Perhaps the two most important dates in the 20th century were marked in 1945. On May 7 of that year the Germans surrendered, ending the European phase of World War II. The other date – August 14 – was even more significant, the surrender of the Japanese emperor, completely ending WWII, after tens of millions had died in the worst war in history. Absent the Japanese surrender, millions more would have died in a bloodbath of immense proportions in the inevitable invasion of Japan, already planned at that time for the following November. So…one would expect the 60th anniversary of the most important day in the 1900s to be a subject of every op-ed page in the country today, August 14, 2005.
In the local newspaper here, the Lexington Herald-Leader, featured in the op-ed section was a remembrance on its 40th anniversary of the riots in Watts of August 1965, a looting spree and fire-bombing that was destructive of much of Los Angeles. This piece was accompanied by two other columns, one having to do with the deaths of Americans in Iraq, particularly those allegedly caused by not enough armor on military vehicles, and the other by a writer noting, as the column’s headline had it, that “war’s pain doesn’t register with un-sacrificing public,” especially with regard to the privations incurred by veterans and families of military personnel deployed to active duty.
It’s highly probable that the editors of the op-ed page have only a smattering of knowledge about any war in the last century that took place prior to the 1991 Gulf War. There are a lot of folks around, however, who remember well World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War. Thousands of the troops who took part in those wars are still alive, as well as members of their families who sweated out whether or not a loved one would make it home, and, if so, in what kind of shape. Hundreds of thousands did not make it home and, unlike the situation today, their bodies remained where they fell and remain to this day buried in cemeteries all over the world or under countless fathoms of ocean. It would seem to have been in order on this day, especially, to have called attention to the sacrifices made those decades ago, but not a mention. A riot in Watts seemed more important.
The writers of the columns about the Iraq situation may also know next to nothing about the history that seems as alive to thousands today as it was 60 years ago. Perhaps they have no understanding of the resilience of the American people, at least as compared to those of a few decades ago. It’s always unseemly to pass judgment on a people in advance of a possible adversity. Though it lagged earlier this year, army enlistments are once again on schedule, with quotas being met. There never was a lag in enlistments in the other services, so the young people in this generation are just as adventuresome and patriotic as those of other years, especially taking into consideration that the draft was in place in the WWII, Korea, and Vietnam eras.
Though loss of life and injuries incurred in battle are never acceptable, it is well to get into perspective the situation today as compared to those similar ones that have already taken place. During the Vietnam War era (roughly 1964-72), the average was 20 dead Americans per day. During the Korean Conflict (1950-53), the average number of military deaths was 34 per day. During the roughly three-and-a-half actual years of combat in the WWII era (1942-45), the average number of deaths per day was a shocking 320. Since the beginning of the war on terrorism in 2001 (about 46 months), the average number of American deaths per day is less than one and a half. In other words, there were more Americans killed every week, on average, in WWII (182 weeks) than have been killed during the entire 198 weeks since the war on terror began. Again, any casualty is one too many, but, taken in perspective, the current era embodying the war on terror is not even comparable to those days when additional gold stars appeared in thousands of windows every week, though most of the bodies never made it back.
This is not a brief for the Iraqi War, though, whether or not there were ever any weapons of mass destruction, it has been worth the effort, and probably is only the beginning of a long conflict during which Americans can be proud of a military that has so improved its technologies and techniques that the sort of massive dying that has taken place in other conflicts is not likely to happen again. If fanatics of any ilk are allowed to work their will (especially those whose religion impels them to kill “unbelievers”), there will be no safe harbor anywhere in the world. The current conflict should have begun during the last decade, after blood had been shed in New York (first WTC bombing) or by Americans in Saudi Arabia or by innocent civilians in the African embassies, but the nation lacked the leadership at that time. There is no choice now, and as the USA goes, so goes the world, since this country is the only one with both the will and the wherewithal to make the fight. Islamic-controlled nations must be stopped now, and the United Nations is powerless militarily (and in most other ways), but the USA must insist that other nations pay with troops and treasure in the fight the necessity of which should by now be obvious even to the Germans and French.
Today, then, belongs to the past, when American blood that ran on land and sea for years, as well as that of the other Allies, was finally redeemed on 14 August 1945, and the terrorists of the world were put on notice then that, as President G.H.W. Bush indicated in 1990-91 about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, that such things would not stand.