The Corner

Disappearance & Blame

As you know by now, a cache of weapons has disappeared. You know, if you study any war, including our most important wars — especially the Civil War and World War II — you understand why this is not an exceptional story. Wars are full of setbacks, and armies adapt to them. To hold a president personally accountable for every setback, as John Kerry has attempted throughout this campaign — demanding that Bush explain what happened to these weapons — is absurd. It’s fair game for Kerry to raise it, it may well have some political resonance, but it’s also fair game to label Kerry a demagogue when he does it.

For example, when the U.S. decided to invade Guadalcanal in the summer of 1942, there was a race against time to take the island before the airfield the Imperial Japanese Navy was building on the island became fully operational. This major airfield would allow the Japanese to threaten Allied bases and shipping throughout key areas of the South Pacific.

At the time, the Allies had not yet conducted any offensive landing operations in the entire Pacific theater, and had only confronted the Japanese in the successful battle of Midway. The U.S. First Marine Division, which had originally been told that it would have six months to prepare for its first landing, was given just a few weeks to organize, prepare and ship the supplies it would need to conduct the landing. As a result, the Marines who landed on Guadalcanal did not have adequate supplies to feed and support the landing force, and actually had to live off of captured Japanese food. The heavy construction equipment the Seabees needed to finish the airfield was also left behind and captured Japanese bulldozers and trucks were used to get Henderson Field in use to defend the island.

Military intelligence about Guadalcanal and the strength of the Japanese forces on the island were also very incomplete and inaccurate. When U.S. forces landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, they had only old, inaccurate maps of the island to make their way over the island. I know this because my great uncle served with the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal. His brother, my grandfather, fought on Guam and Iwo Jima, which didn’t go as planned either. But they didn’t blame FDR.