Tuesday, February 22, 2005

On War - A lesson from Iwo Jima

Historian Arthur Herman gives a refresher on the battle of Iwo Jima which cost the US 26,000 men 60 years ago this month. The best part of the piece is his concluding "lesson on war":

...The lesson of Iwo Jima is in fact an ancient one, going back to Machiavelli: that sometimes free societies must be as tough and unrelenting as their enemies. Totalitarians test their opponents by generating extreme conditions of brutality and violence; in those conditions--in the streets and beheadings of Fallujah or on the beach and in the bunkers of Iwo Jima--they believe weak democratic nerves will crack. This in turn demonstrates their moral superiority: that by giving up their own decency and humanity they have become stronger than those who have not.

Free societies can afford only one response. There were no complicated legal issues or questions of "moral equivalence" on Iwo Jima: It was kill or be killed. That remains the nature of war even for democratic societies. The real question is, who outlasts whom. In 1945 on Iwo Jima, it was the Americans, as the monument at Arlington Cemetery, based on Rosenthal's photograph, proudly attests. In the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s, it was the totalitarians--with terrible consequences.

Today, some in this country think the totalitarians may still win in Iraq and elsewhere. A few even hope so. Only one thing is certain: As long as Americans cherish the memory of those who served at Iwo Jima, and grasp the crucial lesson they offer all free societies, the totalitarians will never win.

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