October 26, 2006
Iraq and IwoBy Kieran Michael Lalor
Flags of Our Fathers is a moving piece of cinema that further immortalizes the heroism of the Marines who fought on Iwo Jima. Let's hope that it can also teach powerful lessons about how to defeat a fanatical enemy, for the story of Iwo Jima bears many parallels to the war in Iraq.
In a manner eerily similar to the way the Pentagon expected Iraq to be like Afghanistan, commanders anticipated the Japanese would employ the tactics they used on Saipan, Tarawa and Peleliu. Instead of reckless and ineffective Banzai charges, the Japanese dug in and waited for the Marines to land.
American casualties were underestimated by a startling 80 percent because only light resistance was expected. The intricate system of tunnels, caves and heavily fortified bunkers that made the campaign so deadly, were virtually unknown to war planners.
Despite the intelligence failures and a horrifying 6,821 Marines killed in just five weeks, there was no shameless politization of the mistakes. Likewise, ghoulish celebrations of the casualty count on American street corners were unthinkable.
Historians disagree on the tactical significance of the tiny volcanic island in the wider campaign against the Empire of Japan. However, there is nearly universal agreement that once the first Marine splashed ashore, it would have been a devastating strategic defeat to have been driven back into the sea.
Moreover, our hard—earned victory dealt a stunning blow to Japanese morale from which they never recovered.
On Iwo Jima island we fought a barbaric enemy, using ruthless tactics of our own. To eliminate the Japanese embedded deep within the mountains, Marines literally burned them alive with flame throwers. Today much of official Washington and most of the media, oppose cold rooms, loud music and sleep deprivation to gather life—saving intelligence from the very terrorists who orchestrated the slaughter of 3,000 American civilians.
The leaders of WWII knew that putting faces on heroes and telling their stories exponentially increased the power of their heroism to inspire and hearten the home front.
A simple snapshot reminded the American people of the type of bravery a free nation defending herself can produce — and the people responded. The 7th Bond Tour of 1945 featuring the iconic Iwo Jima photo and the three surviving flag raisers put $24 billion in the government's war chest.
Recently the first Marine was nominated for the Medal of Honor for valor in Iraq. Private First Class Christopher Adlesperger's real—life exploits make Hollywood action—adventure stars look like Pee Wee Herman.
According to reports, the 20—year old,
Adlesperger survived the encounter but he gave his life a month later while leading a raid on another terrorist stronghold.
Certainly, the media is partly responsible for the fact that America knows Abu Gharib prison guard PFC Lynndie England but few know PFC Adlesperger. However, a lot of the blame falls on the Bush administration for failing to adequately tell the story of our heroes.
Why hasn't President Bush called on the mighty fund raising machine that backed his election year media blitzes, to buy TV time to tell the stories that need to be told and to thank the troops for their efforts and sacrifice? Be advised, this is not a call for exploitation. Rather it is a demand for appropriate exaltation, with the permission of the family, to broadcast the countless acts of valor by our troops in Iraq. An inevitable bi—product of this recognition would be a massive increase in the nation's desire to finish the job.
Had the flag raised on Mount Suribachi featured the rising sun rather than the Stars and Stripes, American morale would have been crushed and the tide of the war might have shifted to the Japanese. Had the enemy been victorious in the Pacific, much of the world would have been cast into a period of unfathomable misery.
The stakes are no less today.
Kieran Michael Lalor is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Editor In Chief of MarineCorpsPost.com.