Our country was mobilized during World War II and saw nearly 18 million personnel serving in the military. Nearly every family had at least one member in the armed forces at some time during the war. I recall that there were no young men in my neighborhood throughout the entire war unless they were home on leave, and that was rare.
The media was subject to censorship so that information was not allowed to possibly assist our enemies. Letters from servicemen also were subject to censorship for the same reason. As a result, families had little knowledge where their family service members were located. That must really sound strange to anyone in today’s population. I remember we had blackout shades on all the windows and when it was dark, neighborhood wardens walked the streets checking for possible lights being seen from the street. Again, I am sure there are many who find that difficult to believe.
Those veterans from WWII rapidly are dying and close behind then are the veterans from the Korean War. About 2.7 million personnel served in Vietnam, but a small percentage actually were in ground forces that faced the enemy. That generation also is losing its members at a rapid rate.
I am bringing up these facts because they are important for the points that I intend to make concerning the topic of this article. As we move farther and farther from from the wars of the last century there are fewer and fewer people who know what combat is really like. Far too many individuals believe we can establish rules of engagement and everything will be perfect except when a trigger-happy individual is in charge. Lt. William Calley from Vietnam immediately comes to mind when as a platoon commander he had his men kill 22 unarmed civilian men, women, and children in the hamlet of My Lai.
Our military goes to great lengths in order to reduce the possibility of harming innocent civilians and our enemies not only know this but they take advantage of it. In Vietnam, it was difficult identifying the enemy because in many cases he dressed like a civilian and lived among them. The same happened in Iraq after we defeated the Iraqi army. Unfortunately our media and the international media take pleasure in reporting the deaths of civilians who get caught in the crossfire of various battles. The introduction of precision weapons created the impression that war had become very precise and civilian casualties could be eliminated. Sadly that is far from the truth. The greatest percentage of the weapons and ordnance used remains the “dumb” type that has an area of destruction. Artillery and mortar fire is not precise, but rather area-type weapons. In Vietnam we knew the exact location of various enemy artillery pieces firing into Con Thien, but we just could not hit them without precision weapons that were not available at that time.
Those individuals in positions of authority present another problem for the military. They seem to believe that because we have the advantage in technology, we can reduce our forces, ships and aircraft. That is true, but there is a limit to the reductions. One ship or aircraft cannot be in more than one place at a time. Look at a world map and one will see that there are potential hot spots all over it. War remains a dirty and bloody enterprise where unintended results occur when decisions are made that result in the death of innocents. We speak of “the fog of war” because as soon as the first bullets or shells are fired, things do not go as planned. In WWII, we deliberately targeted civilians in an effort to break their will to resist. The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan had the desired result and probably cost millions less lives than if we had invaded Japan proper.
There is no such thing as a clean war with no innocent casualties and when we try to implement one, our troops are the ones who pay the price in additional casualties. Listen to some of the troops who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. They were not bloodthirsty, but failed to see the rationale for many of the rules of engagement. The purpose of war is to win by forcing the enemy to surrender.
Donald Myers is a retired Marine Colonel and regular contributor to Hernando Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.