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November 06, 2003

THIS JEFF JACOBY COLUMN from the Boston Globe uses the 1946 Saturday Evening Post article on the occupation of Germany (mentioned below) as a jumping-off point.

Thought for the day: What year is it? Well, really, of course, it's 2003, and historical analogies are of only so much use. But everyone keeps talking as if it's 1946.

But what if it's, in a sense, 1943? What if the Iraq war is just the opening phase? After all, Saudi Arabia is the true source of worldwide Islamist terror. And -- like Germany and Japan in 1943 -- it hasn't been invaded yet.

Just a thought, and probably an example of the limited usefulness of historical analogy. But if the Iraq war is seen as the beginning phase of a longer struggle, rather than the end of the war, then, well, a lot of things look different. And I think that's what it is.

UPDATE: Reader Doris Douthat thinks it's 1943:

I'm old enough to remember WWII and to understand that the current World War IV (aka War on Terrorism) is just getting off the ground. I like to compare Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation Torch, the landings in North Africa. This Sat. (Nov 8) is the 61st anniversery of those landings (1942). Rommel was pounding the Brits in Egypt on the verge of breaking through to gain control of Arabia and its oil. Operation Torch was PREVENTATIVE -- it opened a second front behind Rommel and prevented the fall of Egypt.

Both were the first significant offensive ground action for US troops near the beginning of a prolonged conflict. And both seemed conceptually far removed from the immediate war triggers (Dec. 7 & Sep 11). Torch marked the first setback for Hitler after an unbroken string of victories and was to the ETO [European Theater of Operations] what Midway was to Fascism in the PTO. [Pacific Theater of Operations] Similarly Iraqi Freedom is the first setback for ME Islamism following its loss in Asia. Finally, both Operation Torch and Operation Iraqi Freedom had as main strategic goal to prevent a fascist maniac from gaining control of a major portion of the world's oil.

Hmm. Could be.

UPDATE: Reader Kevin Germann emails:

I'd say it's 1953. We're in a decades-long Cold War against the Axis of Evil (Evil Empire) with periodic outbreaks of real armed conflicts as in Afghanistan, Iraq (Korea, Vietnam). Obviously the war will not be over until we can travel as securely from Beirut to Tehran as we can travel today through Eastern Europe.

Hmm. Who gets to have Layne/Welch-style fun in whatever the Mideast version of Prague is, in a few years? John Hawkins emails:

I think it's 1943, but Iraq is more analogous to the invasion of Italy than North Africa (Afghanistan would've been Operation Torch).

Italy was the first time we took the battle to the home turf of one of our enemies (rather than just a place they had managed to occupy, like Tunisia or Afghanistan). It was a battle of liberation of sorts too, where their people were glad to be rid of the old tyrant. One can only hope Saddam meets his own Piazzale Loreto, a la Il Duce.

But I definitely don't feel like this war is over yet.

The other similarity to 1943 of course is that it was a year before a Presidential election...

Ms. Douthat's history comes in for some criticism, too:

Doris may be old enough to remember WWII, but she certainly doesn't remember the facts very well. I don't object to her analogy to Operation Torch, but to suggest that Torch "prevented the fall of Egypt" gives far too much credit to the Americans and fall too little to the Brits. El Alamein was long past before Torch. The Americans provided (eventually, after an early disaster or two) the backside to a pincer movement that was mostly British. The Americans had a lesser role in North Africa in 1943 than the Brits had in Iraq in 2003.

That last seems a bit strong, but it's been quite a while since I studied that stuff.

UPDATE: Reader Bob Macaulay emails:

There is a lot wrong with the first Operation Torch/1943 post, but here is what's probably the most important parallel: TORCH and the North Africa campaign is where the US Army went to get tough enough to win future, significant battles. They learned what tactics and equipment worked, and what didn't. They learned to toss ineffectual unit leaders out immediately. Most of all, its where the officers and men learned to hate their enemies, to want to close with and kill them.

Hmm.