A View From the Cheap Seats

October 24, 2007

Good War – Bad War

Filed under: History,Iraq,National,World — trzupek @ 7:03 pm


By Rich Trzupek

It seems like a long time ago, yet it feels like only yesterday. The nation faced a gut-wrenching decision.

There was evil across the ocean. Everyone, or most everyone, could agree on that. The President said it was America’s duty to stop it, that the world’s business was our business and that, if we failed to intervene, America would become an isolated fortress in a world awash with fanaticism.

The opposition party disagreed. They said that the U.S. had no business intervening in world affairs. Let other nations look out for themselves. They accused the President of the basest motives, from trying to deflect criticism of his economic policies to creating profit for his friends in business and industry.

The debate raged. Prominent Americans, including many celebrities, called for peace. Our boys should not shed their blood on foreign soil they said, especially for a cause so cynical and hopeless as this one.

Not even a cowardly, dastardly attack on American soil that left thousands dead settled the argument. Everyone agreed that the fiends who committed the crime should be hunted down and brought to justice. But for some, that was all we should do. There was no need to tackle the larger, more nefarious enemy. Some-admittedly a lunatic fringe-even accused the President of complicity in the sneak attack, as a means to achieve his dark ends.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I am describing the events that led up to a war: World War II, to be exact.

Before you scoff, consult a history book. In the months and years leading up to America’s entry in World War II, President Roosevelt played the role of the internationalist, pushing the United States into a greater and greater role in the war against the Nazis. American destroyers would hunt U-boats. American troops would occupy Ireland. Both actions were, in the view of many now and then, quite unconstitutional.

The Republicans were the opposition isolationists back then. They cried that Europe’s business was none of our business. They fretted that FDR was undermining our liberties, by conveniently ignoring the law of the land. Many argued that Europe was lost anyway, so why get involved in a hopeless cause? Some prominent Americans, like Charles Lindbergh, urged his countrymen to accept the new reality, reach out to Hitler and learn to live with his regime.

We certainly knew that the Jewish population in Europe was being persecuted by the Nazi regime, although the full horror of the Holocaust would not be revealed for years to come. “Hawks” said this was another compelling reason to enter the conflict. “Doves” shrugged their shoulders.

Pearl Harbor would change all that, although not right away. The doves still balked at going to war with Germany. Republicans argued that, since Japan alone had attacked us, Japan alone should be punished. Democrats disagreed, believing that the enemy wasn’t just Japan, but all of the new totalarian regimes bent on world domination: Japan, Italy and, most especially, Germany. Congress dithered with the question for days after Dec. 7, while Britain and the freedom-loving people of Europe held their breath.

Luckily for Europe and for liberty, Hitler solved the problem for us, in his uniquely idiotic style. Unwilling to wait any longer, der Fuhrer declared war on the United States on Dec. 11. Even the Republican opposition had to concede at that point. Congress declared war on Germany the next day, without a single dissenting vote.

Conspiracy theorists claimed (and still claim) that FDR set us up. Desperate to enter the war, the President conveniently ignored warnings that the Japanese were about to attack, in order to fuel righteous public outrage, or so the theory goes.

It was a ridiculous charge on its face. It presupposes that America wouldn’t have been outraged by a sneak attack, so long as American forces took a greater toll of invaders’ live. We can cosign such logic to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

Such a theory also demonstrates a childlike understanding of the way intelligence works. Analyzing reams of evidence after the fact, it’s always easy to find the few bits and pieces that fit events as they actually happened. The trick to intelligence is to find a convincing pattern among all of the flotsam and jetsam pointing every which way. If one doesn’t find a needle in a haystack, one ought blame the haystack, not point triumphantly at the pin after the game is over.

Perhaps what is most telling is the way America responded, once Hitler had solved the problem of declaring war. The administration and the military quickly adopted a “Germany First” policy. We would dedicate the bigger part of our resources and efforts toward defeating the more dangerous enemy: Nazi Germany.

One could, and some did, argue against such a strategy. Germany did not attack us, Japan did. Why not go after those who had committed the crime, before battling anyone else?

The reason of course, was that Nazi Germany was the heart of the problem, while Imperial Japan was a symptom. We made Germany the priority, though-with the exception of one American destroyer sunk (an act Hitler quickly apologized for)- Germany hadn’t done a thing to attack America itself, beyond the occasional insult.

Today, there are few who would argue that we did the right thing. We chose to fight for liberty and self-determination. We chose to battle genocide. And we chose to fight where we could do the most good. In time, even the isolationalists would agree, and we now look back at those decisions with pride-as we should.

Any parallels to be drawn between December 1941 and September 2001 are left entirely to the reader’s discretion.


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