Today in 1941, we were attacked (before a formal declaration of war) by the Empire of Japan. Valid military targets were destroyed, and we responded by entering a two-front world war that cost millions of US and Allied lives. It was the war that defined Brokaw's "Greatest Generation."
I do not seek to disparage those who (like my grandparents) fought and lived through that war, and definitely do not seek to disparage those who fought, and died, in that war. The amount of sacrifice they faced, and made, to support that war are unfathomable in today's society. Food, gasoline, metal, paper, rubber, and all manner of consumer goods were in short supply. Stuff was rationed. Can you imagine our society if they had to suffer a week or month of simple food or gasoline rationing? There would be riots in the street.
We went to war believing, as a nation, that we were right. Same as in 2001, we were certain who had attacked us, and why. Still, we chose to make war on two other countries, Italy and Germany, as well as Japan. We knew the axis was mutually supporting, and to go to war with one was to go to war with all. Same thing when we went to war in Iraq. Th megalomaniac there was a worse tyrant than Hitler, and would gladly (and did, gladly) support those who attacked us. Strategically, it was a wise move to invade Iraq, splitting the Taliban and al-queda onto multiple fronts. We had a war of two operational theaters, but we are much better at the logistics game than our enemies. Getting the supplies we need into Afghanistan is HARD, Iraq is much easier. So we drew our enemy into the ground of our choosing to fight. Ans as of 2006, we had totally crushed them in Iraq, they were (and are) no longer able to conduct large scale operations in Iraq. Tens of thousands of al-queda died in Iraq, insurgents and terrorists who'd come from Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi, Iran, and Bosnia. (Among others.)
We needed to finish, to win, the war in Japan. We had crushed European Fascism with the help of our allies, but the majority of the Pacific was our fight. We dropped two nukes on the Empire of the Sun, and that was enough. The Japanese surrendered, their emperor was forced to admit to his people that he was not a God.
In both cases, any insurgency was extremely short-lived. We made loans, helped rebuild, and made lasting treaties with those nations who were our enemies.
Where I think we screwed up this war is with the people, but not due to the "popular" reasons of today's deep thinkers on policy. I think the reason we won, and had a final victory, were these: We completely destroyed the sufficiency of our enemies' governments. They were completely unable to function in any capacity as leaders of their people. We destroyed any manufacturing and trade capability our enemies possessed, we destroyed their economies, and (here's the critical part) we fought the entire nation, military and civilian alike. We made the hard choice to firebomb (and eventually nuke) civilian populations.
We destroyed the will of the people to resist. The people, by the time their governments surrendered, we defeated. The people no longer had the will to resist. They had tired of war.
In the current battle mindset, we limit ourselves to short wars of overwhelming force, we use precision munitions to destroy only "valid military targets." We can, in a matter of days or weeks, completely destroy a foreign Armed forces of any nation. Imagine if the same happened to us: if we were attacked and our Military destroyed in a matter of weeks, would we not grab our guns and defend to the last (those of us who have guns?) Would we fight to our dying breath to keep the hordes at bay? Or would we capitulate, knowing that as of last Thursday, we were free, but not any more?
Now extend that into years or even months. The military fights some winning battles, but is unable to succeed operationally. The enemy systematically destroys our cities, our manufacturing, our ports and trade. We don't have enough food, clean water, or shelter, clothes for our kids. And we've lived that way for YEARS. Those lucky enough to survive have lost their will to fight, the mentality has shifted to simply surviving. When the foreign Army comes in, they provide food, medical care, clothes, shelter, and treat us decently. Would we glady stand in soup lines to feed our kids?
You bet your ass we would.
A military is only an extension of politics, or the political will, of a government. It is not the will of the people. If you wish to succeed in war, you must A) destroy the enemy's military, B) Destroy the will of the people to resist, C) Destroy the government's ability to act unilaterally in military or trade and then D) Help the people rebuild, re-clothe, and go beyond survival into growth.
You can't go from A to D without doing B and C, or else you get what we have today, an enemy without a government, supported by the populace, who disappears into the population when they are weak and fight when they are strong, who retains the tactical initiative, who is supported by the population, either through intimidation or philosophical similarity.
So the parallels between the "second war to end all wars" and the "global war on terror" are many, and it seems the places they diverge are quite embarrassing: that we, as a nation, no longer possess the popular or political will to execute total war, even at the risk of losing our lives and sacred honor. It saddens me that we no longer seem to be the nation that sailed off into that sunset, that gave so much. for so many. I am ashamed at the national sense of entitlement, at the way our "Great Society" has placed its mouth firmly on the teat of government welfare, and refuses to wean. If those men and women who fought so valiantly could see what our nation has become, for all their sacrifice, would they be as willing to sacrifice?
Because of who they were, I am sure they would sacrifice. We still have a chance, though, to earn back what they have given us. We still have a chance to win, not just end wars. We as a nation can still sacrifice for the greater good. I feel that we are standing on the precipice of a dangerous fall, and refuse to look back for a hand-hold, but instead lean forward in the hope that we won't fall.
The only way to make the changes in our society that we need to rebuild this nation is to educate our young, to make them aware of what they have been given, make them thankful for it, and teach them how to preserve it.
So their sacrifice will never be forgotten, and never be for naught.