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This year, December 7, a day that will live in infamy, falls on Sunday, just as it did in 1941.

Where Exceptionalism Leads

Where Exceptionalism Inevitably Leads -- Tom Hall

Three years later, the fall of 1944 taught some people lessons about hubris and the nature of warfare. Allied troops were slogging through the French hedgerows and the small Benelux states toward Germany. The Germans, who only a few years before had been technologically superior conquerors, were learning hard lessons about the frustration, fury and—that occupied people were able and willing to mete out.

With all the heroic movies teaching us how John Wayne, James Garner, Telly Savalas, James Coburn and others whipped the Nazis, most people forget what actually happened in the fall of 1944.

Succumbing to the traditional tragedy role of believing his own press, Field Marshal Montgomery demanded that the Allied command approve his operation “Market Garden”, to deal a decisive blow against the German army. Fortified with the certainty that worn out soldiers would keep fighting; that complex and untested supply lines would develop no problems; and that even the weather would bend to the will of an exceptional general, Montgomery planned to capture and hold a series of strategic bridges that would prevent the German army either attacking or escaping back into Germany to regroup.

On whom the gods would destroy, they first bestow hubris.

Neither the Germans nor the weather accepted the inevitable ‘logic’ of Montgomery’s exceptionalist planning. Cornelius Ryan got 600 pages of prose from interviewing the survivors of Montgomery’s hubris. David Attenborough made that prose into one of his early historical film epics, of the same name: A Bridge Too Far.

Operation Market Garden, Market for the air operation, Garden for the ground assault, began on September 17 and collapsed on September 25. Thousands of Allied troops were lost to death, wounds or capture. In pursuit of the ambitious dream, vast amounts of supplies were diverted from other areas of the war, giving Germans the time to breath, rest, regroup and plan their own operations.

But after Market Garden collapsed, and the Germans set about trying to plan operations to stall or reverse the Allied advances, the Allied high command congratulated itself on its broader successes in the European theater. (Generals and armchair military ‘thinkers’ and never-enlisted politicians speak of war zones as “theaters”—entertaining the folks back home while young men act the part of heroes. And then die.)

Even with the lessons of Market Garden fresh in their minds, the Allied commanders were certain that the war was won, that victory was at hand, and that most troops might go home for Christmas 1944.

But our boys didn’t get home for Christmas in 1944. While Allied generals congratulated themselves and arranged supply lines to feed the troops turkey dinners and hot side dishes, instead of spare ammunition, winter clothes, or fuel supplies, the Germans planned to break through weakened Allied lines and take the offensive back. And they launched the Battle of the Bulge.

Again, troops were sacrificed to the hubris of generals and political planners. Again, thousands of troops died, were wounded, or were captured, because the generals knew, in their exceptionalism, that they couldn’t be beaten in battle, and didn’t need to worry about the enemy. Again, we had to turn to Hollywood to provide us with heroic images that justified the sacrifice of the troops.

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We might hope that the lessons of 70 years ago would inform our planners today. We have West Point and the “service colleges” run by each of our armed forces. We have scholars studying and teaching histories of warfare. But in the fall of 2014, 70 years after operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge, politicians and industry-connected generals are telling us that we need to "up our game" in the war against indigenous “terrorists” where ever they appear in the Middle East.

Today we honor the European “underground” movements that wreaked havoc among the German occupation forces. But we ignore their purpose. The Germans weren’t hated merely for invading their neighbor countries. It was their brutal and totally corrupt administration of countries they occupied that drove people to apoplexy. Even today, eight decades after the first German war moves, people still fight to repatriate art and other property looted by the Germans.

Yet we show no concern for the feelings of people in Afghanistan or Iraq. We impose the Karzai and Maliki governments on the Afghan and Iraqi people and provide materiel and training for those governments to inflict brutality on their subjects while looting the vast sums of money we send for “nation building”.

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“The Islamic State” appears to be brutal and motivated. Their brutality is modeled on the training their leaders received at our hands. The ISIS military commanders were Iraqi military commanders back during the Reagan administration, when we were training and equipping them to use poison gas and weapons that we supplied to repress their own citizens. They were trained to wrap their despotism in religious zeal and public beheadings from our Saudi Arabian client state, which exists only because we support their brutal religiously ‘justified’ rule.

The partisans in each small European country fought the Germans with the brutality that the Germans had inflicted on the civilian population. The partisans of Iraqi Sunni tribes now inflict on Shiite tribes the brutality that our Maliki puppet government inflicted on Sunnis, with our permission and equipment.

And now we have had an election that put the war profiteers and hawks back in control of Congress. At a victory celebration on November 4, Tea Party Republican Party presidential candidate (and foreigner) Rafael "Ted" Cruz said: “Give us a gun and a horse and we will conquer the world.” ‘Mainstream’ Republican Party presidential candidate Jeb Bush went to Iowa during the recent campaign to praise racist Joni Ernst for her policies calling for American domination of all nations, regardless of whether they want our ‘help’ or not.

The leadership of the new Congress has been virulent in its criticism of President Obama for his sin of following George Bush’s plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq. They promise that U.S. troops will be back on the ground in Middle Eastern deserts, imposing our definition of ‘freedom’ on people who have already started to fight back against us.

The leadership of the new Congress has been virulent in its criticism of President Obama for his sin of following George Bush’s plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq. They promise that U.S. troops will be back on the ground in Middle Eastern deserts, imposing our definition of ‘freedom’ on people who have already started to fight back against us.

Just as the Germans were told that their exceptionalism would conquer the world, and the Allies were told that their exceptionalism would end the war before the end of 1944, we are now being told that American exceptionalism (particularly technical and military exceptionalism) will conquer all the people in the Middle East who previously resisted the Romans, the Crusaders, the Germans, the British and the French.

But Osama bin Laden used our cell phone technology to plan and conduct his attacks. Al Qaeda has consistently beaten us on the use of social media for winning the “hearts and minds” of the poor and oppressed. Now that even 7-11 stores sell functional drones, it is only a matter of time before al Qaeda, ISIS and whatever new resistance movement springs up starts using inexpensive drones as effectively as they have used IEDs.

We are told daily that ISIS is brutal and murderous. The people over whom ISIS rules see, everyday, that ISIS provides governmental security, public health services, a crackdown on crime lords, and clean water and accessible food and energy. While we talk, ISIS delivers, with no more brutality than our client state Saudi Arabia, or our puppet government in Iraq.

Seventy years ago, the hubris of generals and politicians pushed us into operation Market Garden and into the Battle of the Bulge. Both battles were born of our preference for self-adulation over accurate analysis. Today, our leaders in Congress are promising to undertake the same decisions, with an eagerness to sacrifice the same young soldiers. But their historically ignorant hubris threatens to lead us into a quagmire worse than Korea or Vietnam.

Tom Hall

Tom Hall