The Army’s attempt to portray the death of Pat Tillman as a heroic sacrifice instead of a classic fratricidal FUBAR is only partly related to the CYA syndrome. In the Second World War, similar incidents were also rewritten to put a positive gloss upon them.
Take, for example, the case of Captain Colin Kelly, a U.S. Army B-17 pilot in the Philippines in late 1941. When the Japanese navy staged an amphibious landing, Kelly and his squadron were sent out to attack the invasion fleet. The bombers attacked individually, and Kelly’s was hit as it dropped its bombs on the ships below. Kelly was killed when his plane crashed near its base, after the rest of the crew bailed out. The story that was circulated in the press — and never openly denied by the Army at the time — was Kelly’s plane had been fatally stricken on its attack run, that he had ordered his crew to bail out, and that he had then crashed his plane into the Japanese battleship Haruna, for which action he was supposedly awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
All very nice, except: Kelly’s plane was hit after dropping its bombs, which failed to hit anything; the battleship Haruna was several hundred miles away when Kelly dropped his bombs (which missed the light cruiser Jintsu); Kelly’s plane had almost returned to its field when he ordered the crew to bail out; Kelly was killed trying to bring the plane in for an emergency landing; for which action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Other than that, the story in the press was absolutely true.
Now, Kelly was an authentic hero: he made a gallant (albeit fruitless) attack on the Japanese against heavy odds, and he saved most of his crew by bringing the plane close to its base. Why then, did the Army feel the need to embellish? Because, at the time, the war was going very badly, and the country needed heroes more than it needed the “truth.”
One can find similar examples of obfuscation by the U.S., especially in the early days of World War II. Douglas MacArthur, for instance, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (for real), and not court-martialed for gross incompetence over his defense of the Philippines. Ernest King remained as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Navy, and not relieved for his inept handling of the U-boat crisis off the coasts of America between January and May 1942. The military grossly inflated the number of U-boats sunk in that time (fewer than ten) and hid the number of Allied ships sunk; claims were accepted on the flimsiest of evidence, and medals awarded by the bushel basket — because the country needed heroes and good news at a time when both were scarce.
There is a word for this sort of thing. It is “propaganda”. Now, this word has come to take on bad connotations in our day, but in fact, propaganda is a necessary component of any war effort, as even the genteel beast of the Press recognized some sixty years ago, when they were willing agents of U.S. and Allied propaganda. Of course, back then, the Press considered themselves to be Americans first and journalists second, so the kind of mindless “objectivity” we see in reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan would have been unthinkable in the Philippines, New Guinea, North Africa, Italy or Normandy. The Press was on our side, and spoke possessively of “our troops.” There was none of this “U.S. commanders claimed today….”, but rather, “Today our troops smashed… “There was a very good reason for this.
Karl von Clausewitz wrote that modern war rests on three pillars: the state, the army and the people. If one of the pillars is weak or collapses, the war effort collapses with it. It is impossible to wage a war — any war — without controlling the information the public receives concerning the conduct of that war. War is a terrifying, grotesque and confusing business; it is hard enough on men who have been trained to endure its rigor and who have become accustomed to its images. Civilians, without any standard by which to judge, will find the whole thing repulsive, and will turn away from it. In other words, the morale of the home front will suffer. This is particularly true when they attempt to judge the progress and leadership of war by the standards of the civilian world. Wars are not won by armies that are 90% effective over those that are 85% effective, but by those that are 15% effective over those that are 10% effective. This is due to Clausewitz’s concept of “friction,” the compounding effect of myriad minor errors that combine to make even the simplest thing difficult; it is what separates “real” war from “war on paper.” Yet the press, which deals in paper, can only talk of war on paper, therefore, from their perspective, wars are always being run badly. Civilian morale suffers, which in turn undermines support for the state and the army, and the war effort collapses.p>If this war has demonstrated anything, it is the impossibility of waging a sustained war in a liberal democracy in the presence of an unfettered press. The enemies of liberal democracy, of course, do not believe in, nor have to deal with, a free press — and this gives them an dangerous advantage in the kind of war where will to victory is far more important than actual victories on the battlefield. br> —
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?