D-Day, June 6, 1944, came only two years and six months after December 7, 1941. But it was two years and six months of total war. We are three years and nine months into the war the terrorists and the terrorist nations began on 9-11, and its end is so far off, it’s hard to even envision what it will be like. Three years and nine months into our parents’ war, Germany had been defeated and Japan was about to suffer the nuclear devastation that would force its unconditional surrender. Today, as we honor the heroes of that war, we should measure how this war progresses.
On 6 June 1944, the main landing force began hitting the beach at about 0630, and within 24 hours, 176,000 troops had landed. Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties on D-Day, covering the landings from above. Six hundred warships did the job up close, accompanying the 6,480 transports, landing craft, and other vessels. Two of those who landed that day were Walter Ehlers and his brother, Roland. At 84, Walt Ehlers still stands tall. As well he should. Of the hundreds of landing craft hitting Omaha beach, one carried Walt, and another carried his brother. Walt, then an infantry staff sergeant, was too busy to look for his brother on the beach. He and his unit were giving cover fire to a hard-hit bunch of engineers trying to blow a hole in German fortifications. The obstacles were breached, and the soldiers moved inland.
Three days later, about eight miles inland near Goville, France, Walt Ehlers’s unit came under heavy fire from a German ambush. He ordered his men to fix bayonets and charged two machine gun positions and a mortar crew. The fighting continued until dark. The next morning, the Germans renewed their attack and Ehlers’s commander ordered the unit to withdraw. Seizing the initiative, Ehlers ordered another man to join him and tried to cover the withdrawal. When the other man was badly wounded, Ehlers — also wounded — dragged him to safety and continued the fight. A month later, Walt Ehlers found out that his brother had been killed on Omaha Beach. Five months after that, Walt Ehlers received the Medal of Honor for his bravery in the fight near Goville. I last spoke to Walt Ehlers a few days before the 60th anniversary of the German surrender, May 8. He is still moved by his memories of those days.
Part of our duty to Walt Ehlers and the hundreds of thousands of others who fought so bravely for our freedom six decades ago is to keep faith with their sacrifice. To do that, we have to defeat terrorists and the terrorist nations as decisively as our parents defeated the original Axis of Evil. It’s wrong to measure one war against the other, day for day or battle for battle. But the right measures — such as which side is growing stronger, and which weaker, who is more vulnerable and who less — yield a very mixed verdict.
We inflicted decisive damage on the Taliban and Saddam’s regime. But we haven’t destroyed al Qaeda, Hezbollah, or the many other terrorist organizations that mean to do us in. President Bush seems strangely content to allow them sanctuary in Syria. Syrian and Iranian missile tests threaten every nation from Israel to Western Europe. Iran’s nuclear weapons program will soon come to fruition if it hasn’t already. Serious people say the Iranians already have about three nuclear warheads they’ve purchased from Russia or China. They haven’t divulged that fact only because they want to extract economic aid from Europe while their bigger nuclear program goes ahead, and because they haven’t yet figured out how to mate the warheads to their missiles. And we remain on a path to deal with Iran’s nukes that begins with feckless European diplomacy and will end with another UN stalemate. We have cut off two of the Hydra’s heads, but she has seven more. The network of terrorist nations is smaller, but only just. And the enemy is not substantially weaker. Its funds flow still through organizations such as the al-Haramain “charity” which the Saudis were supposed to shut down, but — of course — haven’t.
Our military is doing a superb job in the tasks it is assigned, but the strain is palpable. The Army is suffering a decline in recruitment that, unanswered, will quickly reduce its ability to maintain the force in Iraq, far less take on other tasks. The other services are faring little better. We are acting like a nation at peace, but calling our young people to fight a war. In this, and in this only, we are returning to a Vietnam mindset. World War II was total war: every American, every ounce of energy, natural resources, industry, and money was devoted to the fight. In this war, Americans aren’t even asked to give up a double decaf latte. We may think we are so wealthy and so powerful that we needn’t devote more of ourselves and our nation to this war. And we may be wrong. Our enemy is weaker than he was at the war’s beginning. But so are we as long as we fail to commit ourselves to it.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese naval genius, had studied America (and, indeed studied in America) before World War II. He spoke against attacking Pearl Harbor, warning that Japan risked awakening a sleeping giant. Yamamoto saw the great engine of the American economy, and knew the strong heart of America. He feared, rightly, that if the two were aroused and turned against Japan, Japan could only lose the war. Neither our enemy nor our President has roused the sleeping giant. That’s one of the reasons why, almost four years after 9-11, the end of this war is not in sight. Nor is the identity of the victor known.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).
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