by William H. Benson
November 8, 2001
By the time World War I arrived, Harry Truman was already 35-years-old, and despite his age and poor eyesight and succession of business failures, his superiors recognized something in him and commissioned him as a battery commander in the 129th Field Artillery. They sent him to France, and there he led his men with courage and skill. He loved his gunners, and they loved him. Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, stopped the carnage in the trenches, and Harry Truman came home a major.
However, he chose to remain in the Army reserves and did not resign his position until he became commander-in-chief and President of the United States in 1945. In a sense World War I made Harry Truman. He appreciated the military’s discipline, the structure, and the organization. He discovered he could lead, from the front and in the right direction. He was an infantryman, an Army man of the first order.
In the 1930’s the U.S. and England looked with horror and outrage when Hitler’s Germany began the war by indiscriminate bombing raids upon Warsaw, then Rotterdam, Belgrade, and London. By 1940 Churchill felt overwhelmed by the prospect of a Nazi occupation of Western Civilization–what he saw as a moral catastrophe, and so hesitantly he authorized a policy of mass bombing on German cities.
One British military strategist called it “the Jupiter Complex”, the ability granted by the posssession of huge air forces to rain thunderbolts on the wicked. The objective was to weaken the people’s resolve, end the war quickly, and minimize casualties. The difficulty with the policy was that the bombs killed the innocent–civilians caught in the crossfire. The democracies’ moral judgement had become distorted and corrupted by a war that Hitler’s Nazis had started.
For example, on February 13 and 14, 1945 two waves of British bombers and a third by Americans destroyed Dresden, Germany. The firestorm engulfed 85 square miles and killed 25,000 men, women, and children. Because it was Shrove Tuesday, many of the dead children were still dressed in their carnival costumes.
The Americans followed the same policy in the Pacific. Late in the war and without much resistance, U.S. bombers sent wave after wave to bomb major Japanese cities. On March 9 and 10, 1945 300 B29 Flying Fortresses turned Tokyo into an inferno, obliterating 15 square miles, killing 83,000, and injuring 102,000. Truman’s decision in August to drop the atomic bombs upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a natural extension of the Jupiter Complex.
Football season is here, and strategies are built around the question, “Do we run now, or do we pass?” Super Bowl champions can do both equally well, pushing the defense continually off balance. Harry Truman’s World War I was a ground game fought in the trenches; his World War II introduced the aerial game.
The new century and the new millennium are barely a year old, and we are now at war again. Last week in Time magazine, Chalres Krauthammer called this war against Osama bin Laden “a war of necessity”, much like World War II, and not a war of choice, like Vietnam, Kosovo, or the Gulf War. Because it is a war of necessity, he argues that it is time to put aside niceties and sensitivities, such as limiting air strikes on the the first Friday of the war in deference to Muslim sensibilities. He asks, “Why such sensitivity? We were attacked. Our enemy chose the date. We have no choice but to fight back–on our timetable. The enemy cannot murder thousands of innocents then call time out for piety.”
If this war is a war of necessity, look for our leaders to gradually put aside their sensitivity, (like Churchill, Roosevelt, and Truman did) readopt the Jupiter Complex, and begin bombing the innocent. After all the Taliban are storing weapons in mosques and using schools as barracks. Krauthammer writes, “Now the enemy is counting on American sensitivity to inadvertent civilian casualties to protect him–so he can live to slaughter American civilians again.”
Also, look for the ground game to begin in earnest, on a massive scale. D-Day is approaching.