Once upon a time, Americans recognized the unpleasant fact that, as Sherman said, “war is hell,” and they acted accordingly, accepting the pain and the losses as the price that had to be paid for victory.
Americans understood it during the Revolutionary War, when it took six long years of losing battle after battle to achieve victory. Facing the mightiest army on the face of the earth, lacking the most rudimentary tools of war, even going shoeless in the winter snow, often hungry, they endured -and by enduring they triumphed.
We don’t have to go that far back to find instances where the nation took it on the chin again and again, watching in horror the growing casualty lists, going without the staples of everyday living, often waking to read about another blood-soaked battlefield far away from the homeland, yet remaining firm in the resolve to stick it out.
We saw that in World War II when the cost of a single day’s combat was the lives of 5000 or 6000 husbands, fathers, and sons who would never come home to their loved ones. We understood that these things were the very nature of warfare, and we gritted our teeth and stayed the course. We went to war to win, and we endured until we did.
Something has happened since then. It may have been around before Vietnam, but it arrived in full force during that tragic war. Hammered time and time again by growing casualty lists, mislead by the media’s constant anti-war drumbeat that played up every failure and played down every victory – such as depicting the Tet Offensive, which utterly destroyed the Viet Cong, as a military disaster for the U.S.- we began to doubt ourselves. We lost the will to endure, and lost our first war as a result.
It’s happening again. We are fighting a war in Iraq, and the doubters and the opportunists who seek political gain are doing their utmost to create uncertainty about America’s involvement there.
That’s the case with those Republicans who are using Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the current convenient target in their efforts to separate themselves from the Bush administration – a patently obvious maneuver to align themselves to run for president in 2008.
In the run-up to the November elections, the Democrats made it obvious they hoped that the economy would collapse before Election Day. They are now gleefully anticipating a collapse of the U.S. effort to win the war in Iraq, and they appear willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen, regardless of the damage it will do to the nation.
What we are seeing now is a steady wearing-down of our will to endure. Every death is reported as if death in combat was anything but the toll war normally exacts. We endured the deaths of 5,000 young Americans on the beaches of Normandy and forged ahead to free Europe of Nazi domination. We saw it as the price we had to pay to win. Some 6,000 U.S. Marines died in the sands of Iwo Jima in less than a month, but we endured that horror, and not long after we conquered Japan and won the war.
Yet when we lose 14 brave young men in a single insurgent bombing we act as if it were proof that we cannot prevail. Enough of that reasoning will sap our will to endure, and we will end up turning tail and running away, leaving turmoil in the area far worse and more dangerous to our interests than what existed before we went to war there.
Many Americans either opposed going to war in Iraq or expressed serious doubts about the wisdom of going to war there, but that debate is over. We are there, and we have to accept what General MacArthur once said: “There is no substitute for victory.”
And there is no substitute for endurance if victory is to be won.
©2004 Mike Reagan. You must contact us if you would like to print this column in your publication or post on the internet. Mike’s column is distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Cari Dawson Bartley Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561