When Woodrow Wilson went to Congress to ask for a declaration of war in 1917, the U.S. Army was ranked 17th in the world, behind Portugal.
On Armistice Day, 19 months later, there were 2 million doughboys in France, where they had helped to break the back of Gen. Ludendorff's theretofore invincible army in its final offensive, and 2 million more in the United States ready to march on Berlin.
No other nation could have done that.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, FDR demanded that a disarmed America "build 50,000 planes" -- a seemingly impossible number, but one America met and exceeded.
Starting from scratch in 1941, the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos designed, built, tested and detonated three atomic bombs by August 1945 to end the war.
After Sputnik humiliated America, Wernher Von Braun and the boys at Redstone Arsenal had a satellite up in three months. In 1961, JFK declared we were going to the moon and would be there before the decade was out. Cynics scoffed. This writer was at Canaveral to watch Apollo 11 lift off in the summer of 1969.
Whatever became of that can-do nation?
In August 2005, Katrina swept through New Orleans and left 30,000 people stranded at the Superdome and Convention Center. Though the floodwater was shallow and stagnant and New Orleans is a port city with boats all over the place, it took six days and the 82nd Airborne to rescue the stranded.
Compare our performance in Katrina with that of the Brits in 1941, who sent hundreds of boats across the Channel to pull 350,000 British and French troops off the continent in one week in the Miracle of Dunkirk. The Brits weren't going to let Goering's fighters deter them from going across and bringing their boys home.
What occasions these reflections is this morning's lead story in The Washington Post: "'Virtual Fence' Along Border to Be Delayed: U.S. Retooling High-Tech Barrier After 28-Mile Project Fails."
The opening paragraphs:
"The Bush administration has scaled back plans to quickly build a 'virtual fence' along the U.S.-Mexico border, delaying completion of the first phase of the project by at least three years and shifting away from a network of tower-mounted sensors and surveillance gear. ...
"Technical problems discovered in a 28-mile pilot project south of Tucson prompted the change in plans. ..."
Thus, building the first 100 miles of "virtual fence" will take Bush longer than it took FDR to win World War II. The admission of failure comes two years after Bush announced plans for "the most technologically advanced border initiative in American history."