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This is, after all, the land of fast food and FedEx. It’s little wonder why the quarter-century before 9/11 was marked by a series of push-button, almost bloodless wars. In the shadow of Vietnam, each mini-war conditioned the American people to expect less blood and less sacrifice than the previous conflict. And this, in turn, conditioned enemies like bin Laden to doubt America’s resolve. For all the imperfections and mistakes of the post-9/11 campaign of campaigns, that cycle has ended—thanks to the tenacity of the U.S. military.
Once it is unfettered, the U.S. military can be the most audacious and fearsome force on earth. Japan realized that on April 18, 1942, just four months after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Doing the unthinkable, Jimmy Doolittle used Navy aircraft carriers to launch Army bombers into the skies over Tokyo. The bombers arrived in broad daylight, throwing a stunning counter-punch at Japan’s once-invulnerable homeland and foreshadowing the war’s devastating final blow.
When all seemed lost in Korea, Douglas MacArthur stunningly swung his troops around and behind the massive communist armies and landed some 70,000 men at Inchon. In a matter of days, they recaptured Seoul, smashed the communist invaders and reversed the momentum of the Korean War. The war would rage for another two and a half years, but South Korea’s existence would never be threatened after MacArthur’s daring amphibious landings.
Yet the American military’s special brand of audacity doesn’t always manifest itself with bullets and bombs. When Stalin tried to squeeze the allies out of Berlin by blockading the city’s western half, the United States used a mix of restraint and resolve to win the first battle of the Cold War. Blending the principles of strategic bombing with the efficiency and ingenuity of the Ford assembly line, Curtis LeMay’s airmen preserved the tiny island of freedom known as West Berlin for a year. Although the Cold War would continue for decades, the Berlin Airlift laid the foundation for everything that followed—on both sides of the Iron Curtain. With the world watching, the siege and subsequent rescue of Berlin exposed the stark differences between the two postwar superpowers. One looked like a common street thug, bullying his neighbors to extort protection money. The other resembled Hercules, swooping down from Olympus to defend the defenseless.
The hard-earned victories of Task Force 121 and Task Force 5, David Petraeus and Ray Odierno, SEAL Team 6 and countless other units whose successes we may never know, now take a deserved place alongside those stories from last century. As a result, these men are rewriting the pre-9/11 narrative that America lacks the stomach to wage war and the staying power to defeat its enemies.
Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.
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