Monday, September 03, 2007

Analog Fritz: American Caesar, Drugstore Cowboy

Late summer and I’m on vacation. Have noticed too late August is a time when politicians show up at the yearly conventions of The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. A few years ago Dick Cheney used such a convocation to prime the pump for the last push toward going to war in Iraq.

This year’s VFW convention was held in Kansas City. The Legion was a couple of weeks later. And Pres Bush spoke to the vets, choosing this VFW occasion to prime the pump for the upcoming discussions about leaving Iraq by drawing comparisons between our Iraq occupation and our earlier occupations of Viet Nam and Japan.

All summer I have been reading American Caesar, a life of Douglas MacArthur by William Manchester. As chance would have it, I am at the part where MacArthur takes over supreme command of Japan after Allied vitory. At some future point I will review the book. But, when picking up today’s paper I had to remark upon the falsity of the Iraq-Japan analogy.

MacArthur spent over 20 years in the East, spending the whole time studying the people. While he was plotting hid portion of the Pacific war, he also was planning the postwar governing of Japan. Truman placed him in total command of Japan, and he would have nothing less. Machester quotes Arthur Schlesinger [and Richar Rovere] who wrote tha postwar Japan had an ‘overpowering need .. for faith, for a mystique, for a moral revival in the midst of moral collapse. The powerful and dedicated figure of MacArthr filled that need, as probably no other American general could have filled it.”

My marginalia: Whither Tommy Franks? Franks was retired and off to talk shows when the battle ended. One could imagine that a Swartzkopf or a Colin Powell could have cut a better figure in the post war role, but few could imagine Franks taking on a role like MacArthur’s. They do not make them like that anymore – MacArthur’s father, in fact, was a Civil War General [he led a Wisconsin regiment] and MacArthur himself grew up on Army posts across the old West. First principles stuff.

Of course, Bush would like to strike the pose heer as the powerful dedicated figure. He’s not quite up to the task. Since the day he declared ‘mission accomplishe’d with bravura on the carrier deck, he’s increasingly appeared as a drugstore cowboy. MacArthur had studied Napoleon from every angle. He valued him as a military strategist; he faulted him as and administrator. He was ready for peace big time.

MacArthur had a degree of pride that at times crossed over to arrogance. He was extremely conservative, and occasions showed him to be racist. But he is a fascinating figure of history who dwarves today’s figures. He brought unionism and progressivism to post-War Japan. There, as in the Philippines, he was very prepared to cut slack for some pretty dubious people. But, people today say it worked. It’s hard to imagine anything that is a worse example of a US occupation than this Iraq experience. Like many of Bush’s analogies, the Iraq-Japan analogy hold little water. But he has gotten mileage – made a career - from such facile assertions. Let’s recall his degree is in business administration.

It was not all MacArthur in Japan of course. The Japan that MacArthur overcame was a pale version of its former self. That can hardly be said for Iraq after Tommy Frank’s blitzkrieig. Japan lost more than a million soldiers in the war. Casualties were fantastic. The country was completely devastated by years of war. It was ready to listen to Doug.

Bush’s latest analogies are false. What his Democratic foes fail to see however is what will be a pragmatic next stage: a multiyear withdrawal. Many Americans and many party members don’t want to hear that. But if you asked them if they would agree as a compromise to return to the Clinton containment the days of a no fly zone, they’d probably say yeah.

I fact, in Kansas City, Korea was raised by Pres Bush as an example of a successful occupation. It’s been a containment. Has the statue of limits run out on his Axis of Evil proclamation? Korea is an example of a pull back. It is an unresolved conflict. That is troubling to this day. But people can somehow live with it. Again, in nefarious manner, Pres Bush is one step ahead of everyone, even when he is going backward.

American Caesar on Amazon
Pres Bush before the VFW -

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