Ten Observations on the War

I recently recorded the entire Ken Burns documentary The War that was showing on PBS.  Because Michelle was complaining about the 14 hours the series was taking up on our DVR, I decided I better start watching a few episodes.  I became so engrossed in that I watched the whole series over a weekend.  I highly recommend the series which does a great job of taking very personal perspectives in retelling the history of one of the most important events in the history of mankind.

 Here are ten of my observations from the documentary:

1.       It appears that the Allies won the World War II primarily because they had a much deeper supply of men, food, and equipment than the Axis.  The US mainland was largely untouched by the war and industrial production could be fully redirected to the war effort.  The sacrifice at home was critical to the ultimate success of the Allies.

2.       Gaining air superiority over Germany in Europe and Japan in the Pacific was the real turning point of the war.  Whereas air superiority has proven to be invaluable in past wars, it’s mostly ineffective when you’re battling insurgents who are embedded among the populace (Vietnam and Iraq).

3.       It’s shocking how expendable foot soldiers were treated by the war planners.  One of the most egregious instances was the Battle of Iwo Jima were the US suffered 26,000 casualties capturing a tiny island defended by only 22,000 Japanese forces.  If there was a strategy, it can best be described as keep sending soldiers into the line of fire until the enemy runs out of ammo and food.

4.       In some cases, the planning was good but the execution poor.  The story I found most dramatic was the Battle of Anzio in Italy were General John Lucas squandered an opportunity to take the Germans by surprise who were fully engaged defending the Gustav Line.   Amphibious forces easily landed on the beach of Anzio but instead of quickly advancing inland, they waited until the Germans were able to respond to the invasion and force the battle to a stalemate with many Allied casualties.  You definitely get the sense that many generals were out of touch (and some just plainly incompetent) as they planned their moves from safely behind the battle lines.

5.       I’ve always thought that the war in Europe basically was over after the Battle of Normandy (D-Day).  I was surprised to learn that there were in fact more Allied casualties in Europe after D-Day than before.  In fact, the Battle of Bulge at the end of the war was the bloodiest engagement of the entire war for American forces.

6.       The documentary also made me realize how meaningless the term “terrorism” is.  I’ve always believed that targeting civilians in warfare clearly crosses an ethical line.  But to win the war, the Allies relentlessly bombed German and Japanese cities with unprecedented weapons of mass destruction.  I’m certain that if I had lived during the War, I would have fully supported these decisions.  But how do I reconcile that against today’s suicide bombers whose actions I condemn and find completely reprehensible?

7.       Speaking of civilians, they bear the brunt of war.  Some estimates say over 60 million died in World War II of which about 40 million were non-combatants.  The documentary helps you appreciate why war must be avoided by almost any cost.  Clearly the case for war in Iraq did not reach this high bar.

8.       Ironically, the Achilles heel for the Axis was their respective beliefs in their racial superiority.  Their nationalism led to a blinding arrogance which caused them to severely underestimate the will and determination of the Allies and make bad decisions at critical moments of the war.  In fact, history shows time and time again that arrogance in war is a sure way to get oneself into a butt-kicking with no easy way out.

9.       Ahmadinejad’s remarks about the Holocaust are not worthy of a response.

10.   We owe our veterans of war a deep debt of gratitude.  War is a horrific experience that I will never fully appreciate but the documentary gave me new insight into the terrible sacrifice these men and women made for our greater good.  Memorial Day will no longer be just another long weekend for me but an opportunity to pay respects to our true patriots.

2007 Hugh Molotsi