There is an essential sadness to all war writing. A good war day can still be filled with death, after all. Michael Yon continues his Iraq coverage. His posts are tinged with that sweet sadness and reminded me, I've noted before, of Ernest Hemingway. Others hear Ernie Pyle in Yon's voice. No matter, Michael Yon should be on your reading list. It's essential to hear his voice to get perspective on Iraq. Yon brings up a good point about the difference between Pyle's war and Iraq:
Where Pyle and I share closest ties is in our knowledge of the value our work has for troop morale, for strategic gains, and for ensuring the support of Americans back home. But in Ernie’s day, it seems that more of the military leaders knew this as well, and they made it their business to act on that knowledge. Military leaders made it possible for Ernie Pyle to do his best work, something I wrote about more than one year ago. But Ernie said it best when he wrote about the 9th Infantry Division in his book “Brave Men.”****
Lack of recognition definitely affects morale. Every commanding general is aware that publicity for his unit is a factor in morale. Not publicity in the manufactured sense, but a public report to the folks back home on what an outfit endures and what it accomplishes. The average doughboy will go through his share of hell a lot more willingly if he knows that he is getting some credit for it and the home folks know about it.
As a result of this neglect in the Mediterranean, the Ninth laid careful plans so that it wouldn’t happen again. In the first place, a new censorship policy was arrived at, under which the identities of the divisions taking part in a campaign would be publicly released just as soon as it was definitely established that the Germans knew they were in combat. With that big hurdle accomplished, the Ninth made sure that the correspondents themselves would feel at home with them. They set up a small Public Relations section, with an officer in charge, and a squad of enlisted men to move the correspondents’ gear, and a truck to haul it, and three tents with cots, electric lights and tables.
Correspondents who came with the Ninth could get a meal, a place to write, a jeep for the front, or a courier to the rear—and at any time they asked.
Of course, in spite of all such facilities, a division has to be good in the first place if it’s going to get good publicity. The Ninth was good.
Back then, everyone seemed to know that the Germans were hopeless followers of fanatics, who were only emboldened by appeasement overtures. And that the Japanese were so aggressively fanatical that they would fly airplanes full of fuel and bombs into our ships, knowing they were going to die. But for the unlucky raise of his head, Ernie Pyle never saw how Germany ended up being America’s ally, or how the collective focus of Japan was harnessed as an economic force that birthed the notion of globalization. Having covered the war so close to the ground, could Pyle have predicted anything beyond the outcome of victory for allied forces?Is there anything about Iraq that "everyone seem(s) to know"? Are there universal truths that drive this fight? Is there a rightness of action, everyone agrees upon and coalesces around?
I yearn for days I have never known, where America solidly backs a course of action and without doubt marches unified. My life began during the "peace movement", free-love, licentious late 60s and since then the United States has essentially been divided. It was divided soon after 9/11. The Leftists of this country simply had to cork it because to say what they believed would be political suicide. Even still, their anger bubbled under the surface and is fully on display these days.
What so riles them? Global Warming passes for the moral crisis of our times and it's infuriating that everyone hasn't come to the obvious conclusion: civilizations is bad. It is most definitely not agreed that Islamofascists present an existential threat to the Western world. It is most certainly true that terrorists are good people too, and for just a little Western love, would be accepted instead of being misunderstood. It is known that all (illegal) "immigrants" are just trying to help their families and that those who oppose illegal immigration are racist. It is presumed that Gay Marriage is a right conferred by the constitution and anyone who opposes it is a close-minded bigot--certainly not someone with the weight of thousands of years of social and cultural history never mind nearly every world religion on their side.
Universal truths in this post-modern era are the inversion of any sort of truth anyone during the World War II era would be familiar with. Americans can't even clearly identify the enemy. Outrageously, the choice of enemies is between George Bush and terrorists. At least that's the way the press puts it forward. No mention of the other, bigger enemies: apathy and moral equivalence. Or heaven forbid real, physical enemies with explicit anti-American and anti-free people rhetoric: Iran, Wahhabists, an oppressive Russia or enigmatic China. And what about the desperation foisted by failed ideologies like socialism? This ideology can't be labeled an enemy of freedom though it surely is our enemy.
It will be difficult to win any war for America if the enemy can't be identified, if the ideology isn't deemed destructive. And that's the biggest difference between Yon's Iraq theater and Pyle's WWII theaters, or rather, that's the difference between America then and now. Americans have changed. And the politicians Americans elect have changed. And American society has changed. And American morality has changed. We are, these days, rather like 18th Century England, as Mark Steyn pointed out.
We shouldn't be surprised if the outcomes of our wars change, too.