“War on Terror” Fictions II – Comparisons to WWII

January 31, 2005

Since September 11th, I’ve heard dozens of Bush administration supporters compare the “war on terror” to some of America’s greatest struggles – including, incredibly, World War II. Condoleezza Rice did it again as recently as her confirmation hearings for Secretary of State in January of 2005: “After 9/11, there is no longer any doubt that today America faces an existential threat to our security — a threat as great as any we faced during the Civil War, the so-called ‘Good War’, or the Cold War.” (Oct. 1, 2002)

Please, stop making nonsense. Yes, there is a parallel between the sucker punch from al Qaeda on September 11 and the surprise attack by Japan on December 7. And we lost approximately the same number of American lives in both cases. But that’s where the comparison ends.

Let’s contrast the two struggles. In 1941, the US declared war on Japan, and in quick succession the sides were drawn – the armies of the Alliance (the US, England, France, and others) against the armies of the Axis (Germany, Italy, Japan, and others). The Soviet Union, which had been on Germany’s side, nominally became our ally when Hitler broke their Non-Aggression Pact in the summer of 1941. It wasn’t called “world war” for nothing.

After the US entered the fight, it took less than four years to build what the Allies needed to fight the war, turn the tide against both the Japanese and Germans, and win convincing victories in both the European and the Pacific theaters. September of 2005 will mark four years since President Bush declared the “war on terror.” Does any one seriously believe that we’ll have any kind of convincing victory over our attackers by then? I don’t. And that’s primarily because we are not acting like the country is at war. While Bush calls himself the “war president,” there’s not been much of a sense of urgency about how the “war on terror” is conducted. Consider a hot issue today: the training a new Iraqi police force and military. I’ve wondered for a year why we didn’t move decisively – airlift 100,000 Iraqi to the US if necessary, spread them around the country in boot camps, train them, introduce them to America and our way of life, give them cell phones to call home weekly, and ship them back 9 months later as lean, mean, fighting machines that understand civil rights and the rule of law. That job could have been finished a year ago if we were serious about it. But we aren’t behaving as though we’re really at war.

Right after 9/11, President Bush was asked what the average American could do to contribute to the war on terror. His first suggestion was to go shopping and keep the economy going. Hey, every teen in America has pitched in! His other suggestion was to mentor a child, or visit a shut-in. (“People say, how can I help on this war against terror? How can I fight evil? You can do so by mentoring a child; by going into a shut-in’s house and say I love you.”- Sept. 19, 2002)

During WWII, women left the home and took factory jobs, professional athletes enlisted in droves, millions of Americans signed up for some kind of duty, and everything from sugar to gasoline and butter to tires were rationed so we had enough for the war effort. In 1943, pennies were made of steel to save copper for the war effort and tours of duty were for the duration of the war. We were in a fight for our lives.

Not so today. In fact, rather than ask for sacrifice, President Bush went ahead with his massive $1.7 trillion tax cut, followed by additional tax cuts each year he has been in office. In WWII, and every other war in American history, the President has raised taxes to pay for the effort. President Bush is regarded by many ardent supporters as a man of destiny, but in his wisdom he has decided to stick our children with the cost of his elective war – approximately $200 billion in Iraq alone, and counting.

Why did we take WWII so seriously both at home and in the military? Because we didn’t know whether or not our side was going to win. That was the reality of WWII. The outcome was in doubt for some time. Is there any one in America who seriously believes that the terrorists can actually bring down the US and its allies? True, people in the Bush administration continue to talk as though we are in a life and death struggle, but no one I know believes them. This is NOT World War II.

Finally, although there were many Americans that were reluctant to get into WWII before it started, there was little serious opposition to the war after we were attacked. All Americans agreed we needed to take on the Axis powers, and there was no large-scale disagreement about going into this particular battle or that theater of war. Not so the “war on terror.” President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, and his declaration that Iraq is a fundamental battle in the war on terror has the agreement of only about 50% of the citizens. The President squandered not only the unity at home, but the 9/11-inspired support and good will of the world with his excursion into Iraq.

So the next time you hear the administration or their supporters on the talk shows pontificate with World War II-level solemnity and try to rarify the “war on terror,” remind them that all it takes to do your part is to go to the mall and buy shoes. That’s the limit of this President’s vision.