Special Report

Will to Win

The politicians in Washington say nice things about our fighting men and women, but know nothing about what makes them tick.

By 8.24.07

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There is a great deal that is not understood about American fighting forces in Iraq. The essence of their spirit, however, was captured best by a serving British officer referring to the average U.S. combat soldier: "These chaps really want to win."

It's as simple as that. The American soldier, Marine, airman or sailor in a combat role in Iraq -- or Afghanistan -- has a burning desire to win, to beat the bad guys. It is easy to say that is what they are paid to do and what is expected of them. But the level of their desire is far beyond anything that the civilian world can comprehend -- certainly beyond the ken of most of the members of Congress, of both parties.

All American politicians pay lip service to "the heroic job done by our people in the military services" (a favorite phrase), but only the few who have served in combat theaters understand the fighting spirit that drives the volunteer armed forces of the United States. Unfortunately, even some veterans of earlier conflicts have made examples of themselves as political opportunists and chosen to ignore what they know, or should know, so well.

All professional soldiers have the same desire to win, but America's volunteers come from a culture that considers "winning" to be its reason to exist. Whether it is in business, sports, or the ordinary aspects of every day life, Americans strive to win. This is a characteristic that is often looked down upon, even condemned, as unsophisticated and rather base by what used to be known as the " Old World."

When the 5th and 6th Marines spearheaded the successful U.S. Army 2nd Division attack on their sector of St. Mihiel in 1918 against entrenched German machine guns, it surprised the veteran French command -- but not the Marine commanders.

When a worn down 101st Airborne heroically held off everything the besieging German Army could throw at them at Bastogne, George Patton wasn't surprised. He just turned his Third Army around and ramrodded the 4th Armored Division through the 1944 winter snow to relieve them.

And when elements of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 7th Cavalry fought to a standstill in 1965 an entire PAVN division in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam, they were honored, but no one other than the North Vietnamese was surprised. These were all American combat soldiers, and it has been so since 1775.

For some reason American politicians, perhaps reflecting the American public's appetite for instant gratification, have grown weary of the fight in Iraq. It's obvious from their public statements which ones among them still carry the fighting spirit of the men and women they so frequently laud, but whom, for the most part, they just do not understand.

One thing should never occur: The issue of remaining in a foreign country to fight and die for whatever reason should never be a matter debated by catch phrases. Policy on war may be complicated, but the military men and women who actually fight it can fully understand complex issues and the civilian public certainly must learn to.

The fact is that the American citizenry and its political representatives all the way up to whoever is president should always be aware that when they order our warriors into battle, these magnificent men and women will continue on fighting the enemy with which they are faced until they win. And if Congress and any White House wants our military to win, the politicians must make it clear from the beginning the militarily attainable objectives and what they define as victory.

Vince Lombardi, who once coached at West Point, would later say his professional teams never lost, but some just ran out of time. For strictly political reasons the American military may be running out of time in Iraq, but they will not have lost, no matter what happens. Our politicians will have lost, and most likely the American public also.

There is one thing that all Americans can find solace in without regard to their political leanings. When the time comes again -- and it surely will -- for the U.S. armed forces to protect our shores wherever necessary, they will make proud General George Washington and all who have followed him through the years.

Garry Owen, Semper Fi, and Airborne -- All The Way!

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.