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War

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January 12, 2010

On top of the record $708 billion defense budget on the table for 2010, the Obama administration is preparing to ask the Congress for an additional $33 billion to fund his escalation of the war in Afghanistan.

At this time I thought it would be nice to take a little journey back through time. Not too far, just sixty-five years and a few days. To a time when America was last on the verge of winning a war.

Most Americans are familiar with the story of the 101st Airborne’s heroic defense of the Belgian town of Bastogne toward the end of World War II in what was called the Battle of the Bulge. Heavily outnumbered, outgunned and surrounded, the successful American defense of Bastogne proved to be the pivotal battle in repelling Hitler’s final offensive of World War II; a last gasp attempt at breaking out across the Siegfried line through the lightly defended Ardennes Forest.

The unheralded story behind the story of the Battle of the Bulge was the five-day battle that pitted three German Armies against the woefully under-manned, under-defended American positions in the cold and foggy Belgian forest. If not for the fierce defense of every square inch of the Ardennes by the beleaguered and battered Americans, the 101st Airborne would never have made it to Bastogne to make their valiant stand.

In early December, 1944, the Ardennes Forest in Belgium was considered a “quiet area” along the relatively static Siegfried line. American commanders were certain that Hitler was in no way capable of launching a major offensive, much less through the difficult terrain of the Ardennes. Little did they know that was exactly what Hitler was planning.

The 28th Infantry Division, consisting mostly of raw troops, fresh from the States, was tasked with maintaining the porous defensive line while easing their green soldiers into combat readiness. At some points in the line the gaps were hundreds of yards between forward listening posts and other sparsely defended positions. In addition to the 28th Infantry and fresh from savage fighting in the nearby Hurtgen Forest, resting elements of the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions were also scattered among the small towns and villages in the Ardennes, taking advantage of the peaceful serenity of the forest and the hospitality of the recently liberated Belgian people.

At some points along the line, the German and American positions were separated by only a few hundred yards. Patrols would often encounter each other and go their separate ways. Germans were often seen in unoccupied towns, rummaging for food or souvenirs. GI’s would often see local prostitutes visiting German pillboxes at night for a little morale boost. All was normal in the “quiet” sector.

In the few days and hours leading up to the surprise German offensive, front-line positions began reporting increased activity across the Our River, along with the evidence of increased German incursions into towns along the forward line. These reports, together with increased reports of heavy equipment movements across the Our, were all but ignored by American commanders up the chain. They were convinced that a German attack in this sector was impossible and highly unlikely. In fact, two full days into the battle American commanders were still convinced that this was merely a spoiling attack and not a major offensive.

As the evening of December fourteenth plodded along like so many others before, many Americans along the forward lines sensed that something big was in the works. Assurances from commanders above did little to assuage the growing unease felt by many GI’s as the calendar turned to December 15, 1944; the last night of rest for many of these soldiers. Death was lurking in the inky darkness, poised to strike. In just a few hours, the Ardennes would explode into violence, and the Americans would be forced to take the full brunt of Hitler’s war machine in a desperate attempt to delay the German advance to Bastogne.

The Ardennes Forest was lightly populated, dotted with small villages and towns, some consisting of only a crossroads and a few buildings. One such town, Clervaux, had a medieval castle overlooking it from a nearby hillside. As the town was overrun, its last surviving defenders were pushed behind those impenetrable walls, along with a few German POW’s and several civilians. For more than two days a small band of American GI’s from the 110th Infantry Regiment held off elements of three German armies under relentless artillery barrage and tank and infantry assault.

Facing imminent destruction, low on ammunition and food, and concerned for the safety of the civilians in the castle, Captain John Aiken made the difficult decision to surrender. It was well known that the Germans were executing many prisoners in cold blood, so when the Americans emerged from the castle to be met with the sight of mounted machine guns, they thought their fate was sealed.

The German commander was absolutely furious that such a rag-tag group was able to not only hold up for two days the German advance to Bastogne, but that they were able to kill so many of his infantry; more than three hundred Germans lay dead in the narrow streets of Clervaux. As the Americans were lined up against the castle wall for execution, their former POW approached the German commander and surprisingly intervened on their behalf.

One GI spoke a little German and was able to piece together some of the conversation. The POW was relaying to the commander that his treatment by the Americans was quite good, and that he and his soldiers were well taken care of, well fed, and protected by the Americans during the artillery barrage. Other German soldiers were overheard wondering how they would feed the prisoners and where they would take them. After all, the advance to Bastogne had already been badly delayed; they absolutely had to beat the Americans to that important objective. Germany’s very future may well depend on who gets there first.

After the conversation, the German commander turned to his prisoners and said, “You men are now prisoners of the Third Reich. Originally my intent was to shoot you for…all my dead soldiers. But this sergeant tells me that his treatment in your captivity was good.” (1) And with that, the prisoners were led off to the rear of the German lines, but not before they were tasked with burying the enemy dead.

There were many tales of heroism during those five days of hellish battle in the Ardennes Forest. There were countless acts of bravery, and even a few of cowardice; many tales of atrocities and barbaric behavior, unimaginable human suffering and carnage; stories of unfathomable courage in the face of overwhelming odds and certain, brutal death.

And as it turned out, the 101st Infantry made it to Bastogne with nary a second to spare, and so commenced the Americans’ storied defense of the little Belgian town. 

That was then.

How the roles have reversed. Today it is America on the offensive, ostensibly in defense of the fatherland – er, I mean the homeland. Hell-bent on dominating the planet and inflicting our “values” on the rest of the world through force of arms, with little or no regard for international law or basic human decency, history or culture.

Our military and intelligence services are whipped into a feeding frenzy based on misguided nationalism, ready to wage war on any one and every one that dares defy our bid for global supremacy. The world is ours, and we must have it. We deserve it, because we’re the greatest damn people on the planet.

In the span of sixty-five years, we have become the very embodiment of global tyranny that an entire generation had mobilized to defeat. We have forgotten the lessons of World War II and the Battle of the Bulge. As Americans in 1944, we stared death in the face in the cold, hard Belgian winter and emerged victorious. We held the moral high ground and refused to cede even an inch of it. We selflessly defended freedom almost to the last man.

These wars we fight today are not about defending freedom. These are not honorable wars against significant, imminent threats to our survival. They are wars of aggression and empire – fought for ancient reasons, using ancient jealousies and suspicions.

They say that history repeats itself. It is with much sadness that in our own very short history, we find ourselves for the first time on the wrong side of it.

We were supposed to be better than this. Where did we go wrong? And do we have the will and desire to stand up and correct it? Do we even want to?

 

(1) Taken from “Alamo in the Ardennes: the untold story of the American soldiers who made the defense of Bastogne possible” by John C. McManus, 2007.

Also read “Battle: the story of the Bulge” by John Toland, 1959

13 Responses to War

  1. byreen

    January 12, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks Griff, now I know with certainty why my ankles are so cold….

  2. griff

    January 14, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    I’ve seen that same comment before, but I’m afraid I must have missed out on its meaning. Enlighten me?

  3. woody188

    January 12, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I’m betting other nations will stand up against the US before it’s own citizens.  I believe what is occuring now in the Middle East can only be described as a regional war that has the potential to develop into a full scale world war.

  4. Carl Nemo

    January 13, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Thanks Griff for this stunning historical comparison.  A fine piece of work my friend in thought! : )

    The U.S. spends (wastes) more money than the combined military might of 44 other nations including China and Russia!?

    Ike warned us of this unholy alliance between the MIC and their Congressional facilitators and that it would be the ruin of our nation if unchecked.  He originally included Congress in his warning, but decided to remove it from his farewell speech as not to ruffle too many feathers within his own party, but he would have been spot-on. 

    Well, our leadership is obviously unchecked, unchallenged and seemingly we as a nation are toast. 

    It’s going to get far worse before it gets better. Many folks believe that it was heavy taxes the British laid upon this nation in the days leading up to the American Revolution and that was what finally triggered the war, but it was only a part of the insults that the colonists had to endure.  When the British started to force the colonists to provide lodging for their soldiers, then these same soldiers started messing with the daughters and wives that our early patriots decided they’d had enough, causing the spark that fired the shot that was heard around the world; ie., “The American Revolution”.

    My question is how far will these evil, traitorous, out of control sob’s we have in Congress and the Executive Branch push the American people before justice is served? 

    Evidently it won’t be about deficits, foreign adventurism, nor bum domestic legislation.  What will it be that causes the greater body of our citizens to rise up and throw off this yoke of abject tryanny that in comparison make the 18th century British seem like ‘good guys’…?!

    We’re surely not unarmed as in most nations on earth. So for the  government to simply declare martial will no longer work. The average citizen has no respect for our government.  They’ve lost our respect for many years now. In these recent times our leaders seem to be simply saying, to Americans…”f**k you…you best learn who your betters are, we’re in control here!” … : |

    Carl Nemo **==

     

  5. griff

    January 14, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks Carl, et al. I had actually written this piece a few days earlier but was reluctant to post it. I’m not quite sure why. In fact I edited out a few of my more fiery criticisms. But when I saw the article about Obama’s request for additional billions, I decided to roll with it. If nothing else, it provided a nice contemporary lead-in.

    I’m kind of disappointed at the lack of comments, but not at all surprised. I had meant to draw some more parallels in the piece, but thought that maybe others would get that converstion going. Oh well.

    With that, I’ll share with you a quote by Hitler made in the final briefing to his generals on the eve of the Ardennes Offensive. You may recognize it, I’ve used it one other time here.

    “This battle is to decide whether we shall live or die. I want all my soldiers to fight hard and without pity. The battle must be fought with brutality and all resistance must be broken in a wave of terror. In this most serious hour of the Fatherland, I expect every one of my soldiers to be courageous and again courageous. The enemy must be beaten – now or never! Thus lives our Germany!”

    Eerily similar to the kind of rhetoric we hear today, no? 

     

  6. Carl Nemo

    January 14, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    A geat quote concerning Hitler’s “pep talk” prior to the Ardennes Offensive. 

    ***

    “What luck for rulers that men do not think.” — Adolf Hitler

    ***

    Which explains how knaves like Hitler et al. are both able to climb to high office and maintain control over their citizens regardless of the nation or the time in history.

    Btw, a substantial portion of my quote archives comes from your submissions Griff.  Thanks… : )

    Carl Nemo **==

     

     

  7. griff

    January 15, 2010 at 12:23 am

    He sure could give a pep talk, huh?

    Speaking of such, here’s a quote from one of Obama’s, circa 2008…

     “It’s a game where the only way for Democrats to look tough on national security is by talking, and acting and voting like Bush-McCain Republicans, while our troops are sent to fight tour after tour of duty in a war that should’ve never been authorized and should’ve never been waged. That’s what happens when we use 9/11 to scare up votes, and that’s why we need to do more than end a war – we need to end the mindset that got us into war.”

    And one you may not have seen by John Adams…

    “The human mind is not naturally the clearest atmosphere; but the clouds and vapors which have been raised in it by the artifices of temporal and spiritual tyrants, have made it impossible to see objects in it distinctly.”

     

  8. Carl Nemo

    January 15, 2010 at 1:17 am

    I copied the John Adams to my archives, but wouldn’t sully the folder with  fork-tongued blather from the big “O”… : |

    Carl Nemo **==

  9. griff

    January 17, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Ha. It pains me as well, but it has to be done.

  10. byreen

    January 15, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Reference is to the Ill wind that flows out of the chambers of infamous usurping governence.

    History repeats as you say, and without regard for the toll of human suffering, now down our very own Capitol steps that same tempest rages throughout the world to chill the bodies and minds of all in it’s path.

  11. Senegoid

    January 17, 2010 at 3:05 am

    A very good post indeed Mr Griff. Thank you for taking the time.

    Sadly too many people care not for history and the lessons to be leant.

    History teaches us two very important things about humanity, at least in my mind.

    History on hand chronicles the creative progress of humanity; the accumulation of knowledge and the dynamic ways in which knowledge has been used to create a more prosperous community. Knowledge has also given us the ability to create sophisticated weapons of unbelievable destructiveness. Knowledge and related sciences are linear and progressive; exponential in fact, and there is no turning back.

    On the other hand history also gives us an insight into the collective behaviour of the masses and the psychology that motives such behaviour; in this respect we find that human behaviour is not so much progressive, rather, cyclical for we continually find ourselves behaving in a similar manner to our ancestors, and our enemies.

    McCarthyism was a type of Spanish Inquisition. The destruction of Fallujah was not unlike the destruction of Carthage. There are many present day parallels to be drawn in relation to our unreasonable and violent behaviour of the past.

    When observing history from these perspectives it becomes apparent that humanity (at this point in time) does not have the emotional maturity or common sense to use all that knowledge and technology in a responsible manner. 

    History teaches us that human beings have a capacity for violence. Once upon a time we threw stones at each other, then someone created a spear, then a bow and arrow, then a bullet, then a bomb and so on.

    It soon becomes apparent that no matter the weapon, sooner or later that weapon gets into the hands of others, everybody. Pakistan and North Korea have The Bomb – so does Russia, India, China and Israel, one day so will Iran. And the nation that invented The Bomb has already used it on innocent civilians (twice), and like a spoilt brat threatens to do so again should the conditions require.

    Based on the lessons of history it would appear that sooner of later we are going to have some pretty nasty stuff inflicted upon humanity by leaders who have not the emotional maturity or wisdom to lead the plebs from the dark ages into what could be a very exiting, peaceful and prosperous future – for everybody.

    We homo sapiens may yet be the species to top ourselves in record time – and that dear friends will be the end of history, as far as homo sapiens are concerned.

    Blessed are the rats and cockroaches, for they shall inherit the Earth.

  12. JeremiahJones

    January 18, 2010 at 10:02 am

    You lost me with the claim that the USA won WW2.  Strictly speaking, you can say only that the USA won the combat phase of that event.

    The World War which began in earnest in 1914 is still being waged.  The totalitarian elements, failing to defeat Democracy on the battlefield — twice —  continue the assault “by other means.” They have laid seige to it with easy credit and weapons of mass distraction, with jingoistic religion and messianic nationalism, with a controlled media and rigged elections, with assassinations and terrorism —  while subverting fundamental civic protections under the false pretext of threats to “national security.”

    We are 50 years into the “theft by conversion” of this country, into its transformation to a Fourth-Reich proxy. The liberal ideals of the Founders, of individual sovereignty, liberty and dignity, are supplanted by  top-down thinking and statist values of obediance and submission to authority. We are divided, and partially conquered. Our political parties are co-opted, and a sizeable minority of Americans have become “good Germans” : marching in lock-step through pre-employment drug tests and airport body scanners, clamoring for revenge against alien religionists, volunteering in a misplaced sense of patriotism to fight imperial wars of aggression.

    Fear the peace to come.

     

     

     

     

     

     

  13. griff

    January 18, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Well said. The old-style frontal assault has been abandoned in favor of fabian-style incrementalism.

    Funny how we’ve been in a perpetual state of war since 1913. Gee, I wonder why?