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By Robert L. Bartley
|NO Ammo, NO Clip!|
Winston Churchill wrote of his emotions over Pearl Harbor. "Silly people - and there were many, - might discount the force of the United States. Some said they were soft, others that they would never be united. They would fool around at a distance. They would never come to grips. They would never stand blood-letting."
"But I had studied the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins," he continued. "Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful."
On Omaha Beach few signs of violence remain, except on the shell-cratered ground of Pointe du Hoc, where German guns commanded both Omaha and Utah beaches. It now holds a memorial to U.S. rangers who scaled the 100-foot cliffs; of the 225-man battalion, 135 were killed or incapacitated. They found the Germans had already removed and hidden the guns. Meanwhile, amid other bombardment, the battleship Texas fired 600 salvos of 14-inch guns. The craters today bespeak the overwhelming force Churchill foresaw when he wrote that with America in the war, "Hitler's fate was sealed. Mussolini's fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder."
Gettysburg, by contrast, is a monument to power of defensive fortifications. The breastworks recreated on Cemetery Ridge look puny by modern standards, but were decisive shelter for Union marksmen and artillery firing canister, grapeshot loads packed in sawdust.
Pickett's charge, actually a three-division assault ordered by Lee against the advice of his second in command, was a precursor of the Somme and other pointless World War I butchery. A few Confederates breached the breastworks, but when they fell Lee's invasion of the North had failed and his ultimate defeat was inevitable in a war of attrition with a larger foe.
Gettysburg and Normandy both show that Americans, as Churchill saw, are scarcely afraid of bloodletting. But Gettysburg also shows another side of the American military character. Lee withdrew, set up defenses against a counterattack. Though he was trapped against the flooded Potomac, the counterattack never came. He escaped to Virginia to fight two more years before Appomattox.
Lincoln wrote Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, who had assumed command of the Army of the Potomac three days before Gettysburg, expressing gratitude at the great victory, but also disappointment. "You had at least twenty thousand veteran troops directly with you, and as many more raw ones within supporting distance, all in addition to those who fought with you at Gettysburg; while it was not possible that he had received a single recruit; and yet you stood and let the flood run down, bridges be built, and the enemy move away at his leisure, without attacking him...
"Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him... would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so South of the river?... Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it."
Lincoln would ultimately find Grant, who for example would turn bloody stalemate at the Battle of the Wilderness into victory by assuming the offensive without missing a beat. But in American military history the incisiveness of Grants and Shermans are the exception; Meade's hesitancy at the decisive moment recurs repeatedly.
After the Normandy invasion, Patton's breakout at St. Lo, the battle of the Bulge, the Rhine crossing at Remagen, Eisenhower stopped his armies at the Elbe. The path to Berlin was clear before him, and Churchill urged him to take the capital before the Red Army, setting the postwar division of Europe. The decision to wait, Churchill wrote, "played a dominating part in the destiny of Europe, and may well have denied us all the lasting peace for which we had fought so long and hard." The Cold War, of course, continued until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
Similarly, the first President Bush and Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell stopped the Gulf War after 100 hours, with Saddam Hussein still in power. The decade since saw the rise of Osama bin Laden and spreading Muslim militancy.
Even earlier, President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles cut off financial support for the pound sterling to force the British and French to withdraw from Suez, which they'd seized after the canal had been nationalized by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel al-Nasser. Nasser seized the forefront of Arab nationalism and the British withdrew east of Suez. The decision shaped the Middle East we see today.
The battle of Tora Bora may be added to this list; Americans stood back to let Afghans clear the caves. Perhaps this let Osama escape, though it's also possible he lies buried in a cave closed by an USAF daisy-cutter.
In the war on terror further tests lie ahead, President Bush tells us, including action to topple Saddam. History suggests the chief test will be not whether Americans will put up with body bags, but whether they can finish the job.
Source: Jim Dodd