OCCUPATION DONE RIGHT
"We were very lucky, General MacArthur and myself, that we came out of an occupation as well as we did." [Gen. Lucius D. Clay, military governor of the U.S. Zone of Germany 1947-49]
I often read two things:
Both could be true. But they don't dovetail together as well as people assume, when they don't study the history.
- The Bush Administration made an appalling and inexplicable error when it overthrew Saddam and took charge of Iraq without a plan for running and fixing the country, and without even an informed expectation of what Americans would find there once the war ended or a plan for addressing those conditions.
- By contrast, the American reconstruction efforts in defeated nations after World War II were an example of how to do it right.
West Germany was a faithful American ally through the Cold War, and the united Germany is a rock of stability in the center of Europe. Iraq doesn't seem to be headed down that path. Yet almost all the things cited as American mistakes in Iraq also were done in Germany.
The notion that funneling more troops into the country automatically would have equaled a good outcome, for instance, strikes me as simplistic and unconvincing. Certainly there were too few in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. But you could stand a GI on every streetcorner in every city in Iraq, and the resistance would simply thrive behind their backs, in the homes. You could invade the homes, and the resistance would take to the swamps. If not the swamps, the mountains. Or the desert. Numbers alone mean nothing.
Post-war Germany often is cited as a counter-example to modern Iraq: Germany was occupied in 1946 at a ratio of troops to civilians about 10 times greater than currently is the case in Iraq.
Yet the French zone, where the ratio of troops to civilians was by far the highest among the allies, also had the most problems with resistance activities and civil unrest -- in large part because there were so many French troops there, sucking up resources from a hungry countryside and getting into proportionately more scraps with the locals. The notion that Americans should move in Iraq and Afghanistan with a light footprint makes a certain sense: especially given Gen. John Abizaid's now-famous warning that American troops would be considered an "antibody" in the Arab world.
It seems to me a case where you encounter one set of problems by doing it one way, but if you make the opposite set of choices you run into a different set of obstacles. Which seems to be the most common thread in such occupations, whether it's Germany 1946 or Iraq 2006.
The Allies over-occupied Germany, for a variety of reasons, some of them purely punitive. By 1946, even the U.S. Army acknowledged all it really needed in Germany was two mobile divisions and a combat command. That was because a real insurgency never developed in Germany. But the absence of a resistance was not necessarily a function of the numbers of invading troops.
The Allied occupation was not fully in place until about a year after the war ended. In the interim there was plenty of opportunity for a resistance or an insurgency to grow up in Germany. Elements of the German army -- tens of thousands of men -- simply melted into the civilian population, which willingly hid them -- as happened in Iraq.
Even though Eisenhower tried to be scrupulous about scrubbing out any pockets of resistance that had been left behind once the Allies invaded Germany, much of the country was open territory for months. The Australian newsman Osmer White, reporting from the front as Patton advanced, had to ride back to army headquarters to file his newspaper articles. The round trip sometimes amounted to more than 200 miles. "Often unit command posts had dropped thirty or forty miles behind the action, even in the Eifel and Hünsruck where the conflict was much less diffuse than it was over the river. I would sometimes travel for an hour or more through sparsely populated areas without sighting a single American soldier.
For weeks I laboured under the delusion that this nerve-racking business of rushing back and forth to the 'front' was dangerous. Sooner or later, I thought, the German civilians would snap out of their stunned docility and start a guerrilla war. One of these fine spring mornings I was going to run into a burst of machine-gun fire or a grenade pitched out of a top-storey window ... even a wire stretched from tree to tree round a sharp bend, or a nest of mines planted overnight at a crossroads.
Elsewhere, he speculated, "I am convinced that if the German people had shown the spirit to wage a partisan campaign behind the Allied spearheads which split the country, or if the German general staff had been able or willing to regroup and concentrate substantial forces in the Bavarian mountains, Hitler would have made good his last maniacal promise to bring all Europe down in chaos should his arms fail."
Anyone who chased Patton's tanks and motorized infantry to Chemnitz, or, for that matter, followed the thrust westward from the Middle Rhine towards Berlin, could not have failed to realize how desperately thin on the ground the forces of occupation were spread. They hadn't the manpower to control a hostile civilian population.
In Iraq, remember, the first signs of trouble began within weeks of the fall of Saddam, and by the time the coalition began to make and enact plans to restore security in Iraq, the "security gap" had yawned and the country descended into looting, street crime, and organized sabotage.
A HARD PEACE
Eisenhower himself apparently expected a full-scale resistance movement in Germany after Hitler's fall. As head of the invading army from the West, his beliefs and expectations shaped American policy toward the Germans. He had seen his own men die from fanatical resistance by hopelessly outnumbered Germans, and he naturally concluded the Germans were a warlike people who would never surrender and never submit. He helped harden the American policies in late 1944.
What's interesting is not just how wrong he was about the Germans. But also how close his prediction came to the conditions the Americans met after another invasion, sixty years later, in Iraq. Eisenhower foresaw great difficulty in maintaining public services and utilities in occupied Germany, and he thought the Allies ought to refuse to be responsible for the humanitarian situation after an invasion:
[I]t may well be that the German Army as a whole will never actually surrender and that we shall enter the country finding no central German authority in control, with the situation chaotic, probably guerrilla fighting and possibly even civil war in certain districts. ... If conditions in Germany turn out to be as described it will be utterly impossible effectively to control or save the economic structure of the country ... and we feel we should not assume the responsibility for its support and control.
In part as a consequence of these fears, and in part out of desire to collectively punish and de-fang the Germans (rooted, paradoxically, in the "Just War" doctrine), the Americans and their allies marched into Germany with a plan on paper for a draconian "hard peace." The document governing this, Joint Chiefs of Staff Directive 1067, issued Nov. 9, 1944, presumes merciless victors imposing a Carthaginian peace on a resisting German population.
Germans lived under daily curfews and strict travel restrictions. Meetings of more than five persons were banned, effectively killing political activity. They had to surrender even their hunting rifles and ceremonial arms; mails and the media were under strict censorship; children prohibited from joining anything that might look like Hitler Youth, even Boy Scout troops.
Armed resistance, sabotage, and possession of weapons were defined as capital crimes in SHAEF's Proclamation no. 1. The victorious allies held German POWs for years after the fighting stopped, in contravention of international law, in part (as Churchill said frankly) as insurance against popular uprisings. By June 1945, the Americans also had detained 30,000 civilians in internment camps, and by the end of the year the number had shot up to 100,000.
Yet somehow, Eisenhower's gloomy anticipation of a Germany collapsing into disorder never got through to the civilian authorities who were in charge of planning the occupation. When Lucius D. Clay, the U.S. proconsul appointed to oversee the American zone of occupation in Germany, got to Europe, he found a U.S. Control Council in place in Paris, "organized by government ministries, all on the theory that they were going to go in and take over an existing German ministry from the top and administer it." Clay said later:
Well, within a week it was clear to me that this was just a lot of damn foolishness. That there weren't going to be any German ministries in existence, and if there were, under our instructions they would never be allowed to serve, and that we were going to have a far more chaotic condition than was visualized by this rather academic organization.
Before he got to Europe, however, Clay had been under the usual illusions. Asked what he thought he would find in Germany, he answered, "I knew pretty much the type and kind of physical destruction we were going to find. But I don't think I appreciated that there would be a complete breakdown of government (and all other services, really), largely through unconditional surrender."
"The totality of the German collapse took the invaders by surprise," White wrote. "They had expected that basic civil administration would continue to function and were nonplussed when it fell apart."
Compare this to the situation in Iraq in 2003:
Contrary to popular belief, the United States and the United Kingdom did undertake extensive planning for postwar Iraq. Unfortunately, this planning focused on humanitarian relief and was based on the assumption that the institutions of the Iraqi state, including police, could be relied upon to keep the state functioning and to maintain order after the overthrow of the regime. Prewar planning did not envisage the need for an extensive program of work in Iraq's police and justice sectors.
Most of the administrative structures of central and local government had collapsed when the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) and its successor, the CPA, took over the administration of Iraq in April and May 2003. Whereas prewar planning had envisaged merely the removal of the top-level Ba'athists and regime loyalists, most of the security sector institutions evaporated overnight. The intelligence and security agencies, Ba'ath Party organizations, and paramilitaries went underground. Many soldiers simply left their units, and police officers went home. The disappearance of the state and party institutions left the country open to a wave of looting and disorder, exacerbated by organized sabotage.
Although coalition military planners had hoped to use some Iraqi army units for security and reconstruction tasks, the armed forces had effectively "self-demobilized," and their infrastructure was devastated both during combat and during the looting that followed the collapse of the regime. Coalition officials also decided that it would be unconscionable to retain any of the secret police agencies that were so heavily associated with Saddam's regime.
NO GERMAN INSURGENCY
Even when the civic structure of the country imploded, the Germans did not explode into chaos and anarchy. Why? The expectations of everyone from Eisenhower to the newspapermen -- that the Germans would vigorously resist the occupiers -- turned out to be wrong.
Some reasons are obvious. So obvious, apparently, that they tend to be overlooked. The German cities lay in ruins, and the countryside was starving. The few calories the Germans absorbed in a day were used up in the business of surviving until tomorrow. All war is cruel and always civilians suffer most, but the modern anti-war voices who decry the 2003 American invasion of Iraq as exceptionally harsh simply don't know much about history.
Would-be diehards from the Nazi regime certainly tried to stir things up. They could have found supporting civilian populations in remote rural areas. But they lacked the sort of sophisticated cellular and Internet communications now available to the most brutish terrorist in the Middle East. They also lacked a sympathetic domestic media, so essential to the struggle, and there was no flood of foreign cash to keep them supplied and fed.
The fear of the Soviets often is cited as a reason for the docility of the Germans in the West. True, Hitler's propaganda had been effective in terrifying the Germans about the hordes from the East. When the Russians reached the outskirts of Berlin, a wave of suicides swept the city in numbers that perhaps never will be told.
But in the crucial early stages of the occupation, after the initial orgy of rape and looting had ended, it was the French who imposed the most harsh terms on their subject regions. The Cold War did not open visibly for a year or two, and the Soviet zone actually got back on its feet more rapidly than the western zones, thanks in part to the experience of the Soviets in collective economics and mass control.
Rather, I think, a crucial overlooked element in the German experience was the hordes of "displaced persons" (DPs, in the language of the day) -- concentration camp survivors and former slave laborers for the Reich, liberated in 1945 and ravaging in packs, looting and exacting vengeance all the way and often with no more homes to return to. The Allied military government after the cessation of hostilities estimated the number of homeless foreigners in Germany at 5 million. The number employed by the Reich (mostly as slave labor) was twice that, so the number of DPs might have been higher.
The Australian journalist Osmer White portrays this as the second time authority collapsed in post-war Germany:
Military government units moved into populated areas as soon as the fighting ceased and they were able, despite the flight of the people who had exerted civil authority, to establish a semblance of order and begin to restore essential services. But when the slave labourers and POWs started to clog the roads in uncounted thousands, looting their way from town to town and village to village, the situation became impossible to control.
The DPs' habit of terrorizing the populace put the native Germans firmly on the side of order. And while the Allied infantrymen initially sympathized with the victims of Hitler, the average soldier eventually came to side with the German householder. Stephen Ambrose noted that of all the peoples the American G.I.s encountered during World War II, they identified most with the Germans, whom the American soldiers regarded as "clean, hard-working, disciplined, educated, middle-class in their tastes and life-styles ... just like us."
A report from Europe in the August 1947 issue of "Commentary" noted:
[F]or Americans especially, the individual German is an attractive person. These children were charming little people; they were pathetic in their need ... yet they did not whine or pester; they stood there quietly, with trust in their eyes. And the American heart went out to them. As for the adults, they strike most Americans in Germany as decent, pleasant, rather kindly people, who respect their parents, love children, and lavish affection on pets; they are admirably clean and orderly, and have all the solid qualities favored by Ben Franklin.
Yet perhaps there was more to it than circumstances. White, writing about Germany immediately after the conquest, keeps returning to the puzzle of the sudden "docility" of a people who had fought so hard and so long.
In general neither British, Americans nor Russians had much trouble in exacting obedience from German civilians. German civilians were only too anxious to obey. Theirs was a wordless docility of a people reduced to complete dependence. When proclamations were posted up, groups would gather about them, read slowly and carefully, disperse quickly. Then, when military government had been formally established, queues would form and wait patiently for hours for the most trivial permissions. Was it permitted to do this ... to do that? Was it permitted to work thus ... or so? Was it permitted to visit one's uncle in the country? To seek food from friends on a nearby farm? To cut wood for fuel? To drive a horse and cart, ride a bicycle, walk to the next town? To draw money from the bank if the bank opened? Send a letter by hand to a friend? Buy, sell things?
He gropes toward the core of it, but doesn't quite find it. With Saddam for comparison, perhaps the answer is more clear. Hitler destroyed his political and ethnic enemies. But he left the cultural and civic institutions of Germany largely intact. He meddled, and he "purified," according to his conceptions, but he did not destroy them. The universities, the churches, the industries, the social clubs -- all were to some extent corrupted, but not destroyed. That would have come later, and as fate had it, he never got the chance. In the meantime, Hitler ruled the Germans partly through their natural inclination to order and their fondness for systematic group work.
Which is the opposite of the personal tyranny and rule by terror as applied by Saddam. Working secular institutions that were able to resist Saddam in any degree were rare, and peripheral, such as the antiquities museum. Even the Shi'a religious hierarchies had to live in exile. They maintained their coherence there, however, and after Saddam fell, they were the only ones capable of quickly setting up a power and authority structure in liberated Iraq.
An incident White records from Mainz seems to me to summarize much. It was standard U.S. practice, when they met any level of resistance in a German town or district, to pull back and bring in the heavy guns to pound the place to rubble:
Sniping from an upper window was holding up clearance of a suburban block. Infantrymen were waiting round for the inevitable tank to come and do the job, when a massive woman, waving a white flag on a broomstick, emerged from the house opposite that from which the sniping was coming. She crossed the road and disappeared inside. In five minutes she emerged, leading the snipers by their ears. They were her sons, aged twelve and fourteen, who were obeying the orders of their Hitler Youth group leader to die like valiant young werewolves -- until mother asserted the more direct authority.
In the Middle East today, perhaps she would be proudly proclaiming her sons as martyrs and urging others to go and do likewise.
Is it necessary to lay out the evidence that the Americans entered Germany in 1945 with no solid plan for occupation, unrealistic expectations of what they would find, and conflicting goals for their mission? I'm not aware of any modern history of the period that says otherwise.
Here's a standard summary, from a book published in 1982:
Scholarship in recent years has pointed to a general muddle on the part of U.S. agencies involved in planning the German occupation. The problem started at the highest level with President Roosevelt's reluctance to prepare for an occupation during wartime, a reluctance that increased as his health declined. Lacking presidential leadership, several government agencies adopted widely differing positions, ranging from openly reconstructionist policy at the State Department to a punitive, destabilizing scheme at Henry Morgenthau's Treasury Department. Given the failure to reconcile these differences, America's forces entered Germany without a coherent national policy, a situation that reduced the chances for cooperation among the victor nations. [James F. Tent, "Mission on the Rhine"]
The president "failed to establish clear guidelines for his policymakers. The War Department supported neither side consistently, seeking above all to minimize its role in the future occupation." The writings of some of the people highly placed in the occupation project are flush with moral idealism and transformational progressive thinking would be worthy of any modern neo-con. JCS 1067, the eventual declaration of U.S. purpose and tactics in occupied Germany, was "ambiguous."
Secretary Morgenthau was convinced that it embodied his approach. State and War Department officials had inserted certain loopholes, which they expected would allow a positive approach. Thus VE Day -- May 8, 1945 -- found Americans still lacking a consensus on postwar plans for Germany.
Osmer White, the Australian journalist who covered the fall of Hitler from inside the U.S. military, essentially disliked Americans and American ways. He seems to have found himself instinctively sympathetic to the Soviet economic system, though not to Stalin's totalitarian ways. But there is the ring of hard truth in his description of the American occupation, and it is borne out by other testimonies, including some from the men actually in charge.
Of all the occupying Powers, the Americans showed themselves the most inept at the business of governing a conquered country. They maintained little or no continuity of policy. They never succeeded in making up their minds whether they wanted to administer stern justice or indulge Christ-like charity. They did not, indeed, make up their minds about anything except the 'superiority' of their own intentions. Germans must be ruthlessly disciplined into loving and respecting liberty. They must be punished for their crimes as a nation, but innocent women and children must on no account suffer. German industrialists who were guilty of warmongering and supporting Hitler must be dispossessed, but on no account should collective ownership -- Communism -- be the result of that dispossession. The American Military Government must not involve the United States in the messy byways of European politics, but Europe must, of course, be prevented at all costs from going Red!
Desperate to feed civilians in a region swollen by refugees from the East, the Americans turned to men who had held senior positions in the Nazi food distribution office. Seeking indigenous leadership to manage the local affairs of the German states that fell under their control, the Americans turned to members of pre-1933 conservative Catholic parties. But, while not National Socialist, many of them had formed alliances with them in a shared fear and loathing of the communists, and some had voted for the act enabling Hitler to take complete control of Germany.
In each case the home front press howled. But in each case it's hard to see a cleaner path through the conflicting goals and tactics of such an occupation. Certainly anyone who tried to think through a better plan for Iraq in our times will recognize the conundrum:
As White wrote:
- Rebuild the physical infrastructure of the country -- but don't give too many contracts to the few multinational corporations who are capable of doing the job, and which have extensive political connections;
- Put an "Iraqi face" on the reconstruction -- but only hire the most competent people to do the work to avoid waste and minimize boondoggles;
- Remove all Saddam's toadies from their jobs -- but don't alienate the Sunni minority from which they largely were drawn;
- Get the job done as fast as possible, the sooner to end the occupation -- but don't waste a penny of the taxpayers' money;
- Crack down on lawlessness and disorder and sabotage -- but don't do anything that could be seen as cruel or overzealous by our friends or look bad on Al-Jazeera.
The unhappy executives of this American 'policy' in Germany were set to work for the achievement of all these inimical aims, vigorously and simultaneously; but as soon as they made progress in one direction, they were instantly restrained by torrents of criticism that they were making no progress in the other direction.
As Lucius D. Clay, U.S. military proconsul in Germany after the surrender, later put it: "Even Washington didn't really know what it wanted."
"No country can regain its self-respect nor progress to maturity in democratic processes in the presence of large occupying forces. ... Allied control over Germany should be exercised through leadership and not through command." [Lucius D. Clay, July 19, 1946]
"In the long run, the American people will never tolerate an area under American control in which there is chaos and hunger." [Clay, paraphrasing, and agreeing with, U.S. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson]
Lucius D. Clay, to me, is a key to why the U.S. occupation of Germany worked. But that may be because I find it easier to latch on to human personalities than historical abstractions.
Clay's great historical moment came during the Berlin airlift, but what he did as U.S. military proconsul in Germany during the two years before that may have been more important. He was the right man for the job -- and a lot of that was pure luck. But what mattered most was that he worked in a matrix -- not of a "well-planned" or "organized" occupation regime, but rather one that had the full support and engagement of the political and civilian leaders of America.
Clay had to deal with an occupied nation partitioned between four powers and armies with different agendas. His own bosses, as he said, didn't know what they wanted. In the reverse of the situation in modern Iraq, the people of the occupied country stood firmly for their unity, while the occupiers -- especially France -- favored of permanent partition, and all were in some degree committed to a weak Germany. Clay inherited a job with no blueprint for success and impossible, conflicting expectations of what it would look like. The press, as always, made things more difficult than they needed to be. That kicked up popular objections at home, and some politicians tried to capitalize.
Son of a U.S. senator and descendant of Henry Clay and himself, Lucius Clay was a West Pointer, a career military man, but one with a solid understanding of politics. That in itself is harder to find in America today than it once was. West Point may be more open to Americans of all backgrounds today, but when it stopped being, among other things, a career path for sons of the political elite, a certain cross-pollination stopped happening.
Clay was brusque, arbitrary, and every bit as independent as MacArthur was in Japan, but with two fewer stars than MacArthur he had to fight harder for his autonomy, and he had to exploit the bureaucracy rather than brushing it aside as his colleague in Japan did. Consequently he makes for a less stellar biography.
Another quality that set him apart from anyone now available for the job in Iraq was that, thanks to the New Deal and the war, Clay's generation had grown up managing things on a national scale. In 1940, he became head of the emergency Defence Airport Program and organized the building or expanding of more than 250 airports, anticipating America's entry into World War II. When the war began, Clay became Director of War Department Material. He also served on the Munitions Assignment Board and the War Production Board.
But until he was appointed military governor in Germany, Clay had no intention of going there and had done no research on the place. "I truly wasn't the least bit interested at that time," he said later. "I didn't care what they did in Germany. I hadn't thought about it. It wasn't going to be my responsibility, and I was still hoping that one of these days I'd be back in the combat Army."
He never saw JCS 1067, the crucial document outlining U.S. policies and goals in occupied Germany, till he got on the plane to cross the Atlantic and assume his job.
He came to Germany knowing next to nothing about what he would face when he got there. As far as I can tell, he never learned to speak German. And he never considered that a handicap. "You don't think about handicaps when you're given a job in the Army. You go do it. Period."
It was a job for a man with civilian sensibilities but with military authority and discipline. Clay had all that. Many of the civilian candidates mentioned for the post before it was offered to him had inevitable deep ties to the big U.S. banking and industrial firms that would necessarily be involved in the occupation. Clay did not.
From the start, he insisted the military government in Germany be removed from the control of the General Staff, the better to create a civilian-heavy corps not serving purely U.S. military purposes and tangled in Army red tape. In part this was to have more of a free hand in making decisions. In part, too, he wanted to lure the kind of minds who would not happily work for a G5 within a military system.
This, and his realization that the German people needed a hand up, not further punishment, swung him into alignment with the State Department. Clay was a New Deal Democrat, but in the Roosevelt administration, State was the bastion of conservatism. It was dominated by blue-blood New Englanders, Skull and Bones alumni, and headed by conservative Republican Henry L. Stimson. The suspicion in the more left-leaning branches of Roosevelt's government was that State secretly prefered Hitler to Stalin. In some cases it may have been true. The New Dealers, Roosevelt and Clay among them, believed for too long Stalin was someone you could do business with and that the Soviet Union was just another country, playing by the same rules.
Together, Stimson and Clay steered German occupation away from the original draconian plan that technically governed it. Clay also spent much of his time fighting off Army chiefs of staff, ignoring protocols and the tactical command structure.
Clay had the power to order fundamental changes in the German social fabric. Clay used this power selectively. When it came to the German media, he kept a close eye on it, but to nurture it, not quash it. It was not censored, but protected.
Party-owned newspapers had been the norm in pre-war Germany. Clay banned them outright (by refusing the licenses without which a newspaper could not publish). Not just for the anti-democratic parties, but for all of them.
During a key phase at the start of the occupation, a U.S. military-run newspaper was the main media outlet in the American zone. But it was a freewheeling and independent minded operation, as conflicted in its mission as the U.S. itself, and eventually it caught on with the Germans and gave them an example of a free press at work, yet one not determined to destroy the occupation authorities.
Later, Clay made a point of inviting reporters from the fledgling German papers to his press conferences. At first they stood agog as the American newsmen peppered the man in uniform with prying questions. Later, they joined in.
Clay was a native of Marietta, Georgia, then still a pretty little town in the red hills of Georgia and not a bedroom enclave for Atlanta. It still had much old architecture, only because Sherman's armies passed through it during a wet spell, which prevented them from burning it down entirely.
Clay was shaped by his unique American experience, and the nightmare memory of an old war. He inherited the Southerner's contempt for scalawags and carpetbaggers. Thus he sought to keep his distance from the Germans he placed in local control, and to keep German operations segregated from U.S. ones, because he wanted these men to be leaders of a future independent Germany, and he feared too close association with the Americans would taint them as collaborators in the eyes of the Germans.
He need not have worried. The Germans just weren't like that. It was one case where C. Vann Woodward's "burden of Southern history" really did play a role in current events. But it turned out to be beside the point.
I think many of the points ticked off against the Bush Administration are not the reasons historians will find for faulting him: Lack of a firm plan, and uncertain expectations for what you want from an occupation, are not on their own a recipe for failure. Nor are they a guarantee of success. In a situation so large and shifting and malleable, no amount of preparation guarantees anything.
Without any deep background understanding of the nation or the situation, with a set of instructions devised more out of domestic political needs than German realities, with a sensitivity attuned to a different occupation in a different time and place, Clay yet succeeded in his job.
Clay was able to rely on a government and a nation that, no matter how confused it was about what it wanted, was in the habit of throwing its best resources into a job. Important positions and advisorships in Clay's office were filled by university presidents, leading professors, and former governors. Among those who had a hand in reconstruction of Germany was the poet Archibald MacLeish.
It never would have occurred to the Bush administration to approach leading major university presidents and poets to work in rebuilding Iraq. It never would have occurred to presidents or poets to offer. We have been at war for 5 years now. Unless you're tied by love to one of the fraction of a percent of Americans who serve in uniform, what material difference has this fact made in your life?
It was left to John McCain, the president's old enemy, to say the thing that needed to be said about Iraq, the thing Clay's generation would have understood implicitly:
In Iraq our national security interests and our national values converge. Iraq is truly the test of a generation, for America and for our role in the world. Faced with similar challenges, previous generations of Americans have passed such tests with honor. It is now our turn to demonstrate that our power, ennobled by our principles, is the greatest force for good on earth today. Iraq's transformation into a secure democracy and a force for freedom in the greater Middle East is the calling of our age. We can succeed. We must succeed.
INDEX - AUTHOR