Nation-Building As Done By Actual Grownups

In a column headlined “Our Blindness,” Wall Street Journal op-ed columnist Mark Helprin grimly questions our preparedness for handling any of the major challenges facing the U.S. in the 21st century, which he identifies as the rise of China as a world power, the possibility of a global pandemic, and the disgraceful lack of any significant civil defense effort despite plentiful warnings of possible catastrophes, terroristic and otherwise.

And he not only ridicules Bush’s attempt at nation-building in Iraq, he succintly answers the “We did it in Germany and Japan and we can do it in Iraq” argument:

Approximately 150,000 troops occupy Iraq, which has a population of 26 million and shares long open borders with sympathetic Arab and Islamic countries where popular sentiment condemns America. The Iraqi army was dispersed but neither destroyed nor fully disarmed. The country is divided into three armed nations. Its cities are intact.

In contrast, on the day of Germany’s surrender, Eisenhower had three million Americans under his command — 61 divisions, battle hardened. Other Western forces pushed the total to 4.5 million in 93 divisions. And then there were the Russians, who poured 2.5 million troops into the Berlin sector alone. All in all, close to 10 million soldiers had converged upon a demoralized German population of 70 million that had suffered more than four million dead and 10 million wounded, captured, or missing. No sympathizers existed, no friendly borders. The cities had been razed. Germany had been broken, but even after this was clear, more than 700,000 occupation troops remained, with millions close by. The situation in Japan was much the same: a country with a disciplined, homogenous population, no allies, sealed borders, its cities half burnt, more than three million dead, a million wounded, missing, or captured, its revered emperor having capitulated, and nearly half a million troops in occupation. And whereas both Germany and Japan had been democracies in varying degree, Iraq has been ruled by a succession of terrifying autocrats since the beginning of human history.

Helprin, whose novel Winter’s Tale is the reason you can’t easily declare Jack Finney’s Time and Again the best NYC fantasy novel of all time, is a long-standing right-wing contributor to the page, which has been criticizing Bush more harshly than you’d expect for the last year or so.

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