A tale of two wars

Thomas Sowell
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Posted: Aug 21, 2003 12:00 AM

Here we are, five months after the war in Iraq began, and we haven't yet solved all of that country's problems. Who would have thought that we would?

Apparently a significant section of the American media either thought that we would or is simply piling on the Bush administration, in hopes of bringing back the Democrats in 2004. The New York Times has led the way, managing to come up with at least one negative story to put on the front page almost every day.

When there is nothing bad to report from Iraq, they can always go interview families of soldiers who had been killed before, in order to continue a regular dose of negative news. We have, in effect, our own home-grown fifth column, even if their purpose is not to aid the enemy but to lay the groundwork for next year's election.

Even when the military campaign in Iraq was triumphant, there was a chorus of complaints in the media about artifacts missing from a museum in Baghdad. It later turned out that these artifacts were not missing, after all, but even if they had been -- since when are soldiers in a war zone supposed to be acting as museum guards?

To anyone old enough to remember World War II, this is all a painful reminder of how much our country -- or at least the press -- has declined since those days. Although this was a deeply divided country before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, that wake-up call woke everybody up.

Organizations that had been striving to keep us out of the war suddenly disbanded. They didn't stay in business to carp.

Where were we five months after Pearl Harbor, compared to where we are today in Iraq? We entered World War II -- or, rather, the war came to us -- on December 7, 1941. Five months later, on May 7, 1942, where were we?

We had no real victories in all that time. On May 6, 1942, we suffered a devastating defeat with the surrender of the American forces in the Philippines. This was followed by the infamous Bataan death march, in which many American and other prisoners of war lost their lives, either to the inhuman conditions or by being brutally executed by the Japanese when they fell from exhaustion.

The British were doing no better. When they won the battle of El-Alamein in November 1942, Winston Churchill said frankly, "we have a new experience. We have victory." Britain had been fighting for three years at that point.

Through all the years-long, uphill struggle of World War II, you seldom heard the phrase "war-weary" soldiers that has already become common in some media quarters during the five months of the Iraq war.

No one demanded that President Roosevelt tell them how long World War II was going to last or how much money it would cost, or what his "exit-strategy" was. It would have been considered not only unpatriotic, but absolutely childish, to do so. Wars are not choreographed.

World War II was bigger in terms of troops deployed but our danger today may be greater. We need only think about North Korea producing nuclear weapons and selling them to international terrorist networks. What happened on September 11, 2001 could be only a prelude.

Yet, in this greatest crisis that America has ever faced, it is business-as-usual in politics and in much of the media. Constant carping and political cheap shots abound in a way that would once have been unthinkable.

None of this goes unnoticed by our enemies. North Korea could dare to engage in nuclear blackmail, in defiance of overwhelming American strength, only because our internal divisions limit our options politically.

Despite all efforts to defuse the North Korean threat by diplomatic means, force may ultimately be the only language that the North Koreans understand. Unfortunately, there are too many Americans who do not understand that and too many for whom protest and indignation are a way of life -- a potentially fatal habit.

We can only hope that those who have the fate of this nation in their hands at this crucial time will do whatever has to be done, regardless of the political consequences. No one's political career is worth seeing American cities in radioactive ruins.