In June of 1942, Winston Churchill — the then British Prime Minister and Minister of Defence — was visiting in Washington, D.C. to discuss with President Roosevelt a number of topics, not least among them the development of an atomic bomb and plans for a massive joint ground offensive to be undertaken in Europe later that year or the next. Meanwhile, in Africa, German General Rommel was actively trying to capture Tobruk, a very important strategic goal being defended by British forces. On 22 June, Churchill received word in Washington that Tobruk had fallen to Rommel. Thirty-three thousand British soldiers had been captured; twenty thousand had been killed. With Tobruk gone, the German Army was thought likely to proceed on to Cairo with little effective resistance. The fall of Tobruk was widely reported in the press throughout the world, along with a perceived disarray of the British Government. The Axis Powers were much encouraged and invigorated. According to press reports, Tobruk fall may bring change of Government; Churchill may be censured. There was lots of bad news, and very little good. Later, Rommel was routed in Africa and there was much more good, and much less bad, news.
When Churchill returned to London in early July, a vote of censure was in the offing before the House of Commons. Although offered an opportunity to have the censure motion tabled, Churchill declined; he deemed it of high importance that the motion be debated and the issue settled. After several days of debate, the motion was defeated, 475 to 25.
Perhaps the salient lesson from Churchill's remarks to the Commons at the end of the debate was, In wartime if you desire service you must give loyalty, a bilateral undertaking. It worked; Britain and her allies soon reached a turning point, and the war effort improved strikingly during the next couple of years, with the defeat of Germany in 1944 and of Japan in 1945.
Churchill's comment on the need for unity and reciprocal loyalty was based, in part, on the following proposition, stated during his comments on the July censure motion:
If democracy and Parliamentary institutions are to triumph in this war it is absolutely necessary that Governments resting upon them shall be able to act and dare, that the servants of the Crown shall not be harassed by nagging and snarling, that enemy propaganda shall not be fed needlessly out of our own hands, and our reputation disparaged and undermined throughout the world. . . . Much harm was done abroad by the two days' debate in May. Only the hostile speeches are reported abroad, and much play is made with them by our enemy.
The same was, of course, true of the censure debates upon Churchill's return to Britain in early July, and is no less true now, more than half a century later. Clearly, President Bush is no Churchill, and in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere the U.S. is not fighting for her immediate life. Perhaps it might be easier if she were, for in time of a war generally perceived to be of overwhelming importance it is also generally perceived that unity is necessary. Although the U.S. is less deeply involved in Iraq and Afghanistan than she was in Vietnam, where a similar lack of unity prevailed, loss of the Vietnam war did not much affect life in the U.S. The potential consequences of a rout in Iraq and Afghanistan are much worse. One cannot help but wonder how, if Churchill now were the President of the U.S., he might deal with the problem.
Until the recent successes of the "surge" in Iraq, the press were full of reports about how absolutely horribly things were going; there were daily front page and television reports of casualties, and the death of the four thousandth U.S. soldier since the beginning of the war was reported on 24 March 2008 with something almost approaching glee; not unlike a football score. The popular sentiment was very largely that the United States should withdraw, tail between legs if necessary, and abandon a cause which was not only lost but the continued pursuit of which was likely to make matters worse. Few pointed out that even though one death is very sad, the total of all U.S. casualties up to that point had been only a fraction of British losses in few days and in one battle alone, that of Tobruk. And the deaths during the battle of Tobruk were only 5.2 percent of British deaths during World War II (382,600 or 0.8 percent of her population). The U.S. suffered 416,800 deaths, amounting to 0.32 percent of her population. The troops of their then ally, the U.S.S.R., suffered 10,700,000 deaths. Comparatively little press and political attention has been accorded the more recent successes of the Surge, possibly on the theory that bad news makes good press and good news makes bad press.
Had the U.S., Britain and their allies not won World War II, Germany and Japan would have done so, and the world would now be a very different and less congenial place. In my opinion, the precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, and the consequences to the U.S. and other countries still necessarily reliant on her for support would also be devastating. If nothing worse than transparent confirmation that the U.S. is unwilling to keep her essential military commitments were to result, it would be bad enough: this is particularly true in view of the recent re-militarization of the former U.S.S.R. and China, both of which now seem quite expansionist. China, in particular, needs petroleum and other raw materials which she herself lacks in sufficient quantity to permit her continued and rapid economic expansion. Thus far, she has not used war to obtain what she needs. Without a viable concern that were she to do so the U.S. and her allies would resist militarily and vigorously, it is possible that she might do just that. Although the Olympic games in China may be a hopeful demonstration of increased openness to the world outside her borders, it must not be forgot that Hitler also put on Olympic games in Munich in 1936 to demonstrate the resurgent importance of Germany in the world.
This is not to say that the U.S. should indefinitely provide succor to everyone in the world. We have given very substantial military and economic aid to South Korea and much of Europe for far too long, the military and economic drains on the U.S. remain great, and it should be up to the countries so long assisted to look out for themselves now have the means to do so. The economic and military aid given by the U.S. was instrumental in achieving this, and without our continued enabling of their dependency they should be able to look after themselves fairly well. Cf. Dave Nalle, The Irrationality of Iraq. There is an additional point to be made: the difference between men and dogs, as noted by Mark Twain, is that if you take a poor dog and make him prosperous, he will not hate you for it. Men and countries are much the same.
Many more people immigrate to the U.S. than leave her seeking haven elsewhere, and the same is true of the countries of western Europe. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently suggested that Britain adopt some elements of Sharia law to accommodate her increasing Moslem population, and even without explicitly doing so, the intrusions upon freedom of speech in much of Europe and Canada and, to some extent in the U.S., have been remarkable. Interests of political correctness have trumped interests of free speech. The Moslem religion can be practiced freely in the US, Britain, Europe and Canada; this is as it should be. Indeed, in some places, substantial, if not excessive, accommodations not provided to others are made available to Moslems for the practice of their religion. Yet, most Moslem countries have not reciprocated even to the extent of tolerating foreign religions, the practice of which is in some cases subject to severe criminal penalties.
Between 1096 and 1272, European countries, at first mainly the French Empire, engaged in Crusades in Arabia and elsewhere. The Moors in similar fashion invaded parts of Europe, and thousands of words in the Spanish language are based on Arabic words. The Inquisition, in Spain and in other Roman Catholic countries, took place between 1478 and 1834. Many "heretics" were tortured, and there were many deaths. Although generally wars for fame, fortune, and power, and to satisfy the violent urges of the period, the Crusades were frequently supported by the Church; some were not. Now, the Islamic Jihadists do similar things, with relish and abandon, not to mention technologies far beyond anything available to the Christians during the Crusades and Inquisition. The Japanese Kamikaze pilots were in some respects similar to the Jihadist suicide bombers (Fox News, had it been in existence during World War II, would doubtless have referred to them as "homicide pilots." It's a quaint expression, and probably does no harm). They were doing it for their Emperor, who had the status of a god. However, they, unlike the Jihadists, tended to attack primarily military targets — possibly because due to the relatively short range of their aircraft, those were the only targets available. Nor did they hide behind or otherwise use their small children when doing so.
There are other striking similarities between the Crusades and the Inquisition on the one hand and the current efforts of the Jihadists on the other. Both sought and seek the spread, by unrestrained violence, of their cherished religious views; both were and are implacable; and both were and are highly toxic to the groups sought to be converted. Neither was nor is susceptible to peaceful persuasion that perhaps, just perhaps, they err, although over a very long period of time change to less violent means occurred in the one case and is possible in the other — also over a very long period of time.
The notion of waiting a century or more for the Jihadists to recognize the errors of their ways and to become dramatically more civilized and less violent does not seem to be a wise one. The potential consequences would probably by draconian in the extreme.
There is much to be said for the proposition that in the right hands, military might is the best hope for peace. However, we seem no more intent upon self preservation now than was the population of Britain back in 1933, when the Oxford Resolution was adopted, proclaiming: "That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country." Even as late as 1938, when following the Munich Agreement British Prime Minister Chamberlain announced "peace in our time," he was met by cheering crowds and there was a national sigh of relief. It should be kept in mind that Britain had had a respite of only slightly more than two decades since the devastations of World War I, memories of which had not been blotted out by time or reflection. And, of course, the intentions of Hitler were not fully understood except by a very few. At the Nuremberg trials which followed the war, German Marshal Keitel was asked whether the Reich would have attacked Czechoslovakia in 1938 if the Western powers had stood by Prague. He answered, "Certainly not. We were not strong enough militarily. The object of [the] Munich [agreement] was to get Russia out of Europe, to gain time, and to complete the German armaments." When things got bad enough, and recognition finally dawned that Nazi Germany and her allies seemed likely to take over the world, attitudes eventually changed. By then, it was almost too late; a world-staggering war, which could have been prevented by backing up peace overtures with even modest demonstrations of strength, resulted. If we are neither willing nor able to do whatever is necessary now, before it is too late, and with necessary force, we are likely to be forced to do much more, later. There are few alternatives:
Sit down and talk man to man (sorry, Senator Clinton), acknowledge the gross error of our wicked ways, ask forgiveness and provide reparations;
Prosecute and jail all who satirize or otherwise disparage radical Islamists;
Introduce Sharia law;
Since we are steadfastly unwilling to exploit our own substantial petroleum resources, cease importation of petroleum products from that part of the world (and from Venezuela, of course), revert to horse or ox drawn wagons, and abjure all stuff made of plastic or otherwise petroleum based;
Withdraw to within our borders and hope for the best (whatever that might be);
Cease exporting pornographic videos to Islamic countries (Hey — bans on exports of luxury goods to North Korea got Kim Jong Pil's attention); and
Agree to turn the U.S. over to them in fifty years (they will probably own her by then in any event) if they will just let us be.
Although these suggestions are, of course, set forth frivolously, they seem not too far off the mark when compared to some of the efforts currently being made to achieve "peace in our time" with an implacable enemy which has little if any interest in peace except on its own quite unacceptable terms. Iran has not been dissuaded through prolonged negotiation and mild sanctions from seeking nuclear armaments, and the various efforts directed to that end have simply given her more time in which to develop them — not unlike Chamberlain's achievement of "peace in our time" at Munich. Nor has Iran been dissuaded from providing material and other important help to the Jihadists. The Jihadists still hate and desire to kill us, and are enhancing their abilities to do so.
The Jihadists will never come to love us, nor we them. Our ways are as much anathema to them as theirs are to us. Although the U.S. remains one of the most powerful countries in the world, if not the most, she is accorded little respect on that account, even by many of her allies. Nor, frankly, does she at present deserve much. Theodore Roosevelt probably had it right when he said, "Speak softly but carry a big stick." We certainly speak softly, and when former President Carter goes off to enemy countries, he does that very well. Unfortunately, words softly spoken but not backed up by a big stick do more harm than good; at best, they reinforce a now powerful sense that we are weak and unwilling to do more than speak softly.
The military, ours as well as those of other countries, has a great propensity to fight the last war, rather than the present war. Military strategy which evolved during the Second World War finally brought victory, albeit at great cost in lives and material. Had Allied military strategy not evolved substantially during World War II, the Axis powers might well have been victorious. Traditional military strategy worked very well during the first phase of the war in Iraq, but something else was needed to follow up on our early successes. After a long while, we tried the "surge," and it has helped. The mobilization, training and use of indigenous forces doubtless contributed substantially.
Still, we must recognize a number of harsh facts of life:
Tribal hostility exists and will persist indefinitely in many countries, despite our most fervent wishes to the contrary. The post World War II creation of "countries" by drawing lines on a map, taking into account natural resources and the desires of the Allies, but with little regard to tribal hostilities, did not diminish those hostilities. The redrawing of country boundaries now, with regard to existing tribal hostilities, probably would do more harm than good; it would in any event be an herculean undertaking.
Just as tribal hostilities make it more difficult to foster the establishment of stable governments in Iraq and elsewhere, they also weaken the abilities of those places to harm us. The suppression of tribal hostilities under Saddam Hussein possibly made Iraq a stronger force for external evil than she now is.
If we are to accomplish anything at all useful, substantial unity of purpose at home in achieving necessary goals is essential. Otherwise, we will continue to suffer from a degree of "tribal hostility" likely to render our divided efforts nugatory.
We must attain an increased sense of urgency; the threats are real, and must be met. During World War II, President Roosevelt found it necessary to give first priority to defeating the Axis powers. Efforts at domestic social and economic reform were perforce given lower priority than he, and the country, would have liked. Failure to conquer the Axis powers would, in any event, have made the neglected domestic reforms useless. Once again, this is the case.
Although democracy is a truly glorious thing, it is not an immediately viable concept in many places, no matter how much we may wish it were. It generally needs a long incubation period and fertile soil in which to take root and prosper. It cannot be transplanted from fertile to infertile soil without first making the soil fertile, and we are foolish to think that it can be. British colonization of India over rather a long time worked to a modest degree, and the U.S., working with a very homogeneous and totally defeated people in Japan, managed to create a more or less democratic society where such had not previously existed. Efforts to export democracy to Africa have for the most part failed, abysmally.
Where it is necessary to deal with enemies themselves prone to tribal hostility, and which are for that reason and others poor candidates for the transplantation of democracy, we cannot realistically expect to create a climate in which anything resembling our way of life can flourish. However, we can stimulate, both overtly and covertly, increased openness — the availability of information from the outside world — and perhaps simultaneously, or in any event eventually, encourage (through free trade agreements, for example) the development of commerce and the availability of resources to permit it.
Without an appropriate sense of history and recognition that there are many who are anxious and able to emasculate and conquer an unresisting U.S., accompanied by a strong sense of national unity, we are powerless to live in peace and prosperity. Neither wishing that it were otherwise, nor the current climate of tribal/political hostility in the U.S., is likely to make things better.
This article is intended as a plea for national unity in the face of a common and deadly enemy. It is not intended as an apologia for President Bush; far from it. It is simply too early to make such judgments rationally. History, written years from now, will attempt to unravel the question of whether he was a good, mediocre or bad president. Currently, his popularity ratings are extraordinarily low; perhaps deservedly so. Like all national leaders, he made decisions. Some will be judged as having been good, some as having been bad. I would only point out that a president who presides over the entry into what becomes an unpopular war, and particularly if he fails to finish it satisfactorily, is bound to leave office with very little popularity. President Truman, as the then president, was popular at the end of World War II. Yet, he left office during a deadly stalemate in the Korean Conflict with popularity ratings nearly as low as President Bush now has. Truman is now generally regarded as one of our truly great presidents. Even Churchill, who presided over the belated British entry into and conclusion of what became a very successful war against Hitler's Germany, was promptly voted out of office when the war was over. He is now generally regarded as a savior of Western civilization.