Thursday, November 02, 2006

Flag Wavers

Last week I heard a senatorial candidate say that the Clint Eastwood movie Flags of Our Fathers increased his support for the Iraqi war. His reasoning was the current death toll of 2,800 service lives pales in comparison to the losses incurred at Iwo Jima. This nod to "Stay the course" is as simplistic as it's progenitor.

The over 5,000 persons killed on Iwo Jima are still dead, as they say on SNL. This fact leads one to try to justify this expenditure of lives. The standard justification for the brutal Iwo invasion was that it saved lives in the long run by giving U.S. airmen a "safe haven" airfield on which to ditch their damaged aircraft. But historians now question the validity of that claim, after examining the figures. The benefits did not outweigh the costs. Airmen's lives were not more valuable than infantrymen's.

Tactical battles should not be undertaken unless they benefit the strategic plans of a nation. Iwo could have been bypassed, isolated and starved without a great expenditure of U.S. lives, but U.S. battle blood was hot. Sound familiar?

Using the movie as a hopping off point, it did demonstrate that the sacrifice and dedication of the U.S. fighting man is always a given. The U.S. fighters on Iwo are equalled by today's military.

But unlike today's entanglements, the mission on Iwo was clear: close with and destroy the enemy by fire and manuevers. Oh, for such simple times. This, by the way, is the simply- stated mission of the infantry soldier. Such clarity of purpose would be welcome in our present Iraqi misadventures, and it is the reason why America reveres our WWII and Korean vets. They were driven to defeat a clearly defined threat.

In the film, the enemy was clearly defined and isolated on the battlefield. In order to destroy an enemy, you you must first fix them, part of the classic find/fix/destroy that the U.S. military is so good at. But to find means you can identify the enemy, a near-impossibility for many of today's infantrymen who are placed in untenable policing situations. You can't nail cranberry sauce to the wall.

The military and civilian leadership as depicted in the movie was well-advised to create and display heroes on bond drives. Why are today's heroes unknown to the taxpayers? Show us our heroes. George Bush decked out in flight suit just doesn't cut it as a prototype of American manhood.

There are plenty of real heroes out there. In fact, why has only one Medal of Honor (MOH) been awarded in this present conflict? Each service should be allocated two MOH's. On D-Day, each Army engaged Regiment was authorized one MOH. This is a good, realistic quota.

At Iwo, the Secretary of the Navy was present during the entire battle. This is the type of engagement that used to be a hallmark of U.S. leadership. Having a turkey dinner in the Green Zone after secretly sneaking into country does not equate.


Blogger Lurch said...

This is an excellent commentary, although I suspect your point about the mathmatical calculus of saving lives by capturing Iwo Jima is wrong, when correctly placed in the time period discussed. The capture of Iwo Jima was predicated upon the necessary of a long and dreadfully expensive aerial bombardment of the home islands, followed by an even more expensive invasion of the Japanese islands of Kyushu and Honshu, which were negated by the use of atomic bombs, which in turn led to the surrender.

At the time of planning the Iwo landings I expect those planners were not aware of the Manhattan Project. While the Chiefs of Staff might have known, we are pretty certain news did not filter lower in the chain of command.

All of that brings up an interesting point. If Admiral Ernest King did know about the Manhattan Project what karmic retribution is due him for signing off on the Iwo Jima campaign in which thousands of sailors and Marines died?

Second point: I'm of mixed mind about the concept of allotting MOHs to services on a daily/monthly basis. While absolutely agreeing with you about the honor and courage of our troops fighting in Iraq at what many construe to be a disadvantage , would the institution of your suggestion create a de facto goal rather than an allowance? Would such a goal actually cheapen the award?

Friday, November 3, 2006 at 2:48:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Your point's well-taken re. the Iwo battle; I'll have to do more research to back up my thoughts on the question of tactics. The brilliance of the island-hopping strategy was to bypass and isolate Japanese strongpoints.

I agree that anyone outside the project was unaware of the atomic bomb.

Re. the MOH allotment idea: this was the policy used on the D-Day invasion, and it worked beautifully. Surely there was no wanting for medal material, as is true today, also. It is a personal bias here, but I think we are being stingy with the awarding of these citations. I beleive each division deserves at least one MOH for this invasion. I'm definitely not advocating for a daily/monthly quota; the award is too dear.

We had more MOH's in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in one day than we've seen in the last two desert wars. Several of these MOH's were for filling canteens for the wounded; I'm not advocating cheapening the award, but I think we should be more realistic.

Thanks for reading so closely. We're proud to have such fine correspondents.
Jim and Lisa

Friday, November 3, 2006 at 4:21:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

A follow on to Lurch:

After consulting History of Marine Corps Aviation in WWII, I found Okinawa was 385 mi/ closer to the home islands than was Iwo, therefore, I can't grasp why it was used as an emergency field if Okie was closer.

Nonetheless, the book notes while 5563 Marines alone died in the battle of Iwo, 24,700 crewman were saved in emergency landings, so I stand corrected.

Friday, November 3, 2006 at 5:40:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lurch said...

I think, perhaps, if you look at a map of the Western Pacific and the Japanese Islands you will see that after the conquest of Guam and the Marianas and the Philippie, the next (logical) step would have been Formosa. I can't remember exactly, but I think that island was passed by because the garrisons were considered isolated due to the lack of Japanese transports to bring them to the home islands, and the many aircraft stationed there had been transferred for the Phillpines campaign. There just was no strategic reason to invade.

Most likely Okinawa was not selected because of its large indigenous Japanese population, which might have resisted the invasion.

Iwo was safe from Japanese counter-attack, also. But it could provide basing facilities for the attack on Okinawa.

I know a lot of MOHs were handed out during the Civil and Indian Wars, and possibly it didn't reach the state of reverence it now holds until after the Spanish-Ameican War.

It should be special like the warriors who earn it. Regardless of D-Day quotas, I can see Battalion Commanders scratching their heads trying to decide who the second awardee should be for this month, because only one GI fell on a grenade, or dragged six men to safety while being hit three times.

Part of the problem of the Management By Objective craze of the 1980s and 90s was the constant need to ratchet up goals, since they were always being reached. It created false ceilings, encouraged foolish production risks and fraudulent reporting in the pursuit of bonuses.

Saturday, November 4, 2006 at 1:10:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

I've done further research as you recommended. Since Halsey did know about Manhattan, therefore it's logical that King did, also.

I did a map study and although Iwo is closer than Okinawa, the logical ditching strip would be Iwo, since it was on the flight path to Tinian. Originally, Okie was scheduled to be fought 6 wks. after Iwo.

I just think our forces deserve recognition via more MOH's being awarded.

Saturday, November 4, 2006 at 1:32:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lurch said...

I'm in agreement about a few more MOHs. No harm there. I just want to see the thing cheapened, the way the Bronze Star for meritorious service has been. (Although logically we'd see the Silver Star abused first.)

Since the impetus for the MOH begins at the level of the awardee's immediate superior officer, why do you think we don't see more awards? Reticence among company grade officers? Resistance at field grade level?

Saturday, November 4, 2006 at 4:33:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


I don't think it's resistence at the field level; strictly DoD strictures on the number of awards given out. It does not have to be an officer who recommends for it, as you probably know; anybody witnessing the event can write it up.

It's generally a feather in the cap of any CO when one of his men distinguishes himself.

If there is a reluctance at unit level, I've often observed that heroes have a hard time accepting other heroes. This was the hardest thing to accept in a Ranger assignment. --Jim

Sunday, November 5, 2006 at 1:29:00 PM GMT-5  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home