By the autumn of 1944, and in the wake of the very successful landings in Normandy the previous June, Allied troops and commanders in the field, and civilian authorities in Washington, D.C. and London, were confident of victory in Europe.
It was just a matter of time.
In fact, as our forces moved like a juggernaut across France and into Belgium en route to the Rhine and Germany itself, the Nazis were in full-scale retreat, ceding back territory they had aggressively devoured four years earlier. There was even some talk – and it was surely well received – that some of our boys might be home by Christmas. People had been crooning about it in a popular song for more than a year.
But all that changed when the Germans launched a massive, unexpected winter offensive that December, and a fierce conflict known famously to us as the Battle of the Bulge disabused the Allies of the notion of an expeditious victory. The war was by no means over and the enemy not at all vanquished. This brings to mind a musing from the mind of the great philosopher Yogi Berra, when he said: “It aint over til it’s over!”
You see, while many were prematurely preoccupied with postwar dreams, the good guys were given a brutal, bloody, and costly reminder that the ravages of war are ever possible until an enemy has actually been completely defeated. Eight years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was pretty easy for Americans to remember what had happened without fear, because the threat was no longer there.
Eight years after the attacks on Sept. 11th, we have no such luxury. We must remember with resolve. We must remember through vigilance.
Have you ever watched a movie where the bad guy gets away at the end or enough loose ends are left hanging that you just know the producers are going to make a sequel? Well, our enemies have been longing for just that. Whether or not they can do it, or will, is, of course, a fair and open question. But for anyone to suggest that such a thing can never happen again is not only ludicrous; it is perilous.
I certainly think that this eighth anniversary of that horrific day in 2001 should be remembered – but not as a long ago, of a different time and place, event. It must be remembered in the way a Marine on Guadalcanal would have remembered Pearl Harbor in late 1942, or as an Army Ranger would have while scaling the cliff at Ponte Du Hoc, two years later.
It’s a holy day in the sense of bearing witness to the terrible loss of life and the noble and heroic actions of so many in their diligent response. But there should be a fervency attached to it all. The armor of war should not be put away abroad, nor should the home front be lulled into ominous complacency by political distractions or naïve pronouncements.
The threat is still there. It will not go away by ignoring it anymore than a cancer in the body will. It will not go away by giving it a new name – or no name. It will not go away because we have smarter people in charge who supposedly never overreact to crises and keep their heads when all others are losing theirs.
The threat is still there in spite of the fact that there is a systematic undermining of our intelligence capacities in the nation, born of a petty and cynical desire for political gain. We are tying the hands of people who are charged with helping to keep us safe.
The chief role of government is to protect us and keep us free. Instead we live in a time when all the energy in the executive and legislative branches seems to be directed at creating a society of dependent sheep. We’ll be fed, burped, bandaged, and entertained – until we wake up one day and face the sad news that something bad has happened again via the hands of an enemy we have ignored for too long.
There is still a war on. It is a terror war, driven by Islamism – a pernicious ideology that uses religion as a pretext for world domination. There are very bad people out there – and here at home; people who despise us, our constitution, and our way of life. They must smile and roll their eyes as they watch us try to wrestle with issues such as healthcare reform; anything just as long as we don’t look too closely at what they’re doing.
But we hear less and less about it. Oh, occasionally a great communicator makes an offhand remark related to such a conflict, but usually only in the context of reminding us how sad it is to have wasted all that money “over there” when we could have used it to make everyone healthy and happy here at home.
In a time of war, you don’t make your side safe by marginalizing the conflict, minimizing the threat, or demoralizing those who are charged with crucial responsibilities.
In the century before the birth of Jesus Christ, a Syrian man named Publilius Syrus, who became popular in the days of Julius Caesar as a mime and actor, was known for his maxims and many survive to this day. Among the best is this:
“He is most free from danger, who, even when safe, is on his guard.”
In July of 1927, the New York Yankees were on the road and well on their way to one of the greatest seasons ever experienced by a baseball team. The biggest crowd drawn that month at their famous stadium, however, had nothing to do with baseball. It was the scene of a boxing match between two contenders for the heavyweight title: Jack Dempsey and Jack Sharkey.
Dempsey, of course, had already been a legendary champ, only beaten the year before by savvy boxer and bookworm, Gene Tunney – the smartest guy ever to hold the title. This fight was to see who would face Tunney next. And by all accounts Sharkey took the battle to Dempsey for several rounds, cutting him up and beating him to the punch.
So Dempsey went to work on the body and some of the punches strayed low – Okay several of the punches were south of the border. And at one point Sharkey turned to the referee to complain. At that moment, while Sharkey was looking at the official, Dempsey hit him with what he later referred to as the best punch he’d ever thrown.
It was over.
When in a fight, never drop your guard.
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