Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Jumping to Conclusions

We've heard Iraq War commentary, second-guessing and "what-if" scenarios from historians and generals and now retired general and historian Robert H. Scales (a 1966 graduate from the United States Military Academy who holds a Ph.D. in history from Duke University)--inspired by reading Cobra II--offers up his own "what-if" scenario (via Michael Barone). He does so to emphasize his real point that retired generals and other war commentators are being too quick to make "final" evaluations about a War that is still being fought:
Of course there was no such book [as Cobra II] written [during World War II]. There were no calls for impeachment, dismissal or relief. None of this happened because military men of that age understood war as the most unpredictable of all human endeavors. Our grandfathers realized that unlike lawyers or doctors, soldiers practice their craft infrequently and often get it wrong at first. Thus, even the greatest military men make mistakes that all too often cost lives.

Sure, soldiers of that era carped about the human shortcomings of their leaders but they kept their own counsel because they realized that there was, first and foremost, a war to be won. They forgave the difficulties experienced by an army that had no choice but to learn to fight by fighting, the most wasteful form of education in the art of war. And they came home to a grateful nation sure in the confidence that they had done their part to destroy a great evil. . .

Let's take a page out of the book not written by the greatest generation. Pull some punches and breathe into a bag for awhile. I believe that it's OK for commentators to challenge general defense policies and programs in wartime. I do that quite often. But just as a book written at Christmas time in 1944 might not have offered a meaningful picture of the course of World War II, any commentary on the course of this war might be off the mark just now.

In the interest of winning this war we all must defer judgments about the efficacy of our wartime leaders to the wisdom of the American voters and the 20-20 hindsight of historians like me...after our soldiers and Marines come home.

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