31 Aug 2021

“Two Photos: Two Different Americas”

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Warren Kozak, in the NY Sun, points to two images as metonymies for the change in American leadership over the last three quarter century.

Both wars began with unprovoked, surprise, and devastating attacks against the United States. In 1941, the Japanese destroyed much of our Pacific fleet and killed more than 2,000 Americans, mostly servicemen. Sixty years later, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killed 3,000 Americans, mostly civilians.

That is where the parallels end. The two adversaries were not remotely alike. The Japanese were a major military power with a large, unified, and advanced population. Afghanistan, which harbored the al Qaeda terrorists that attacked on 9-11, is a small, backward, failed state run by 7th century jihadists.

To achieve our victory in World War II over Japan and its ally, Nazi Germany, America focused its entire economy for four years, built a military of over 16 million men, mostly civilians, and maintained its will, even with the loss of more than 400,000 of its sons. In the latter war, with an all-volunteer military, Americans felt little economic hardship.

Many didn’t even know a single serviceman or woman who died, much less fought, in the war. America’s military today constitutes less than one percent of our population. In World War II, practically every family had someone serving, and that included the nation’s wealthiest families, from the Rockefellers to the Kennedys to the Bushs’.

The greatest change we have witnessed has come in the leadership of our country. Consider how the earlier military and political officials conducted themselves after their extraordinary achievement in World War II. The head of our entire military, General George C. Marshall, declined from Time Life’s Henry Luce an offer of $1 million, $15 million in today’s money, to publish his memoir.

One of the signers on the deck of the Missouri, Admiral Chester Nimitz, chief architect of the naval victory in the Pacific, also declined every lucrative offer to tell his story. Nimitz spent his retirement as an advisor to the Navy and served as a Regent for the University of California.

Another officer — he requested not to be at the ceremony, but was ordered to be present — was Admiral John McCain Sr, grandfather of the senator. The 61 year admiral pushed himself so hard during the war that after the signing he immediately flew home. He died four days later, probably from heart failure and exhaustion.

General Curtis LeMay developed the devastating air war against our enemies. He took a humble view of the proceedings, though. Instead of feeling any personal glory or accomplishment, LeMay was thinking about all the young men under his command, who did not live to see the day. “Seemed to me that if I had done a better job, we might have saved a few more crews,” he wrote later.

The man at the top of the chain-of-command, President Truman, was barely known when he took over the presidency following the death of FDR. Yet Truman proved to be one of the most capable leaders this nation has ever produced. On a mind numbing number of vital decisions that came his way in hurried order, “Given ’Em Hell” Harry made the right choice every single time.

When Truman retired in 1953, he went back to the same home he and the First Lady lived in long before they went to Washington. He was given no pension (presidential pensions were conveniently set up by Lyndon Johnson just before he retired). Like Marshall and Nimitz, Truman turned down numerous offers that certainly would have made his life easier. His reasons now seem so quaint. He thought it undignified.

No one figure or political party today can be singled out for the terrible decisions and exceptional greed that we have witnessed in recent years. Or for the cringing face of our diplomacy. Can one even imagine Truman begging the Iranian ayatollahs for a nuclear deal not in our favor? Or handing over the keys to a country to the same terrorists who used it to launch an attack on America only 20 years ago?

Which presents the question: How did Americans come to simply accept the million dollar gigs, the mansions, and the celebrity parties that are now considered a well-earned perk of government service? From the rear-view mirror, those World War II leaders now seem so antiquated … and so missed.



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