Image courtesy of BYU Humanities. Image courtesy of BYU Humanities.

By PJ Neal

Reality

“Although the war is over the memories still go on in my dreams.  I still see the desperate fighting, and hear the groans of the wounded.  The World War cost the United States more than 342,000 wounded and approximately 39,500 killed in action.  There were 9,665,000 men killed in the World War, all for the craze of territory expansion, greed and the almighty dollar.  Yet the “War Dogs” and the politicians pay hypocritical homage to the dead, saying:  ‘They died gloriously for their country.’  Like hell.  The ones I saw died pitifully, just doing their duty.”

– John W. Nell, The Lost Battalion:  A Private’s Story

Rapport

“In this, as in all our foreign wars, we never really established rapport.  This was largely due to our overinflated hypnosis with the myth that the American way – in economics, politics, sociology, manners, morals, military equipment, methodology, organization, tactics, etc. – is automatically and unchallengeably the best (really the only) way to do things.  This failing may well be the area of greatest weakness for the future of American arms.”

– Unnamed Vietnam-era General Officer, quoted in Douglas Kinnard, The War Managers:  American Generals Reflect on Vietnam

Complacency

“Once again however, as practitioners basking in the day-to-day aura of a reliable system, they weren’t very good at discerning what was important until after the fact, until it was too late.  Once again, because the system wasn’t broken, no one noticed that it was breaking.  As is often the case with such tragedies, the warning signs were there; however, at the time, no one recognized them for what they were.  Only in hindsight do they grab our attention as important indicators of a breaking system.”

– Scott Snook, Friendly Fire:  The Accidental Shootdown of U.S. Black Hawks Over Northern Iraq

Motivation

“I think I meant to say that our prime motivation for suffering through all that USNA put us through was the prospect of glory.  I believe most of us felt that we would one day be tested in some form of combat – after all, WW2 and Korea were not that long ago and our relations with the Soviets were being severely tested – and if you really looked at what a professional warrior could hope for in his career, it was just that test.  After all, one doesn’t get one’s name in Reef Points by being the best darn administrator in the Naval Service.  It takes great deeds in the face of overwhelming odds to implant your name indelibly in the minds of all the plebes yet to scale the Herndon.  Perhaps some of us entered USNA thinking that it would lead to just a job, but after the intensity of the plebe experience, I believe we survivors had more going for us than the prospect of twenty-years-and-out to a nice second career selling life insurance to the next generation of junior officers.  I believe we had visions of being someday at that critical moment when what we did would change the course of history.”

– Ron Benigo, quoted in Robert Timberg, The Nightingale’s Song

What Goes Unsaid

“Back at Omaha Beach, beneath the bluffs, Medic Staff Sergeant Alfred Eigenberg flopped wearily into a crater.  He had lost count of the number of casualties he had treated.  He was bone-tired, but there was one thing he wanted to do before he fell asleep.  Eigenberg fished a crumpled sheet of V-mail paper out of his pocket and, with the aid of a flashlight, settled down to write home.  He scribbled, ‘Somewhere in France,’ and then began, ‘Dear Mom & Dad, I know that by now you’ve heard of the invasion.  Well, I’m all right.’  Then the nineteen-year-old medic stopped.  He couldn’t think of anything more to say.”

– Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day

Strategy

“Colonel T.E. Lawrence was never a soldier.  He made his way to the field by way of the desks of the Intelligence Office in Cairo, and so escaped formal military training.  He revered the disciplined but elastic mind of General Allenby, why would lead the British forces north through Gaza, Beersheva, and Jerusalem to Damascus.  He basked in the glory of the Homeric Auda Abu Tayi, the Howeitat chief who married twenty-eight times, had been wounded thirteen times, and had himself slain seventy-five men – all of them Arabs – with his own hand in battle.  Of Turks killed Auda kept no record, esteeming them so low.  Lawrence’s great gift to the Arab Revolt was not the disciplined mind of a soldier or the berserk rage of a Howeitat chief, but the mind of a gifted strategist.”

– Charles Stang, The Many Ways of T.E. Lawrence

Service

“Every post is honorable in which a man can serve his country.”

– George Washington


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