Sunday, May 24, 2009

10 Things Americans Should Know About World War II

Rick Atkinson has a cool Memorial Day column at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "10 Things Americans Should Know About World War II."

Keep in mind his 5th point when we hear continuing attacks on the Bush administration's initial war planning in Iraq:
The U.S. Army for a long time after we entered the war was not very good. Part of the WWII mythology is that all the brothers were valiant and all the sisters were virtuous. War is the most human of enterprises, and it reveals every human foible and frailty, as well as human virtues: cowardice and tomfoolery, as well as courage and sacrifice. The Greatest Generation appellation is nonsense.

In the first couple years of American involvement the Army was burdened with clearly inferior equipment and commanders. Those first couple years of war required a sifting out, an evaluation at all levels within the Army of the competent from the incompetent, the physically fit from the unfit.

It has sometimes been argued that in an even fight, when you matched one American battalion or regiment against a German battalion or regiment, the Germans tended to be superior, the better fighters. But who said anything about an even fight? Global war is a clash of systems. What matters is which system can generate the combat power needed to prevail, whether it's in the form of the 13,000 Allied warplanes available on D-day; the 10:1 American advantage in artillery ammunition often enjoyed against the Germans; or the ability to design, build and detonate an atomic bomb. What matters is which system can produce the men capable of organizing the shipping, the rail and truck transportation, the stupendous logistical demands of global war.

Germany could not cross the English Channel, which is only 21 miles wide, to invade Britain. The United States projected power across the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Pacific and into Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Power-projection, adaptability, versatility, ingenuity, preponderance -- these are salient characteristics of the U.S. Army in WWII.


The Vegas Art Guy said...

Great article on WWII.

Dennis said...

It is true of all wars that the military is prepared to fight the last war. As the writer states it takes a while to weed out those who lack the capability to lead and fight in a dynamically changing environment.
Much of the first part of the Iraqi campaign and the War on Terror" was spent adapting to that new dynamic. It is why you saw so many old commanders adding their "two cents", in my estimation in the wrong forum, to the ideas on how to fight a very different war from those we have fought in the past.
Mistakes will always be made because of the uncertainty of any combat and the exigencies that are extant.
The hard part was always maintaining the political wherewithal while gaining the experience requisite to be successful in asymmetrical warfare. What the modern day military had to deal with in both the political and military ares those in WWII did not. They have done an exemplary job under conditions that "The Greatest Generation" would have called treason by any other name.
Behind every freedom we have stands those who serve in our military who guarantee that freedom. If there are any who more deserving to be thought of as the "Best and the Brightest" it is those who have stepped up and did/do their duty to protect this country.

Jordan said...

Ditto. A great article.

Steven Givler said...

If you think the article is good, you should read his books, "An Army at Dawn" and "Day of Battle" the histories of the North African and Sicilian/Italian campaigns respectively. They are fantastic accounts, readable, personable, and insightful. They're the first two installments of his trilogy on the Second World War. "An Army at Dawn" should be read by anyone who makes the claim that Iraq was a distraction in this current war. That very claim could have been made against the decision to launch Torch, the invasion of North Africa. After all, we had been attacked by the Japanese, not the Germans, and the North African coast, where we chose to enter the war, was neither in Europe nor in Asia. To further complicate matters, our most dangerous foe at the opening of the landing was the French Navy.

As with our current campaign, the one in North Africa saw its share of blunders. Still, it was a way of chosing our own time and place of fighting, and for all the difficulties it posed, it was ultimately a good decision. I believe the same will eventually be said about our campaign in Iraq.

smitty1e said...

If modern liberalism is to succeed, all thought, especially historical thought, must be suppressed.

courtneyme109 said...

Good article. There are tons of lessons to draw fromm America's combat bona fides - Right before Surge took off - I had just finished reading "Forging the Thunderbolt: History of US Army Armored Forces 1917 - 1945."

The PR that accompanied America's 1st defeat at Kasserine Pass was amazingly similiar to defeat, retreat and repeat cats that screamed 'quagmire' and 'the war is lost' about Iraq.

Many folks have under estimated the American Military.

Most of them are ashes.

Anonymous said...

Did he need to toss in that garbage about "cimate change?"

And he got some minor details wrong, especially that part about dispositive impact of the Red Army. Professor Victor Davis Hanson fires for effect on that leftist canard that the war was won or lost on the Eastern Front. It wasn't.

TonyfromOz said...

Great post Donald.
I know the book is fiction, but it is still nonetheless a good one, giving a true indicator of Military thinking.
The book is "Once An Eagle" by Anton Myrer (published by Harper) and written in 1968. Myrer was an enlisted Marine.
Even if you are not keen on military fiction, the book is still a very good read.

Steven Givler said...

You're right Tony. "Once an Eagle" used to be required reading for US Army officers. Don't know if it is any more, but it ought to be.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

Tony I have also read that book. It's excellent.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Some of these are the points I often try to make when I talk about the war. We are so used to having a strong military that we cannot remember or even imagine what it is like to have a relatively weak one, and history shows that is a very dangerous position for a nation to be in. All our decision making reflects our taking our military strength for granted.