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The Long War

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Michael Ledeen is still angry. I never was. But then, I didn't lose anyone I personally knew.

It's always chancy to try to recollect emotions from an event five years on, but thinking back to that day in San Juan, watching the first tower burning, I don't recall anger. When I saw the second plane strike the second tower, the only feeling that I had, I think, was resignation, along with the instant knowledge that we were now at war, in a way that we had never been in my lifetime. This, I thought, was what it was like for my grandparents (whose age I was closest to when the event occurred for them) when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I remember a sense of foreboding, and wondering what the future held. On a more practical and personal note, I remember wondering when and how I would get back to California, since all flights in the US would surely be grounded soon, including the one that I was about to depart to the airport to catch.

That earlier war, at least for my parents and grandparents, lasted less than four years (though for Asia and Europe it was much longer). Last year I wrote an essay on the fourth anniversary comparing the two wars. I still think it holds up well (or at least as well as it did the last time). Here's a replay:


For better or worse, other than my postings on space policy, to the degree that I've any repute at all, I've become best known in the blogosphere through spoofing the modern media by showing how they would have reported an earlier war. A war that, instead of being kicked off (at least for us) by a surprise attack on New York on a sunny Tuesday morning in September, was kicked off (at least for us) by a surprise attack on a sunny Sunday morning on Oahu, Hawai'i.

On the first anniversary of that attack, it was just a month after the US invasion of northern Africa, to take on Rommel's Afrika Korps, on the heels of the British and Allied victory at El Alamein. Earlier that year, in the summer, we had engaged in the first all-US air attack on Europe. It would only be a few days before we would first learn of massacres of Jews by the Nazi SS.

On the other side of the world, in the Pacific, on that very day we were establishing a beachhead in Buna, New Guinea, and engaged in bloody ground and naval warfare to evict the Japanese forces from Guadalcanal, following up on our landmark victory over the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway in the summer.

And five days before that anniversary in 1942, a physics professor named Enrico Fermi first set up a secret laboratory in Chicago to build the world's first nuclear reactor, to manufacture the fuel needed for the first nuclear weapons.

On the first anniversary of September 11, we had removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, and were preparing to expand the war into the Middle East itself, with plans advancing to remove the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein from power, and in his place establish a beachhead for democracy in the very heart of Arabia.

On the second anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we were engaged in continuing island-by-island warfare in the Pacific, with fierce fighting in the Gilbert Islands, Tarawa and other places, seeing the Japanese forces in a slow and bloody retreat. In Europe, Mussolini's Italy had fallen to Allied forces and changed allegiances two months before, declaring war on Nazi Germany. A week and a half before, on November 28th, 1943, the three Allied leaders--Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin--had met in Teheran, Iran, and determined to continue the war and liberate France. They also elicited a pledge from Stalin to join the war in the Pacific once Germany was defeated (which turned out in retrospect to be a lousy deal, as he clearly had not only no interest, but an opposition to a free post-war Europe).

In September, 2003, we had deposed Saddam, and were commemorating the second anniversary of the attack on the twin towers. But unfortunately, it became clear at that point that much of the media no longer took the war seriously, based on the foolish themes that appeared in their stories at the time, and their actions in almost avoiding remembrance. I mocked them with this piece, demonstrating how they would have covered the second anniversary of the US at war.

In early December, 1944, three years after Pearl Harbor, we were liberating northwest Europe, and advancing on Germany. The last major German counterattack of the war, the so-called Battle of the Bulge, would occur in less than two weeks (events relating to which would have been covered by today's media like this, and this). In the Pacific, we were starting to attack the Japanese homeland by air on a regular basis, and the bloody invasion of the island of Iwo Jima by US Marines, that would last several carnage-filled weeks, would begin the following day, on December 8th, with an initial naval bombardment.

On September 11, 2004, no one was paying much attention to what was happening in the war, because much of the media was engaged in trying to drag the rotting carcass of John Kerry's presidential campaign across the finish line. The only war coverage was that of the daily attacks on our troops and the Iraqi people by the "insurgents" (many of whom were foreign saboteurs sent across the border into Iraq from Syria and Saudi Arabia, and supplied by Iran--three nations with whom we are at war, a reality that the administration remains unwilling to publicly acknowledge). But rather than attacking the president on this legitimate issue, the media preferred to prop up Dan Rather's pathetic story about the president's national guard service, while ignoring the many legitimate issues about Senator Kerry's Vietnam record, both during and after his tour of duty.

On the fourth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the war was over.

It had ended in Europe in May of 1945, and in the Pacific almost exactly sixty years ago, with the signing of the surrender treaty with the Japanese on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Harbor. There were storm clouds on the horizon, due to Stalin's perfidy, but a relieved nation had fought off what was perceived to be an existential threat, with many military casualties (though nowhere near as many as other participants), and virtually unscathed on the home front (unlike much of Europe and Asia, in which many millions of civilians died, most quite brutally), and wanted to get back to normal life.

But four years after September 11th, and now five years, we remain at war with another totalitarian ideology (and one that is in some ways an offspring of the Nazis, in both its hatred of those unlike the holders of it, and particularly of the Jews). And we've never been compelled, as a nation, to take this war as seriously as we were that one. There has been no draft, and despite daily death counts from the media, and parading bereaved mothers as proxies for their own war against the administration, there have not been thousands of gold stars in windows across the nation--the US casualties in the entire war to date would be dwarfed by those of any number of single battles in the second world war. As Lileks wrote two years ago, this war has a much different feel to it:

The old wars were simple: the other side had accents, uniforms, nations, cruel habits and urbane sneers. The old wars took years. The old wars were in black and white. The old wars were monophonic, scored by Max Steiner, released by Warner Brothers, and the only proof they really happened at all was the small battered box in the back of Dadís sock drawer, the box that held some oddly colored metal bars.

Out of political correctness, the president continues to misname this war as one against a tactic--"terror," instead of one against an ideology that wants to ultimately impose itself on the entire world (though that has started to slowly change, as he starts to call it what it is--a new form of totalitarianism and fascism). Such, in fact, is the political correctness of the times that we could, last year, actually contemplate honoring the first Americans to fight back against it, five years ago, with a memorial that looks like this. Can anyone imagine the equivalent sixty years ago--a memorial to the USS Arizona stylized to look like a rising sun?

We've not been asked to sacrifice, either on a governmental level (the pork continues to flow in highway and energy bills), or on a personal level (rather than being asked to save tinfoil and plant "victory gardens", the populace was advised to go out and win one against Osama by going to the mall).

Five years ago, the big news was shark attacks, and a missing woman. We were at war, but didn't know it. It took a sudden enemy attack, on a cloudless morning, to (at least momentarily) wake us from our national lethargy. This year, the sharks and missing girl were knocked out of the news not by an enemy attack, but by a natural disaster, nature and entropy being entities with which we have warred since the dawn of history and before, and ones over which we only gradually gain the upper hand, and will probably never completely conquer.

But if we didn't know that we were at war on September 10th, 2001, the enemy did. They still do. We must not forget it again, until they are decisively defeated, as we defeated the brutal Nazis and the Japanese imperialists sixty years ago, even if it takes decades.

I wasn't angry then, and I'm not angry now. But I am resolved.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on September 11, 2006 11:59 PM.

The Luxury Of Nonresponsibility was the previous entry in this blog.

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