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Friday, July 16, 2004

Perspectives: Victor Davis Hanson

Whom to Blame?

History’s Verdict
The summers of 1944 and 2004.

this time 60 years ago, six weeks after the Normandy beach landings,
Americans were dying in droves in France. We think of the 76-day
Normandy campaign of summer and autumn 1944 as an astounding American
success — and indeed it was, as Anglo-American forces cleared much of
France of its Nazi occupiers in less than three months. But the outcome
was not at all preordained, and more often was the stuff of great
tragedy. Blunders were daily occurrences — resulting in 2,500 Allied
casualties a day. In any average three-day period, more were killed,
wounded, or missing than there have been in over a year in Iraq.

intelligence — despite ULTRA and a variety of brilliant analysts who
had done so well to facilitate our amphibious landings — had no idea of
what war in the hedgerows would be like. How can you spend months
spying out everything from beach sand to tidal currents and not invest
a second into investigating the nature of the tank terrain a few miles
from the beach? The horrific result was that the Allies were utterly
unprepared for the disaster to come — and died by the thousands in the
bocage of June and July.

Everything went wrong in the days after
June 6, and 60 years later the carnage should still make us weep. The
army soon learned that their light Sherman tanks were no match for Nazi
Panthers and Tigers. Hundreds of their "Ronson-lighters" — crews and
all — went up in smoke. Indeed, 60 percent of all lost Shermans were
torched by single shots from enemy Panzers. In contrast, only one in
three of the Americans' salvos even penetrated German armor.

America had the know-how to build big, well-armored tanks, with diesel
engines, wide tracks, and low silhouettes. Yet General George Marshall
had deliberately chosen lighter, cheaper designs — the idea being that
thousands of mass-produced, easily maintained 32-ton Shermans could run
over enemy infantry before encountering a rarer, superior 43-ton
Panther or 56-ton Tiger. Should he have been removed for such naiveté,
which led to thousands of American dead? Whom to blame?

blunders ensured that Americans had inferior anti-tank weapons, machine
guns, and mortars when they met the seasoned Wehrmacht. On the Normandy
battlefield itself, on at least three occasions, faulty communications,
tactical breakdowns, bad intelligence, and simple operational laxity
resulted in Americans blown apart by their own heavy bombers as they
were trying to facilitate breakouts. Almost as many Allied soldiers
were casualties in a collective few hours of misplaced bombing than all
those killed so far in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Generals Eisenhower
and Bradley probably miscalculated German intentions at Argentan, and
thus allowed thousands of veteran Germans to escape the Falaise Gap in
August. Tens of thousands of these reprieved Panzers would regroup to
kill thousands more Americans later that year. Whom to blame?

subsequent Battle of the Bulge was a result of a colossal American
intelligence failure. Somehow 250,000 Nazis, right under the noses of
the Americans, were able to mount a counteroffensive with absolute
surprise. For all of our own failure to account for the missing WMD, so
far an enemy army of 250,000 has not, as it once did in December 1945,
assembled unnoticed a few miles from our theater base camps. Whom to

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