Skip to comments.Fighting Under World War II Rules
Posted on 01/24/2007 3:34:31 PM PST by Publius
The United States Constitution does not recognize War and War Lite, only that a state of war exists. Traditionally the US has used two different instruments for declaring war. When dealing with a sovereign nation the policy was to use a declaration of war, and it was removed from the books in the treaty that ended the war. When dealing with a non-sovereign, like the Barbary pirates or al-Quaeda, the policy was to use a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force. That these resolutions were not removed from the books after the non-sovereign was defeated is simply a matter of legislative sloppiness, and nothing further should be read into it.
While a declaration of war and a resolution authorizing the use of force are two different instruments of war, they carry the same constitutional weight. However, they do not carry the same political weight.
Fighting World War II at Home
Once Congress declared war Americans banded together to fight the common enemy. Dissent was crushed or severely chastised. Two years before America became involved in the war, the British and Canadians were already fighting, and many Americans took the train across the border to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force. (This is a far cry from those Americans who crossed to Canada during the Vietnam debacle.)
After Pearl Harbor, America launched its first full military mobilization since 1917. The draft had been reinstated a year earlier, and now American males received letters that began, Greetings from the President. Few thought of evading the draft, and huge crowds of angry men mobbed recruiting centers to enlist. There were no voices calling the attack a law enforcement problem. There were no voices saying that America had brought the attack upon itself because of some flaw in its makeup or policies. There were few who said that such an attack was not sufficient reason for war. Although there had been a vibrant antiwar movement before Pearl Harbor, no antiwar demonstrators ever took to the streets, and if they had, an angry mob would have lynched them before the police could have arrested them. With the declaration of war America operated under World War II Rules.
World War II Rules permitted a unified approach to war by a cohesive society. It was how America fought and won.
And Then It All Went Wrong
In 1959 Dr. Henry Kissinger of Harvard wrote an article in Foreign Affairs, The Twilight Struggle, that revolutionized American foreign policy. Kissinger argued that the stakes of nuclear war had become so unacceptably high that the conflict between America and the Soviet Union would be fought in the Third World in the form of wars of liberation. To compete in this arena would require Americans to fight long-term limited wars in obscure parts of the globe. Kissinger did not suggest using American ground forces but favored supporting pro-American governments in this effort.
The initial American involvement in Vietnam was a congressionally authorized deployment of American forces as military advisors to the government of South Vietnam, and the deployment was multinational, supported by such nations as Australia and South Korea. US Army Colonel John Paul Vann arrived and saw a nation of Vietnamese-speaking Buddhists governed by an elite group of French-speaking Catholics. He saw a president of South Vietnam who was ascetic to the point of being a holy man but who was not strong enough to prevent his family from stealing everything that wasnt nailed down. What disturbed Vann most was the unwillingness of South Vietnams army to fight and the unwillingness of the countrys president to make it fight.
Success in the military does not come from delivering bad news to ones superiors. Vann met with Lyndon Johnson in 1964, gave him the bad news, but offered him a way out sending American ground forces to take over the fighting.
Following a questionable incident at the Gulf of Tonkin, Johnson procured a further congressional authorization to send ground troops to South Vietnam and wage aerial war on North Vietnam. A declaration of war was rejected because of the multinational nature of the initial effort and the fear of Soviet and Chinese reaction to such a declaration on one of their client states.
But there was another unstated reason directly tied to Kissingers theory. As experienced in World War II, a declaration of war would lead to strong passions on the part of the American people. Should a crisis erupt in Vietnam that escalated tensions with the Soviet Union or China, political passions might make it impossible for an American president to back down. Great powers do not like to lose face. The loss of room for maneuver could easily turn a limited war into a nuclear war; thus Vietnam had to be a passionless war.
Without a declaration of war there was no political consensus to permit the US to fight under World War II Rules. In 1965 when Johnson spoke in El Paso, he witnessed his first antiwar demonstration, where police roughed up the demonstrators and then arrested them for disorderly conduct. This was what one would have expected under World War II Rules, but it was not to last.
As the passionless war drifted on, public resistance stiffened. Some felt that Vietnam without our interference would eventually evolve to look something like Sweden, a point espoused by Frances Fitzgerald in her book, Fire in the Lake. Others who were pro-Communist rooted for an American defeat. Still others felt this latest chapter in the Cold War was a policy mistake. But most simply did not want to be drafted to fight a limited war when the American homeland was not threatened.
America now found itself fighting under Vietnam Rules. And it lost.
The War Against Radical Islam
September 11, 2001 changed everything. American popular passions had been aroused, and George Walker Bush issued an ultimatum to the world: You are either with us or against us. But there was no declaration of war.
Some argued that al-Qaeda was not a sovereign entity. But intelligence had long shown that many sovereign nations had been involved, directly or peripherally. Afghanistan had provided al-Qaeda with a base of operations, Pakistans intelligence forces had provided tactical support, and Saudi Arabia had provided financial support as a way of paying al-Qaeda to leave it alone. The fingerprints of many Islamic nations were all over 9/11.
However, a declaration of war would have galvanized opposition throughout the entire Islamic world, and the US would not been able to take on all enemies at once with conventional forces. A nuclear response and a massive mobilization via a military draft would have been the only way to end the threat quickly. But the first use of nuclear weapons would have galvanized opposition from the entire world and turned America into an international pariah.
The chosen approach had echoes of Vietnam, Desert Storm and World War II. One limited war after another would be fought in a controlled fashion and under the umbrella of the UN whenever possible. The idea was not to escalate piecemeal as in Vietnam, but to go in quickly with overwhelming force, crush the enemys military, conquer him and then rebuild him as America had rebuilt Germany and Japan after World War II. But nation building turned out to be a difficult proposition when the enemy government did not officially surrender, the enemy populace did not acknowledge it had been defeated, and the enemy culture was hard, rocky ground in which to sow the seeds of democracy.
In Afghanistan a coalition of nations worked with the US under UN approval to remove the Taliban from power. But the war in Iraq proved to be more problematic, as EU nations opposed the effort. Some EU nations wanted to preserve the lucrative business arrangements they had with Iraq, and others wanted an Iraq with weapons of mass destruction to function as a counterweight to keep a nuclear Israel under control. The same nations oppose American action against Iran because Iran has now assumed the counterweight function.
Fighting Again Under World War II Rules
As the Iraq adventure began to go sour, the political unity that had existed in the days immediately following 9/11 evaporated, and America found itself once more fighting under Vietnam Rules. (When you see bumper stickers that read, Peace is Patriotic, you know you are fighting under Vietnam Rules.) Were America operating under World War II Rules today, things would be very different.
As war clouds gather over Iran, it is important to correctly evaluate the enemy. Iran has an army and a religious police force that is absolutely motivated by religion and absolutely ruthless in execution. Their Hezbollah surrogates will not hesitate to strike the American homeland if possible. For this nation to fight effectively and win may eventually require the use of unconventional weaponry, something that will horrify most of the world, bring on the condemnation of the United Nations and push the American Left to the point of open revolt. For political purposes, a declaration of war may be necessary to draw those lines beyond which dissent dare not cross and to make clear to the world Americas resolve.
While it may make no legal difference as to which instrument the nation uses to go to war, there are political differences, and there must be ground rules. Today, unfortunately, America is operating under Vietnam Rules. Unless this changes, defeat becomes inevitable.
Excellent article, ping and bookmark for later.
Definitely food for thought...
I would be more than willing to go through the rationing, the speed limit restrictions, the hard times in general if it meant that we would be rid of the Islamic threat to our way of life. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary to win a real victory. Our current warfare pattern is not a recipie for true and long-term victory.
Unless there was another catastrophic attack on the US with a nation openly declaring war on us, these "WW2" rules would never fly.
I think that one explanation of the difference between the WWII model and that of Vietnam lies in the Korean War, only recently the recipient of the name of "War" and at the time a "conflict" or "police action." Part of the reason for this is (1) the fatigue the WWII generation felt at the successful ending of a maximum effort, and (2) the perceived lack of need for an all-out effort in a small and distant place. After a year or so of war there the latter attitude was grudgingly adjusted, but the idea was that we could support both a small-scale "police action" and European and domestic reconstruction simultaneously under an essentially peace economy.
The effects of that erroneous attitude are the principal complaints of veterans of that conflict - aging and inadequate supplies, inadequate ammunition - does this sound familiar? But quite in keeping with your thesis as I understand it was that from the home front's point of view this was war on a part-time basis.
Vietnam was very much entered and for a good number of years prosecuted on this basis. It takes a visible threat on the order of that posed by Nazi Germany to convince the population of the sacrifices necessary for total warfare. Neither Korea nor Vietnam was really convincing on that basis. With 9/11 the War On Terror was, War in Afghanistan was on a provisionary basis, but War in Iraq wasn't, or more properly was subject to vociferous criticism on that basis.
The difference is that in Afghanistan the 9/11 attackers enjoyed overt state-level support in terms of funding, logistics, and training. In Iraq that was not the case to anywhere near that level and was covert, and hence deniable, besides. The nature of the two interventions was entirely different from the point of view of the public and those differences were played upon, exaggerated, and exploited by those with a political stake in so doing.
What is most striking about this difference is that in the case of Afghanistan we had an identifiable opponent in a specific location; elsewhere in the WOT we have opponents who are not so readily identified who depend on the sanctuary provided under international law. The essence of proxy war by terror is to keep the threat under the threshold that would trigger open warfare. Bush moved that threshold down with respect to Iraq and infuriated an international diplomatic community who had come to depend on it. The effect is that now countries such as Iran and Syria are pressing to identify and re-establish that threshold. If it is formally codified in international law those who wish to exploit it may stay just under it and still conduct proxy warfare.
What that also does is to deny the attacked country the ability to mobilize the sort of all-out total-war effort to which your essay refers. It is warfare by slow asymmetrical dripping - I think "fourth-generation" is overstating the case but it certainly does represent the sort of lesson learned inadvertently by the communists in Korea and developed to fruition in Vietnam. In this respect 9/11 was a colossal blunder on the part of the terrorists because it threatened the very means of this warfare to exist unaddressed. A lot of liberals and internationalists liked the old rules because they knew where they stood (and how much they could get away with). A good deal of the shouting is to revert to those days, and I don't think given the nature of the new terror that the world can afford that luxury.
All IMHO and subject to vigorous debate as usual, of course...
If Iran were to use a Revolutionary Guards cell or a Hezbollah cell against us, they would never admit to it, much less declare war on us.
I have never seen a coherent, cogent and convincing explanation for this.
For the life of me, I can't imagine why Israel by any measure justifies being "under control" for the benefit, ostensibly, of Europeans.
Has anyone seen such a justification? Has Israel ever attacked anyone before being provoked?
An analysis based on only WW II and Vietnam (a lost campaign in the ultimately victorious conduct of WW III, a.k.a. the Cold War) is not really very enlightening.
The notion that the general populace of a great power needs to sacrifice to fight a war effectively is not born out by a longer examination of history: Rome's conquests were not accomplished by imposing hardship on the citizens of the Republic. Frederick the Great fought many wars, and only resorted to conscription during the Seven Years War when all of the other continental powers were arrayed against Prussia. He once expressed the desideratum "Ideally my people should not even know that I am at war." Britain's imperial wars in the 18th and 19th centuries were not accompanied by great sacrifice at home, nor by indefinite terms for military service.
Indeed the decisive blows in the Cold War, the arming of proxies in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, the invasion of Grenada (repealing the Brezhnev Doctrine), and defense build-up that the Soviets couldn't outrace (augmented I've heard with faking of greater accuracy than actually achieved in anti-missile tests), were all accomplished without imposing WW II-style rigors on the American people.
What is needed is not hardship, but single-mindedness and resolve, two qualities lacking thanks to the treasonous behavior of the media and the American left both in and out of public office.
As defined by the UN, Korea was a police action and involved a multi-lateral force. We didn't need a declaration of war because the UN was the belligerent power, and a congressional authorization of our participation was deemed sufficient.
It should be noted that when the Korean adventure went sour after Chinas intervention, there were no anti-war demonstrations, although the country was angry enough to change parties in 1952. What kept the lid on dissent was the Cold War. We were in Korea for a much bigger reason.
GREAT ARTICLE! ONE OF THE BEST!!
Yes, I remember well when I was a little boy, there were constant reminders of the war.
Our the managers of our apartment complex took an empty field and turned it into "Victory Gardens," to grow food and help the war effort. We had our little plot.
When we opened tin cans, we would take off both ends, stamp them flat, and recycle them, because the steel mills needed scrap. People remembered how the Japanese had bought the scrap steel from the 3rd Avenue El when it was torn down, and were determined to make it up. My job when I was maybe six or seven was to jump up and down on soup cans and stamp them flat on the kitchen floor.
There was no bubble gum in the stores, and I remember looking forward to the end of the war so I could chew bubble gum. What a pleasure it was when I bought my first roll after V-Day!
My aunt and uncle had horses, and there was strict gas rationing, so they harnessed up the carriage to go to church on Sundays. And we used a sleigh in the winter. How's that for saving oil?
If anyone complained about these minor hardships, which were intended to give everyone a sense of sharing and helping, the other fellow would inevitably say, "What'sa matta? Doncha know there's a war on?"
However, if I remember correctly, the British used "press gangs" to conscript people during the Napoleonic wars, which were also much like a long world war.
Our "stealth victory" in World War III (the Cold War) was one of our greatest achievements, and kudos go to William Casey, who saw it was possible, and to Ronald Reagan for executing Casey's long term strategy. We were fortunate to be able to do it without firing too many shots after Vietnam.
My point was that during the lifetime of most of us, we have fought under two different paradigms when we were engaged in an actual shooting war. A shooting war appears to be our only choice right now because our enemies have no interest in negotiating or even showing some semblance of reason. The "stealth victory" strategem won't work here. Thus we have to pick a paradigm for a shooting war, and only one has a track record of success.
Most of that stuff was not necessary, at least in America, but was ordered for purposes of civilian morale. It made everyone feel they were part of the war effort, and that every bit helped.
I suppose I was brighter than the average little boy, but even then I understood that Roosevelt was manipulating emotions for propaganda purposes. And I also thought, So what? Our servicemen deserve the moral support."
My uncle, who once came in for a visit and gave me a mesh metal belt he said he had gotten off a dead Jap on the battlefield, with a dagger and sheath, went missing in action in Europe. We all had a personal stake in it and basic patriotism for our country. These little things helped.
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