Seeing today through prism of World War II
June 8, 2007
Like a lot of people my age, I grew up watching movies about World War II.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “Sands of Iwo Jima,” “Patton,” “Midway,” or any of dozens of big films about the war. I still watch them today, thanks to their continuous reruns on satellite television.
These movies colored the perceptions of my generation, and many of those before me. The Americans were always the heroes, there was never a question about the justness of our cause, and the good guys always won in the end.
These perceptions are in full force today, as a number of people look at the current conflict in Iraq through the prism of WWII.
But it’s like trying to compare cabernet to ketchup. They are both red and liquid, but hardly interchangeable, and no amount of willpower will make them so.
The more I heard and read about these false comparisons between Iraq and WWII, the more the differences stood out. That spawned the following list, the Dirty Dozen reasons why these two conflicts are different.
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1. Iraq did not attack us. Japan did, and Japan’s ally, Germany, attacked our allies in Europe.
2. Iraq had no ability to attack us. Their military was a shadow of its former self, and even at full strength had no ability to project power to our shores.
3. The enemy in WWII was the same from the first day of the war until the last day. In Iraq, that enemy started off as Saddam, then al Qaeda, then the Sunnis, then the Shiites, all of who are also fighting each other. Who knows who will be the enemy tomorrow.
4. Japan and Germany had world-class imperial designs. They were countries that wanted to take over the world, and had the resources to do it. Iraq was a fourth-rate power without either the will nor the ability to conquer and hold even tiny Kuwait.
5. Japan and Germany did not break down into civil war. Imagine if we had tried to occupy Japan and referee a civil war there.
6. We had far more troops in WWII, even if you make allowances for the difference in size of the enemy. We had three times more troops when we took on Saddam in 1991 than we have there now.
7. The nation was asked to sacrifice during WWII. We were urged to enlist (if not, then be drafted), buy war bonds, and to do without certain luxuries. For Iraq, we got tax cuts, and no call to duty. We were told to just go on with your regular life, go shopping.
8. Neither Japan nor Germany had the kind of serious ethnic/religious divisions of Iraq. Germany had its issues with the Jews, but Hitler’s “final solution” pretty much eliminated that division, and not in a good way.
9. The world wasn’t against us in WWII. We had a very strong network of allies all contributing to the efforts against Germany and Japan. Every major power in the world was involved in some way, and most of them were on our side.
10. Changes in technology have enabled irregular guerrilla forces to fight effectively against regular armies. Cell phones, e-mail and Web sites make communications between groups easier. Combined with video cameras, insurgents have a way to communicate with the public. Weapons like AK-47s, RPGs and improvised explosives with remote triggers can make even a small group a formidable challenge to regular army forces.
11. Germany and Japan had WMD, Iraq didn’t. Both countries had stockpiles of poison gas, and the Japanese used that gas in China. Germany was also very close to coming up with an atomic bomb, far more advanced than Iraq was 60 years later.
12. Our allies in Iraq are not our friends. The Maliki government has close ties to Iran, and the radical Shiite cleric al Sadr, and advocates return to Islamic law. They are working at cross purposes to the U.S.
I’m sure there are more reasons I haven’t thought of. The point is, this isn’t your granddaddy’s war, and it’s not a movie where John Wayne is going to ride in to save the day. That was a very different war, at a very different time, and trying to turn back the clock is rarely a winning strategy.
• Kirk Caraway is editor of nevadapolitics.com, and also writes a blog on national issues at kirkcaraway.com.