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We've Seen This Before

Despite what the quagmire chorus would have you believe, this isn't the first time America has tried to rebuild a war-torn, formerly fascist state.

12:00 AM, Jul 10, 2003 • By HUGH HEWITT
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WHEN GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS addressed his retirement ceremony audience on Monday, he didn't mince words. The news accounts focused on his striking endorsement of the president's "bring 'em on" challenge to Fedayeen terrorists attacking U.S. forces in Iraq, but equally important was his prediction of a "rough road ahead." Franks and his colleagues know better than to paint rosy pictures of the life of an occupying army in a war-torn, shell-shocked country ruled for years by an evil fascist. They know because the Army has been in such a situation before, and compiled a hugely useful history of the occupation of Germany.

A glimpse of the rigors of occupation can be found at the online history of XII Corps' duty in defeated Germany. The XII Corps History denominates as the "Occupation Period" May 9, 1945 to October 27, 1945--clearly a truncated time-line, but one most appropriate for comparison to today's situation in Iraq.

The entire history is great reading, but two segments stand out.

First, the report notes the difficulties the troops faced just dealing with the massive devastation of war: "[The town of] Cham was in a hell of a shape at the time we took it over: 18,000 PW's in a camp you could smell from five miles down wind: with 80 Indian labor troops--British subjects!--as PW's sitting in the middle of the stew; open latrines running all over when it rained--and it was usually raining; everyone lousy and typhus at the epidemic stage; food all eaten up on the day the artillery moved in and no more could be obtained. Add to this a bunch of Bulgarian diplomats and another bunch of Japs; a hospital full of survivors of Buchenwald; two Kraut military hospitals full of Wermacht wounded. You can see why Col. Davis was down at XII Corps HQ beating on desks to get food and medical supplies."

Substitute children's prisons and mass graves for some of the descriptions above and you can imagine that there are a few Colonel Davises running around Iraq these days.

More striking still is the danger to the occupation forces. "It took some little time after VE-Day to satisfy the Germans that there was no use trying to fight us. As the organized combat imperceptibly petered out in the last few days before the cease-fire order, so sniping and other types of irregular warfare dragged on into the days of Peace in Europe."

I have been unable to find a count of casualties in occupied Germany and within the liberated possessions of Imperial Japan and the Japanese homeland, but there were dead-enders in both theaters, as well as the ordinary dangers of munitions and arms. Securing the peace has never been a peaceful enterprise.

And we have faced the phantom of a deposed dictator before as well. The Washington Post's website makes available the first chapter of the fascinating "The Death of Hitler" by Ada Petrova and Peter Watson. In the chaos of Germany's collapse and months that followed, Hitler was reported to be in his "Alpine Redoubt" surrounded by his Werewolves, as well as throughout Europe and South America, and even off the Irish coast. The ghost of Hitler spooked millions until his death was reliably documented and broadcast.

There is a lot of knowledge about how the United States acted in its major occupations in modern times, and a lot of thought has gone into the details of occupation policy generally. (For one more example, see this 1997 article on Postconflict Arms Management by Lieutenant Colonel James J. Carafano, U.S. Army, on the need for and methods of disarming forces and destroying weapons.) All such thinking and planning must be provisional, however, as the contours of the fascist remnant and the morale of the newly freed people are impossible to predict.

What cannot be in doubt is American resolve to stay the course or the commander-in-chief's assessment of the ability and willingness of the troops to do the difficult work of occupation. Thus his "bring 'e on" remark and thus General Frank's repeating of the same challenge to the enemies of freedom in Iraq. President Bush seems to understand the size of the challenge ahead and of the crucial necessity to see it through.