system you either do not understand or understand but choose not to discuss.

      Your mental filters are so finely tuned that only the tiniest molecules of predigested Leftist cant can penetrate, while the larger and more complex components of actual thoughtful analysis remain filtered out. Your passion for the cesspool of rabidly radical Leftist attack blogging says far more about who you really are and what really matters to you than any pious utterings here of an alleged desire to understand what makes conservatives “tick”. You bailed out here when the demands of legitimate discourse proved too much for you, or not to your taste, and you scurried to the gutter, where you evidently found fellow travelers and discourse more compatible with your true self.

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