The Corner

D-Day–The Moral Audit

Some wise words from a reader on my post yesterday about D-Day:

“Dear Mr. Derbyshire—In your Corner post, yesterday, you quote your Irish

friend saying: ‘The late Alan Clark was quite good in his book also. He made

the obvious (but still controversial) point that, wherever the German Army

met the Anglo-American forces in anything like equal numbers, they wiped the

floor with them. You have to hand it to the Krauts: they were beaten by

superior numbers in the end.’

“He, and you, should not make too much of this; ‘battle hardened’ is a real

and tangible quality. By D-Day, the Germans had it in spades while the

Anglo-American forces, especially the mass-conscript American forces, were

many tens of thousands of men who, until the very moment of their first

engagement with the Germans, had never aimed a gun at another human being.

“‘Battle hardened’ means you do not make a fiasco of unloading supply ships,

as one American general did when his forces landed in North Africa, and that

the bullets you receive fit the gun you are carrying. It means that when a

sentry on the Maginot Line makes a phone call, there is a responsible person

on the other end to receive it. It means you can make a phone call, unlike

the Americans in Granada. One can go on, and on. All these seemingly

simple logistical abilities decay in peace-time and get renovated only in

the heat of battle.

“Above all, ‘battle hardened’ is the willingness of one man to kill the

other man, a willingness quickly acquired—if you survive your first

engagement, but otherwise a very rare and unnatural capacity in normal men.

S.L.A. Marshall documented that fully one quarter of American soldiers in

their first fire fights, even though they were trained and armed and knew

they had the sanction of their countrymen, could not return fire even while

the enemy was trying to kill them.

“Finally, please remember it was only about two years from the time American

forces first engaged the main German armies in Europe until final victory in

May 1945. This is a fraction of the time the Germans had to sort out their

physical and spiritual battle operations. I think it fair to say that, on

the whole, the Anglo-American forces acquitted themselves as well as any and

better than most.”

It sounds right, and fortifies the point I made in my May Diary last week,

about the benefit to the USA of having a military well experienced in

organizing and fighting a hot war.

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