May 31, 2005
World War II veterans and fallen heroes received more attention in the media on Monday, perhaps because this is the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II. Hostilies in Europe formally ended on May 8, 1945, and in the Pacific theater on August 15, 1945. The aftershocks lasted for several more years, however, as Germany and Japan were not sufficiently pacified to govern themselves until 1949 and 1951, respectively. Those who died on the battle field probably could not have imagined the enormous benefit to the world their sacrifices brought. The idea that the former Axis powers would not only cease resisting but learn to cooperate with the Western democracies during the Cold War that ensued would have seemed very far fetched during the grim final months of 1944 and 1945.
A column by Michele Dyson in Sunday's Washington Post reprinted the famous World War I poem, "In Flanders Fields" by Canadian John McCrae. It was the subject of a Canadian postage stamp I recall getting many years ago, and my father explained the context too me. It is moving and evocative, from the very first lines:
In Flanders fields, the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row ...
Similar sentiments were expressed by President Bush at a wreath-laying ceremony yesterday, praising the noble sacrifices of the U.S. service men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives; by defeating the terrorists." He read parts of letters sent home by soldiers who knew very well what they were fighting for; it's too bad so many Americans don't know... See Washington Post.
It has been two years and one month since the war to liberate Iraq began, and it is remarkable that people actually debate whether it is really a war or not. In a strict military sense, it is a prolonged anti-insurgent campaign, similar to actions by U.S. forces in the Philippines and Nicaragua in the first half of the 20th Century, though on a bigger scale. In terms of duration and combat deaths, it is comparable to the War of 1812 or the Mexican War of 1848-1849. This strange quasi-war drags on, floating in and out of our collective consciousness. The Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen photographic series has been a valuable service to us all, reminding us of the human lives represented by the daily casualty toll. In our area, JASON REDIFER, a Marine lance corporal from the nearby town of Stuarts Draft, was killed in action on January 31, 2005. It was supposed to be his final mission before returning home. He belonged to the Second Marine Division based in Camp Lejeune, NC.
After a few months of attacks on oil pipelines, which are now better guarded, the terrorists have now turned their attention to the cities. The wounding of Abu Musab al Zarqawi probably doesn't mean much, as the suicide tactics do not seem to be well coordinated. With an almost unlimited supply of hate-inspired young men from many Arab nations, car bombs will likely be disrupting lives in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities for the foreseeable future. The upsurge in terror bombings coincided with the selection of the Iraqi civilian cabinet, after long negotiations among party leaders. That marked a major step forward, and signifies the consolidation of genuine state power, as more and more Iraqis recognize they are better off cooperating with authorities than joining the insurgents. Iraqi troops and police units have become much more active in tracking down hideouts and weapons depots. The recent counteroffensive by U.S. forces along the Syrian border sealed a major security gap through which foreign terrorists had been infilitrating. The other good news is that the country's economy is growing, but that could be changed by one or two spectacular attacks on the oil pipelines.