National Review Online | 10.8.01
By Alan W. Dowd
As the United States begins to strike back at the spawning grounds of terror, the American people would do well to keep in mind the wartime words of Winston Churchill. In the early hours of World War II, he directed the British military "to strike heavy and unexpected blows" at Hitler's war machine. Months later, after the first hint of success in Egypt, he added on ominous caveat: "This is not the end — this is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
His message was unmistakable: Audacity mixed with patience will produce victory.
Patience has never been a virtue for Americans. This is, after all, the land of fast food, FedEx, and fax machines. It's little wonder why the past quarter century has been 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, has conditioned the American military to be overly cautious, curbing its audacity and leading inevitably to more low-risk, low-impact wars. The cycle must end now.
The only way we can win this first war of the 21st century is if the American military matches the enemy's audacity and the American people imitate his patience. History reminds us that we have the capacity to do both. These early blows of our vengeance, like Doolittle's, may be swift and satisfying, but victory will not be. Indeed, it cannot be, if this war is to achieve what most Americans demand — the end to terrorism itself.
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, Lt. Col. 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, it was MacArthur who did the impossible by swinging around and behind the massive communist armies and landing some 70,000 troops 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 America'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.
It was Lt. Gen. Curtis LeMay who led the American Air Force into that battle, blending the principles of strategic bombing with the efficiency and ingenuity of a Detroit assembly line. From June 28, 1948 to September 30, 1949, U.S. pilots flew 277,000 missions and delivered 2.3 million tons of supplies into Berlin. Landing every three minutes, the planes sent a simple message to Moscow: Berlin will remain free, and the West will not be bullied out of town.
During those 15 months of brinkmanship, the United States showcased not just its military might, political resolve, and seemingly boundless industrial capacity, but its unique ability to balance all of these in the pursuit of its national interests.
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. Moscow would never fully recover, and Washington would never retreat.
Which brings us to the other half of Churchill's formula for victory — patience.
Yes, America's attention span has grown short in this age of email and cell phones. And yes, we are the heirs of Doolittle's mid-day lightning strike, MacArthur's beach-krieg and LeMay's assembly line in the sky. But we are also the victors of the Cold War and the conquerors of Stalinism. We have lived through other times of terror — in the dark shadows of nuclear stalemate, when our very existence was in the balance every hour of every day. We have waged and won long, twilight struggles before. We have outlasted other enemies. And with equal parts audacity and patience, we can do it again.
The masterminds of September 11 had plenty of both. Only time will tell if we will match them. To paraphrase Churchill, this is just the beginning of the beginning.