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D-Day (Paul Johnson)
OpinionJournal (WSJ) ^ | June 3, 2004 | Paul Johnson

Posted on 06/03/2004 7:30:22 PM PDT by beckett

The liberation of Europe has lessons for today's war leaders.

Thursday, June 3, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

LONDON--To launch a large-scale opposed landing across many miles of water is the most hazardous of all military operations. Nothing before or since has ever been mounted on the scale of Operation Overlord, though the U.S. invasion of Iraq after the 9/11 outrage employed more firepower. The D-Day landing that began June 6, 1944, involved three services, airborne and glider troops, submarine landing, undercover agents and saboteurs, and an astonishing array of technological gimmicks.

It was the most carefully planned operation in history, and it had to be. So many things could go wrong. Churchill had learned from the bitter experience of Gallipoli 30 years before how easily a big invasion could be pinned down on a narrow beachhead and never break out of it. That nearly ended his political career. The Dieppe rehearsal showed the risks we were taking and the real possibility of a catastrophe. In Italy, we had had another near-disaster at Anzio.

I recall Field Marshal Montgomery (the battle commander of Overlord, under Gen. Eisenhower as the theater supremo) discoursing on the risks: "People say I always demand an overwhelming numerical superiority. Well, I'd be a fool if I didn't. If the resources are there let's have them. I used to point out: We are up against the world's finest professional army, all of whose senior commanders had had years of recent fighting experience. They didn't come any better than Rommel or Runstedt. I knew they were very resourceful gentlemen. All the German divisional commanders in France were good. We needed everything we had got to beat those people.

(Excerpt) Read more at ...

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: blair; bush; churchill; dday; eisenhower; history; montgomery; pauljohnson; wwii
The OpinionJournal must be excerpted. Correlation to the decision made by Bush and Blair on Iraq can be found at the end of the column, so follow the link.
1 posted on 06/03/2004 7:30:22 PM PDT by beckett
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To: beckett
I like Johnson and on the whole I liked the column. But it contained a few revisionist screamers, perhaps second hand Monty spin (since clearly he was one former source for Johnson).

The article portrays the eventual broad front push into Germany as (1) responsible for the Russians reaching central Europe first and (2) the result of Eisenhower's caution against Monty's advice to push hard on a narrow front.

Market-Garden. Ike gave Monty his shot. Pulled all the supplies from Patton and the rest to let him try to win the war early in exactly such a narrow front operation. It failed. Many causes may be cited, but if you ask an American paratrooper the number one reason will be the failure of the British armor portion to push hard enough. Their paras died while the tankers dithered.

Then there is the fact that Monty stumped for that shot because he had been striving for breakout (not as the article has it "to destroy German armor") from a week after D-Day. And failing half a dozen times. The Americans finally did, and Patton took France. The article present Monty as calling for such operations - but overlooks that his MG proposal took away Patton's gas while Patton was already doing it.

Leaving aside the old rivalry between them, there is a more basic problem with the tale. The eventual broad front wasn't a mistake. The truth is that allies could not supply 50 divisions at the German border over open beaches, with the supplies and facilities available at the end of July. It took time to open and repair ports, land stuff, set up pipelines, etc.

The logistic limits were tight. Unless the Germans just gave up, the force that could be thrust deep into Germany early would have been too weak, whoever commanded it. (Patton would have done a better job. But it is doubtful even he could have done it). Also, the only reason is was even thinkable that summer and early fall, is because the Russians were doing things at least as nasty to the Germans in white Russia, as the western allies were doing to them in France.

Also, it was not up to the western allies which side would win the race. The Germans could throw reserves either way, at will. If they had sent their winter counterattack force (Bulge and Alsace) east instead (on defense), the western allies would have been the first into all of Germany. If a narrow front thrust threatened in the fall of 1944, they could still have stopped it by stripping the east of reinforcements - letting the Russians into SE Europe faster, and perhaps putting Austria under their control at the war's end. In short, too much was up to the Germans to pin the post war configuration on western allied choices in the fall of 1944.

Other than that, it is a fine article.

2 posted on 06/03/2004 9:23:52 PM PDT by JasonC
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To: JasonC

I have never failed to enjoy reading your comments and analysis.

Do you have favorite WW2, American Civil War, American Revolutionary War, and Franco-Prussian war books you like to recommend?

3 posted on 06/03/2004 9:33:53 PM PDT by GretchenM (No military in the history of the world has fought so hard and so often for the freedom of others.-W)
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I recall Field Marshal Montgomery (the battle commander of Overlord, under Gen. Eisenhower as the theater supremo) discoursing on the risks.

"Germans are not beaten until they are dead or in the pen. They are masters of the counterattack. ... You could never take anything for granted with the Germans. ... That is why our deception plans were so important. A week after D-Day, they still thought Normandy was a feint, and that the really big show would come in Pas-de-Calais. They were holding a score of divisions there that should have been attacking us all out by that stage. So the deception threw out of gear their entire plan of counterattack. ... By the time they realized Normandy was the real thing it was too late ..."

I never knew this.

It still amazes me that the Allies achieved surprise as to the date of the attack.

... had it not been for the firmness of President Truman in reversing Roosevelt's policy of appeasing Stalin, it is quite possible that Western Europe too might have fallen victim to communism, and that the frontiers of Stalin's empire would only have ended at the English Channel.

Or worse.

4 posted on 06/03/2004 9:51:17 PM PDT by GretchenM (No military in the history of the world has fought so hard and so often for the freedom of others.-W)
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To: JasonC
Yes you've said it just right. Johnson did skip too easily over the whole "bridge too far" debacle, didn't he? And, as you say, Ike had it right about the broad front. Other options weren't feasible logistically. There was nothing "cautious" about that. Just good common sense. Well, perhaps the uncommon good sense of exceptional generalship.

Speaking of Ike I saw him last night on a gem of program produced by CBS in August 1963. Walter Cronkite walked the Normandy battlefied with him and put together a fascinating two hour program. Eisenhower's very sharp mind came shining through. I was floored by how incisive and really interesting and reflective he was in his commentary. He was another guy the Dems liked to denigrate as an intellectual lightweight, a bumbler in off-the-cuff speechifying much like you know who. And yet there was a formidable mind at work in Eisenhower. Even though GWB will never match Ike's accomplishments, and even though he may have even greater speechifying shortcomings than Ike had, I believe there's a formidable mind at work in Bush too.

Also it was interesting to reflect about the date of the program. August 1963. You could see in Cronkite's demeanor and in the tenor of his questions that the whole 60s thing hadn't happened yet, and that Vietnam was just a rumble on a distant horizon. Kennedy lived and Camelot was in full swing.

Really it's a gem of a program as I said, and I find it almost impossible to believe that it has languished in the CBS vaults all these years. It should long ago have become a staple on Public Television and/or the History channel.

5 posted on 06/03/2004 10:07:27 PM PDT by beckett
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To: GretchenM
Thanks, you are too kind. My recommended reading list will probably seem too long. Most attempts at condensing things leave out so much they become seriously misleading.

For late WW II in the west, the US army green books are the best single source IMO. The volumes on Normandy, Lorraine, and the Bulge are particularly good. For grand strategy of the whole war I recommend just starting with Churchill. For the eastern front, read David Glantz. There are many German sources but they are uneven. Many of the early ones are tendentious (puffing the German army while blaming Hitler) - but Manstein is still indispensable. The most comprehensive are not accessible in English. Haupt's 3 volume series on the eastern front is, but can be far too brief at critical times despite the overall length. But if you've read all of these, you will have so comprehensive a picture everything else will slot in as afterthought or correction. The Pacific theater is harder, simply because there are no good Japanese side accounts, that don't have one axe to grind or another. Any of the comprehensive US side accounts will serve.

On the American civil war, Shelby Foote is better than the rest. But every civil war history I've ever read suffers from a military prejudice against the methods by which Grant actually eventually won the war - or try to reinterpret side matters as more important than they were, to save modern military theses. They don't want to admit that there is such a thing as an attrition strategy. They think of it as a process that befalls armies or wars when strategy disappears. Which is just wrong.

An adequate military picture of the revolutionary war can't be found in a single volume, that I know of anyway. No account that leaves the European and world wide aspects is going to be accurate. The world wide strain on the British navy, the need to defend India against French squadrons, the inadequate force badly led in the battle of the Chesapeake - these were far more decisive than most accounts I've seen allow. Instead we get press accounts of successful guerilla actions or raids, glorified skirmishes, and outright defeats trumpeted as pyrrhic when their costs were dwarfed by an hour of Napoleon battle a generation later. In WW II history we'd recognize that quality of material as irrelevant propaganda not military analysis.

The Franco-Prussian war is a curious one to ask about. It was vastly overdetermined. The German army was so much better organized and directed than the French, it is hard to separate real lessons from "help mates" and "own goals". There are far more lessons in the Napoleonic wars, in my opinion (read Esposito and Elting). And WW I (read the British official histories for the western front).

The overall lesson is to read thickly described operational history. If you don't read them all, read at least one. Not grand synthetic accounts that pretend to roll it all into a ball for you, or to derive all the supposed lessons and reduce them to formulas a 14 year old boy can readily understand. There is something you discover and come to really appreciate in the more detailed histories - how much happens, how many plans are tried and fail, how wide the variety of important considerations actually is. When for every neat doctrinal formula you can think of a concrete case of which it is true, and another of which it is false, freedom of thought begins, and cant evaporates.

6 posted on 06/03/2004 11:53:07 PM PDT by JasonC
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To: JasonC
There is something you discover and come to really appreciate in the more detailed histories - how much happens, how many plans are tried and fail, how wide the variety of important considerations actually is.

Jason, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and recommendations at post 6. I am working my way backwards in history, so to speak, studying wars. History has always gripped me since at least fifth grade, when we studied US History for the first time. In senior high I had an excellent US History teacher and in college I had a wonderful history professor who continued firing the interest, but it's only in the last decade or so that I've been able to sink my teeth in and get a wider, deeper view.

You mentioned starting with Churchill. I have read his history (the full six volumes) of the second world war. It was so depressing to read the first few volumes; so much defeat following so much tragedy; I don't know how the people who lived through it managed, not being able to see the end of it as we now do. The shipping losses alone were appalling. (How would we bear it now?) From those books I learned what you wrote above, that one must read the daily grit, the to-and-fro, the rancid politicians and traitors, the mistakes, in order to value properly and understand the significance of the eventual triumph.

For the Revolutionary War, I'm sort of just starting my reading. I've found, again, just what you wrote is true: it's important to read detailed accounts of the failures in order to be able to evaluate the whole war, including what proved to be the right decisions, the successes. And that the author's axe is perhaps the most important piece of evidence to weigh.

I haven't studied the Napoleonic Wars very deeply yet; they're on my list as I work backwards. I'm on the last pages of Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, where he writes about the three wars, including the Franco-Prussian, that created the hotbeds of discontent for WW's 1 and 2, which has sparked my interest in those. Recently I got a deal on a new summary WW1 book -- the first I've laid hands on for that rarely nmentioned conflict. For me, it works well to read a summary first and then proceed to tear into the conflict piece by piece. I'm a very visual learner and if I cannot see the whole, it's much more difficult for me to see the parts. You probably read a lot faster than I do or are perhaps (smile) older than I -- or were able to devote your time with more dedication to this study. In either case, I am very grateful for you drawing out of your experience to help set me on a path to a better understanding.

I have long believed that unless one understands the major conflicts, and some minor ones, of our world, one cannot penetrate deeply into an understanding of today's affairs.

7 posted on 06/04/2004 11:14:46 AM PDT by GretchenM (No military in the history of the world has fought so hard and so often for the freedom of others.-W)
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To: beckett

A real quagmire and one that isn't

The dedication of the World War II monument in Washington D.C. provides us with more than just an opportunity to express gratitude to one of the greatest generations in American history for their valor, sacrifice, and devotion to duty has they defeated one of the gravest threats to enlightened civilization in history. It also provides us with an opportunity to examine the historical record of World War II and contextualize it in relation to the current situation in Iraq.

If one wishes to adopt the outlook of the contemporary critics of the Iraq enterprise, than World War II could have been characterized as an endless quagmire that we could never win. Relatively few people are aware that the strategic bombing campaign in 1943 nearly ground to a halt when the deep penetration raids into Germany were called off after the catastrophic heavy bomber losses of the Schweinfurt and Regensberg missions. (So brilliantly characterized in the great World War II movie "12 o'clock High") No one was whining loudly and publicly about the fact that the self defending bomber formation concept was flawed and had revealed itself to be so by not having a long-range fighter escort ready at the time. We are so used to the Air Force sustaining almost no casualties in current day operations that we often forget that the 8th Air Force based in England suffered more dead (26,000) than the entire Marine Corps did in World War II (less than 20,000) There were no loudly public howls of quagmire, quagmire we can't win this.

How about the night naval battle off Savo Island, Guadalcanal in August of 1942 in which the United States Navy, defeated by a Japanese navy far better versed in night fighting tactics, sailed away and left the Marines stranded on Guadalcanal with no immediate hope of supply? There weren't any howls of quagmire, quagmire we can't win.

How about the slaughter off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States in 1942 in which the U-boats of the German Kreigsmarine during Operation Drumbeat sunk 500 allied merchant and navy ships in a six-month period in the greatest naval disaster in United States history? There was an almost incomprehensible failure to develop an efficient convoy escort system despite the lessons of World War I. Again no howls of quagmire, quagmire we can't win, let's make the Secretary of War and Chief of Naval Operations resign.

How about the Kasserine pass in Tunisia in February of 1943? The tough veterans of Rommel's Afrika Corps soundly defeated and routed green American troops, sending them into pell mell retreat. Again no howls of quagmire, quagmire these Germans are just too battle hardened and ruthless to beat.

Relatively little is known of the bloody check inflicted on units of the 1st, 4th, 28th, and 9th infantry divisions by the Germans during the battle of Huertegen Forest during Sep- Nov of 1944 as a prelude to the Battle of the Bulge? The men of these units were attrited horribly in one the most soul destroying campaigns in American history, comparable to the Wilderness and Cold Harbor campaigns of the Civil War. Winston Churchill called it "Passchendale with tree bursts." Or the Battle of the Bulge's disastrous opening on the Schnee Eifel in Belgium where intelligence failures allowed a totally surprised American Army to lose to captivity two whole infantry regiments of the 106th division in the opening rounds of the battle? Again no howls of quagmire, quagmire we just can't win.

Or how about the defeat inflicted on the allies during Operation Market Garden (a Bridge Too Far) in 1944 when everyone knew that the Germans were already beaten? Or the horrendous losses off Okinawa? Or the failure to ensure sufficient numbers of tracked landing craft at Tarawa due to a misinterpretation of the meteorological conditions affecting the tides around Betio atoll? Nearly 1,000 Marines died in a 76 hour battle for an atoll smaller than Manhattan's Central Park, many because they had to wade hundreds of yards to shore from Betio's lagoon after their landing craft hung up on the reef. Or the largely unnecessary Pelielu campaign in which 1,800 were killed and 8,500 wounded? Or the bloody repulse at the Rapido River in January of 1944, or the grinding stalemate at Anzio or the entire checkmated Italian campaign, hopelessly bogged down in the Liri Valley before Monte Cassino? Even though the Rapido River attack generated enormous controversy, culminating in a congressional inquiry, it did not commence until the war was over. Or, due to logistical failures, the inability to maintain the pressure on a retreating German Army, shattered in Normandy, which allowed it to refit and regroup behind the Westwall, lengthening the war and costing thousands of lives. Again no howls of quagmire, quagmire we can't win.

We often forget that World War II was no unrelieved string of victories until the final triumph. We often suffered defeat on the battlefield, sometimes catastrophic, but we prevailed because we knew that we had to, since the alternative to victory was just too bitter to contemplate.

Nothing even remotely resembling any of these historical disasters of World War II has occurred in Iraq, but these infantile naysayers who try to pose the situation has an absolute defeat are either hopelessly naïve or determined to demoralize our soldiers and willfully undermine this effort. Despite the setbacks that have occurred in Iraq, there is nothing here that cannot be remedied to this country's favor.

Since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1...

... The first battalion of the new Iraqi Army has graduated and is on active duty.
... Over 60,000 Iraqis now provide security to their fellow citizens.
... Nearly all of Iraq's 400 courts are functioning.
... The Iraqi judiciary is fully independent.
.. On Monday, October 6, power generation hit 4,518 megawatts, exceeding the prewar average.
... All 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges are open, as are nearly all primary and secondary schools.
... By October 1, Coalition forces had rehab-ed over 1,500 schools - 500 more than scheduled.
... Teachers earn from 12 to 25 times their former salaries.
... All 240 hospitals and more than 1200 clinics are open.
... Doctor's salaries are at least eight times what they were under Saddam.
... Pharmaceutical distribution has gone from essentially nothing to 700 tons in May to a current total of 12,000 tons.
... The Coalition has helped administer over 22 million vaccination doses to Iraq's children.
... A Coalition program has cleared over 14,000 kilometers of Iraq's 27,000 kilometers of weed-choked canals which now irrigate tens of thousands of farms. This project has created jobs for more than 100,000 Iraqi men and women.
... We have restored over three-quarters of prewar telephone services and over two-thirds of the potable water production.
... There are 4,900 full-service telephone connections. We expect 50,000 by year-end.
... The wheels of commerce are turning. From bicycles to satellite dishes to cars and trucks, businesses are coming to life in all major cities and towns.
... 95 percent of all prewar bank customers have service and first-time customers are opening accounts daily.
... Iraqi banks are making loans to finance businesses.
... The central bank is fully independent.
... Iraq has one of the world's most growth-oriented investment and banking laws.
... Iraq has a single, unified currency for the first time in 15 years.
... Satellite TV dishes are legal.
... Foreign journalists aren't on 10-day visas paying mandatory and extortionate fees to the Ministry of Information for minders and other government spies.
... There is no Ministry of Information.
... There are more than 170 newspapers.
... You can buy satellite dishes on what seems like every street corner.
... Foreign journalists (and everyone else) are free to come and go.
... A nation that had not one single element -- legislative, judicial or executive -- of a representative government now does.
... In Baghdad alone residents have selected 88 advisory councils. Baghdad's first democratic transfer of power in 35 years happened when the city council elected its new chairman.
... Today in Iraq chambers of commerce, business, school and professional organizations are electing their leaders all over the country.
... 25 ministers, selected by the most representative governing body in Iraq's history, run the day-to-day business of government.
... The Iraqi government regularly participates in international events. Since July the Iraqi government has been represented in over two dozen international meetings, including those of the UN General Assembly, the Arab League, the World Bank and IMF and, today, the Islamic Conference Summit. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs today announced that it is reopening over 30 Iraqi embassies around the world.
... Shiva religious festivals that were all but banned, aren't.
... For the first time in 35 years, in Karbala thousands of Shiites celebrate the pilgrimage of the 12th Imam.
... The Coalition has completed over 13,000 reconstruction projects, large and small, as part of a strategic plan for the reconstruction of Iraq.
... Uday and Queasy are dead - and no longer feeding innocent Iraqis to the zoo lions, raping the young daughters of local leaders to force cooperation, torturing Iraq's soccer players for losing games, or murdering critics.
... Children aren't imprisoned or murdered when their parents disagree with the government.
... Political opponents aren't imprisoned, tortured, executed, maimed, or forced to watch their families die for disagreeing with Saddam.
... Millions of long-suffering Iraqis no longer live in perpetual terror.
... Saudis will hold municipal elections.
... Qatar is reforming education to give more choices to parents.
... Jordan is accelerating market economic reforms.
... The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for the first time to an Iranian
-- A Muslim woman who speaks out with courage for human rights, for democracy and for peace.
.. Saddam is gone.
... Iraq is free.
....The handover of power is on schedule.
….Terrorists are being drawn to an arena in which our military can kill or capture them

Our magnificent soldiers, sailors and airmen still have more tough work to do which will undoubtedly be done with the same mix of courage, humanitarianism, innovation, and competence that has characterized our effort in Iraq to date, Abu Ghraib notwithstanding. But when you compare this effort to that other great effort of World War II that we are presently commemorating, this one looks to be comparatively well in hand. All this was accomplished at almost no cost in strictly military terms, and yes, I am aware that the brutal calculus of war is soulless and necessarily heedless of the irreplaceability of individual human beings. But we must also realize that wars in the national interest, as I believe this one to be, require that we be prepared to accept this as a condition of our national security.

Again, I wish to express my undying gratitude to a generation of Americans who showed us how to prevail in a REAL quagmire. And to the Americans who are now getting it done despite those who say they can't or shouldn't. As the ever brilliant Mark Steyn said best in his 30 May editorial:

But that's the difference between then and now: the loss of proportion. They had victims galore back in 1863, but they weren't a victim culture. They had a lot of crummy decisions and bureaucratic screwups worth re-examining, but they weren't a nation that prioritized retroactive pseudo-legalistic self-flagellating vaudeville over all else. They had hellish setbacks but they didn't lose sight of the forest in order to obsess week after week on one tiny twig of one weedy little tree.
There is something not just ridiculous but unbecoming about a hyperpower 300 million strong whose elites -- from the deranged former vice president down -- want the outcome of a war, and the fate of a nation, to hinge on one freaky jailhouse; elites who are willing to pay any price, bear any burden, as long as it's pain-free, squeaky clean and over in a week. The sheer silliness dishonors the memory of all those we're supposed to be remembering this Memorial Day.

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. - John Stuart Mill ~ (1868)

8 posted on 06/04/2004 5:27:43 PM PDT by DMZFrank
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To: DMZFrank

Thanks for your post. There's a lot of solid insights in it, and the list of accomplishments in Iraq is a valuable resource.

9 posted on 06/04/2004 5:50:30 PM PDT by beckett
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To: beckett


10 posted on 06/04/2004 5:54:03 PM PDT by VOA
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To: DMZFrank

That deserves a post of it's own, my friend.

11 posted on 06/04/2004 6:04:26 PM PDT by tet68 ( " We would not die in that man's company, that fears his fellowship to die with us...." Henry V.)
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To: tet68


12 posted on 06/06/2004 7:00:51 AM PDT by AMSiriano
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To: beckett

13 posted on 06/06/2004 7:10:07 AM PDT by cartoonistx
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To: tet68

Thanks for your gracious comment. I just felt I could use my knowledge of how dire WWII was for this country for most of our involvement in it and place that into a perspective vis a vis the Iraqi situation. I am sick of hearing how this is an endless quagmire in which we can never succeed. This could be another self inflicted defeat like Vietnam. (I am a vet of the SE Asia war games by the way)

14 posted on 06/10/2004 5:59:36 PM PDT by DMZFrank
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To: beckett

Thanks for your gracious comment. I just felt I could use my knowledge of how dire WWII was for this country for most of our involvement in it and place that into a perspective vis a vis the Iraqi situation. I am sick of hearing how this is an endless quagmire in which we can never succeed. This could be another self inflicted defeat like Vietnam. (I am a vet of the SE Asia war games by the way)

15 posted on 06/10/2004 5:59:50 PM PDT by DMZFrank
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