Do People Ever Really Remember the Names of the War Dead?

News at Home

Mr. Palaima is Dickson Centennial Professor of Classics in the College of Liberal Arts at University of Texas at Austin.

Direct Textbooks Textbook resource center

Tell me what were their names, tell me what were their names,
Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?

One hundred men were drowned in that dark watery grave
When that good ship went down only forty-four were saved

Woody Guthrie began writing his ballad about the USS Reuben James right after its torpedoing by a German submarine on Halloween Day 1941. In the song he first wrote, he sang out all eighty-six names of those lost at sea. But other songwriters, like Pete Seeger, told Guthrie that Americans would be bored by such a list. So those dead are now anonymous, and even their number has been rounded up for "singability."

We are now told that our men and women will be dying in Iraq for anywhere between two and twelve years. We like to think that these soldiers are dying for something, that their names will live on, like those of veterans killed in our twentieth century wars inscribed on the plaque on the courthouse grounds in Marfa, Texas. But what does such a memorial mean and what is it worth?

I visited Marfa just after Memorial Day and read those names again and again. It is pious to use the names of fallen soldiers, like those in Marfa, to honor and lament the dead. It would be better to ponder why so many deaths from such a small town are necessary, again and again. But I think it is impious to use such memorials to encourage the latest generation of young men and women to be willing to kill and die when so directed by our leaders. They should be told that their posthumous fame will be brief and that their deaths will only leave profound sorrow for their families and friends.

Siegfried Sassoon recoiled at the list of names on the Menin Gate memorial of the 90,000 British soldiers who died senselessly in the ghastly battles at Ypres during the First World War. He wrote:

Here was the world's worst wound. And here with pride
"Their name liveth for ever," The Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied
As these intolerably nameless names?
Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulcher of crime.

The propagandistic use of the names of the dead is insidious. It is worse than the military's deceitful glorification of individual deaths, like that of Pat Tillman, which his own parents find repugnant. Worst of all may be the exploitation of the names and memories of our greatest generation. US News and World Report (June 6, 2005) claimed that President Ronald Reagan's speech marking the 40th Anniversary of D-Day in 1984 freed World War II veterans to speak out and to remind our cynical nation that America was"still the shining city on a hill."

This is a jingoistic misuse of history. In my experience, World War II vets, like my father, were silent about their war experiences because they wanted to put the horrors of war behind them. Many of them saw clearly that subsequent wars and U.S. foreign and domestic policy after 1945 had tarnished any shine our country once had. 

As we read day after day now the names of American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, it might be good to read what some of our greatest generation veterans--those who did the fighting, tried to save the dying, and nursed the grotesquely wounded--actually had to say about our one"good war."  Here is a characteristic sample of their witness as collected by oral historian Studs Terkel in the early 1980's.  It was published in 1984. Terkel did not interview Ronald Reagan, because Reagan, like our current president, never saw combat.

"I was raised in a house that believed in God. All right? But it took something like this to hammer it home to me: I am totally averse to killing and warfare. I saw it with my own eyes and it didn't do a dadratted thing. And the wonderful boys we lost over there."--Elliott Johnson, D-Day veteran, artillery, landed June 6, 1944

"Americans have never known what war really is. No matter how much they saw it on television or pictures or magazines. Because there is one feature they never appreciated: the smell. It's not discriminating, [the rotting corpses] all smell the same. Maybe if Americans had known even that, they'd be more concerned about peace."--Dr. Alex Shulman, a young army surgeon during the Battle of the Bulge

"I was interviewing Pacific survivors: burn victims, basket cases, the real horrors of war. I used to feel it would be terrible to expose the public to the sight of these people. Then I felt it would be criminal not to expose them. The public has to know what war is."--Frieda Wolff, first navy public relations and then Red Cross nurse in Europe after D-Day

"It's only the glamour of war that appeals to people. They don't know real war."--Betty Bayse Hutchinson, Army nurse for critically injured GI's

"[I heard] General Patton addressing these thousands upon thousands of young Americans. Some of them had never seen anything outside their high school. The hardest drink they ever had was a milkshake. He said to these young boys, 'With your blood and my guts'--I'll never get over that till the day I die. Your blood and my guts."--Frieda Wolff

"Downtown Pasadena after the war was a very elite community. Nicely dressed women just standing there staring [at the severely wounded soldiers who were still getting reconstructive surgery]. In the Pasadena paper came letters to the editor: Why can't they be kept on their own grounds and off the streets? The patients themselves showed me these letters....It's like the war hadn't come to Pasadena until we came there."--Betty Bayse Hutchinson

"And now, I'm simply antiwar, that's it." --Frieda Wolff

Bottom line. The World War II vets I know and the ones whom Terkel interviewed believed that if we are going to send young men off to the horrors of modern mechanized war, we had better have a damned good reason--and we had better tell them truthfully what they are getting into.

A slightly shorter version of this piece appeared in the Austin American-Statesman. The article is reprinted here with permission of the author.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Just because fanatical Moslem terrorists THINK they are in a war and claim to be warriors, does not mean free-thinking non-paranoid targets of their mania have to buy into it. Unless they have corrupt ulterior motives for playing along with this bull, as Bush and Cheney did and do.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

"we had better tell them truthfully what they are getting into" ?

Such truth-telling has been a very long time in coming, partly due to the complicity of Congressional Democrats in authorizing the very predictably and widely predicted disaster that Bush and his fellow draft-dodging incompetents Rumsfeld and Cheney have wrought, and partly due to the cowardice and corruptness of the mainstream press, especially in 2002-03.

There was no imminent threat to the U.S. from Saddam in 2003 any more than in 1983 when hypocrite Rumsfeld shook hands with him. There was no great WMD stockpile in 2003, no meaningful connection to Al Qeada or the 9-11 hijackings, no plan for how to occupy Iraq, reestablish order there, or eventually get U.S. troops out again. International support was scoffed at by cowards too scared to actually go to Iraq themselves, and America's global reputation and security has been severely damaged for no good reason. The whole bungled mess was from the outset and remains today a crass violation of hypocrite Colin Powell's now junked "doctrine" on how to properly fight and win wars.

The bogus "war" on terror has been little more than a crock designed to dupe enough voters in enough swing states to win Republicans seats in 2004, and the administration's strategy since then amounts to little more than a cover-up of this treasonous atrocity.

When American ostriches pull their heads out of the sand and realize what has really been behind G.W. Bush's Iraq disaster, the horrors of war generally or of World War II in particular will not be foremost in their minds.

Historians, not professional liars like Karl Rove, will have the final word.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Mr. Thomas,

Do you have a point here relevant to the article ? The article suggests that George W. Bush has failed to learn some of the most important lessons of World War II. Since George W. Bush is not a Democrat, your apparent argument about the foreign policy shortcomings of Wilson and FDR being due to their party affiliation seems, at best, tangential to the topic at hand. The well-known (to any regular HNN follower) immaturity of Mr. Catsam is beside the point as well.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Mr. Thomas,

Compared to Wilson's 3% margin in 1916 or FDR's 10% in 1940, GW Bush's 2% in 2004 does not appear particularly "large". Compared to his negative 1% margin in 2000, it perhaps might be so characterized.

Congress declared war in 1917 and 1941 following some unauthorized shenanigans by the executive branch, e.g. not radically different than in 2002-03. One serious historical difference, however, is that the two earlier presidents won elections and popular endorsement BEFORE plunging into war, rather than plunging into war for the purpose of having a campaign issue to win the election with. Nor did Wilson or FDR use attacks by unrelated religious fanatics as an excuse for going to war with Germany (and in 1941, Japan).

Your basic point about the prior presidents' underhandedness is not in dispute (at least not by me), but it is also not particularly germane to the quite historically different current blunder-ridden folly going on in Iraq. Nor have you offered any credible systematic evidence of presidential party affiliation being related to warmongering proclivities to support your feverent faith to that effect. As for your Holocaust speculation, it is both interesting and purely speculative. The fact that many thousands of civilians had already been slaughtered in cold blood by the Nazis before Pearl Harbor, however, limits the possible historical import of such speculation considerably. It it also of some significance that Hitler's Germany declared war on the U.S. in 1941 without bothering to first wait for the likely American declaration against it.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Mr. Newgent:

You can rest assured that no single historian will have the "final word" on anything, and that no historian worth his salt will rely on the sort of stock Karl Rovian propaganda spin that you have so comprehensively but not very convincingly regurgitated here.

One thing good historians do is to keep apples and oranges separate. I said nothing about "illegal" wars, for example, so that rote bit of your brainwashed recounting is irrelevant to this comment thread.

Another practice of serious historians, having no time machines or laboratory test tubes at their disposal, is to make comparisons. In 1991, for example, American troops invading Iraq marched with large numbers of soldiers from Egypt and France, not token detachments from Micronesia. Germany and Japan paid billions of dollars to support the liberation of Kuwait in '91, the American taxpayer paid next to nothing. In 1991 the (limited, but sanely calculated) mission was accomplished, America's military capacity strengthened, and its international reputation enhanced. Even those Democrats like John Kerry who voted against authorizing Operation Desert Storm later admitted that it was probably necessary. Junior Bush's 2003 cock-up in Iraq has been predictably and dramatically diametrically opposite in all these respects. And these are solid, factually-based unbiased historical judgements, not simply the latest spin from one political party or an other.

Finally a comment on basic vocabulary. The struggle against Al Qaeda is not a "war" in the normal sense of that word. However one chooses to characterize this fight, the opponent in it is Al Qaeda or perhaps, more generally, groups of terroristic religious fanatics, not terrorism itself. You can shout until you are blue in the face that the American Revolution was really a "War on Unreasonable Search and Seizure" or the Mexican War a "War on Spanish" or that World War II must absolutely always be referred to the "War on Blitzkrieg", but mindlessly repeating such Orwellian nonsense does not make it true. It is of course true that "war" is often used metaphorically, as in "war on cavities", "war on drugs", etc. but these "wars" do not involve the president of the U.S. landing on aircraft carrier with surfers from the nearby beach on the other side of it, they do not involve unconstitutional inhumane and tactically useless detainments and torture in Guantanamo, and they do not involved thousands of duped young American national guardsmen being blasted to death on the other side of the globe so that a draft-evading commander in chief can win legitimacy at the polls. It also very important to realize that "war" is not synonymous with "occupation". What Rove, with the help of dupes (such, I regret to suggest, as yourself - at least in the above post), is doing, is to invoke all the fervor and machinery of a real war in order to pursue something that is not a real war. That is the road towards some kind of fascist dictatorship, and let us hope than many citizens, not just historians, recognize this folly before it is too late.

Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Peter & Mark,

You both make excellent points but, to argue issues such as to who is a draft dodger or what is the definition of war seems trivial. America is up to it's preverbal neck in the deadliest geo-political struggle in our nations history. That includes WWII. The real discussion should focus on how do we get out of this mess or conversely, how do we win this thing?

From a historical perspective the current 4th Generation War is rooted in tribalism dating back 4000 years. Iran and Iraq are in the process of signing a mutual defense agreement that includes Iran sponsoring military training for Iraqi troops. The Shia are coming together across the ink lines of time. The arbitrary geographic boundaries of the Middle East left from the remains of colonial Europe are being systematically erased by tribal kinship. Iraq has splintered into three distinct spheres... Kurdish north, Shia/ Sunni central and Shia south... Central Iraq, including the western provinces, are the most contentious as Shia and Sunni vie for power. The Kurd are eradicating Arabs from the north. In the south passive policing by the British have allowed local warlords to dominate the countryside.

Regardless of the reasons America is in this conflict (much of it through poor policy making over the past 80 or so odd years) events seem to be unfolding at a pace beyond Washington's control. Yesterdays London bombing will undoubtedly be met with a response. It will be interesting to see to whom retribution will be dealt. My guess is Iran. This war, like all wars, must go through an evolution. If history serves correct it should now enter a phase of intense escalation.

We must always pay respect to history and most assuredly remember the names of our war dead. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has so far failed to pay heed.

Bill Heuisler - 7/16/2005

Mr. Chapman,
You are right, I missed your post until this afternoon. We agree about a free press. I'm complaining about a press that reports misinformation to promote an anti-war agenda, like Cronkite did after Tet.

The Tet offensive began on January 30, 1968, and was a coordinated surprise attack by the Viet Cong on hundreds of cities, towns, and hamlets throughout South Vietnam.

By late 1967, forces of the U.S. Army and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (arvn) had established themselves in all the urban centers of South Vietnam and were reporting growing success in the countryside. Late in the year, however, a series of scattered diversionary attacks by the Viet Cong gradually drew more and more American and ARVN soldiers away from the cities. Then in late January 1968, on the first day of Tet (the lunar new year holiday usually observed with a truce), Viet Cong attacked five of South Vietnam's cities and most provincial capitals. In Saigon they assaulted the airport,presidential palace, ARVN HQ and U.S. embassy compound. U.S. and ARVN forces fought back fiercly and killed most of the attackers. VC held in Hue for about a month - long enough to execute and bury over 100,000 civilians. We took the ancient city and managed to do so without destroying the old Annamese monuments and Citadel

Viet Cong died nearly to the last man - more than forty thousand. U.S. and ARVN casualties were relatively light. Tet was a total victory for the US and the ARVN. The VC were destroyed in South Vietnam. General Giap said in his memoirs he was very discouraged and thought the North would have to sue for peace.

But he also said that later he was pleasantly surprised by the peace movement in the US calling TET a defeat for the US. Cronkite called TET a defeat for the US every night for two months during and after the fighting. He was one of three commentators on TV news every night and he broadcast an enormous, treasonous lie every night.

Cronkite and others like him took a US victory and turned it into a propaganda loss. Much of the death and misery in Vietnam after the Tet Offensive could've been avoided if the North had simply asked for peace in 1968.

How many dead Americans did the big TET lie cost?
Bill Heuisler

John Chapman - 7/16/2005

I’ve jumped into this thread about 10 days after your post and you’ll probably miss it but I slightly disagree with your statement.

The point may have been missed here. Transparency is key in an type of democracy. In my view, reporting war dead does not aid the enemy. If it does I’d like to know PRECISELY how (seriously, no sarcasm intended). I hear all the time by some how protesting the war (which is free speech) aids the enemy and is un-American. If that’s so let’s be done with it - get rid of all civil rights, live in a total police state where no dissent is allowed - toe the "party" line or shut the hell up, forget about democracy. What aids the enemy is when you reveal troop strengths, locations, encryption codes, supply logistics and other endless military and intelligence info. Who cares if the reporter is righty, lefty, or jerko jackass. Ted Koppel, Walter Cronkite, Bill Moyers are doing their "job" and so are FOX news people and other mouthpieces for the administration. I want to really know what’s going on in Iraq. If it’s bloody and disgusting I want the truth, I want the real pictures not only some bullshit about mission accomplished. War is shit and not glorious everyone should know that it is. Sure, these media prima donnas all have their own agenda. But there isn’t a human being who doesn’t have one.

Mark A Newgent - 7/12/2005

"Free-thinking non paranoid targets of thier mania have to buy into it. Unless they have ulterior motives for playing along with this bull as Bush and Cheney did and do"

Obviously written by a non-paranoid free thinker!

This is not a war but Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld are involved in some sinster plot to turn America into a fascist dictatorship. Witness what passes for a line of argument these days.

Mark A Newgent - 7/12/2005


How are facts “stock Karl Rovian propaganda spin?” Nice try, but the only spin here is coming from you. I may have used the term “illegal war” to inaccurately describe your stance on the war, but my recitation of the facts still refute your claims. Although, I find it odd that if you don’t consider the war illegal, (or maybe you do but you just did not say it and using that to pick a nit with me) why did you term the war,“ this treasonous atrocity?” Last time I checked treason was illegal.

Your analogy to the Gulf War is misguided. The situation in 2003 was completely different than that of 1991. The United States could not leave its security to the fecklessness of allies who were and still are unwilling to meet their responsibilities. France and Russia checked their responsibilities at the doorway to the Security Council Chambers. They failed to enforce resolutions they themselves voted for. Also, President Bush was following policy adopted in 1998 that committed the US government to regime change in Iraq. Even if the French and Russians had supported the war, you would still be against it, because as you so clearly stated “Junior Bush's 2003 cock-up in Iraq”, was “little more than a crock designed to dupe enough voters in enough swing states to win Republicans seats in 2004. Had our allies supported the war, would it still have been a ploy by Bush to win Republican seat in 2004?

As for “basic vocabulary”, we are at war and other posters have commented on this. Whether you can take the blinders off to see reality is another matter. We are at war and you refuse to see it. What you are doing is trying to shape reality to fit your ideology. Now tell me, who is being Orwellian.

Your tired bleating about Rovian propaganda and roads to fascist dictatorship reveal how unhinged from reality you really are and reinforces the fact that the left has no argument other than slander, and half-baked conspiracy theories. Split all the hairs and pick all the nits you want, all you are doing side stepping my argument and engaging school-yard name calling.

By the way you still have not provided any proof of draft dodging by Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld.

N. Friedman - 7/9/2005


You make some very good points.

However, the appropriate name for our defense against Jihad is war. We are not at war merely to defend ourselves from one group called al Qa'eda but also to defend our civilization from the Jihad.

The Jihad against us is a lot larger than al Qa'eda. Hundreds of millions of Muslims share the basic ideology which drives the Jihad. The actual Jihadis live with these silent and, often, not so silent supporters. Which is to say, the Jihadis are not kicked out of communities but, instead, find refuge and support there. And they find refuge and support in such communities because the communities agree with the goal, if not also the method, of the Jihadis.

And that goal is to spread the portion of the Earth which is subject to Muslim law. Understand, such goal is integral to Islamic theology. As explained by the great Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun:

In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the (Muslim) mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. Therefore, caliphate and royal authority are united (in Islam), so that the person in charge can devote the available strength to both of them (religion and politics) at the same time.

The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty to them, save only for purposes of defense. It has thus come about that the person in charge of religious affairs (in other religious groups) is not concerned with power politics at all. (Among them) royal authority comes to those who have it, by accident and in some way that has nothing to do with religion. It comes to them as the necessary result of group feeling, which by its very nature seeks to obtain royal authority, as we have mentioned before, and not because they are under obligation to gain power over other nations, as is the case with Islam. They are merely required to establish their religion among their own (people).

In simple terms, we are involved in a religious war that will, unfortunately but likely, go on for generations and will include periods of intense fighting and periods of more or less quiet. But, overall, we shall, looking back, consider this era to be an era plagued by war.

Frederick Thomas - 7/8/2005

Mr. Catsum,

Voltaire: "Historians must neither slander nor bore."

By his measure, you are two for two on this post.

I ask again that you reconsider the intemperate tone of of your argumentation, because it does not work, and because thereby you discredit yourself, not your target.

Expressions such as "fuckall" and "badass" do you no justice, and your threatening offer to exchange addresses violates the debate standards of this site.

I am not asking that you agree with anyone, just that you focus your remarks on the point rather than the person.

Although Oxford is probably below Glasgow and Edinborough in academic achievement (at least since 1750), it still professes to promote civil academic discourse, and would frown upon incivility such as this.

By the way, since you mention it, what have you published and did it sell well? I am seriously interested, and could not find anything on the web.

Also my hat is off to you for your ability to go from Texas Permian to Minnesota Mankato, if that was you. From 100 above to 100 below?

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/7/2005

Oh Billy -- having never been successful in anything --(war, writing, politics) it is so cute of you to dismiss your superiors. I've seen your picture. Fat men with stupid beards who purport to be bad asses simply amuse me. Fat men with stupid beards who criticize published writers who themselves have published fuckall are the worse sort of nonentity loudmouth.
We know that I write better than you. We know that your vacuous literalism is indicative of our relative status. We know that you are a nonentity. We know that no one here would take you seriously in an argument about the English language aganst me. We know these things, Bill. I duck down to deal with you. Watch our relative careers.
You lose elections for dog catcher or tax assessor or grand puba assclown in Arizona. I win international fellowships. I am in Oxford because I am pretty bright. You could not quite muster enough votes to be tax assassor because your peers thought you had a dangerously unhinged view of the tax law in Arizona. Let us compare, Billy Boy. You always play the badass. I've told you on more than one occassion that I will gladly exchange addresses.

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/7/2005

Removed at the request of the poster himself.

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/7/2005

Removed at the request of the poster himself.

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/7/2005

Removed at the request of the poster himself.

Bill Heuisler - 7/7/2005

Mr. Hildering,
"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."

Ted Koppel, Walter Cronkite, Bill Moyers and many other so-called reporters have admitted their dislike for the Vietnam War and, in books and interviews, have related their attempts to convince the American people of the war's futility and of US blame for interfering in a civil war. These hypocrites pretended to be newscasters so they could project their political beliefs to a largely unsuspecting audience. The same is true today. The news media is generally opposed to President Bush and the liberation of Iraq from Saddam. Same tactics.

If you honestly believe Koppel was showing those coffins out of reverence for the honored dead, then you must ask yourself when the pictures of the Cole dead, the Beirut Marines' coffins, the Oklahoma bombing funerals and the funerals of the Waco women and children were shown on TV.

Where were the pictures of the Mogadishu Rangers' coffins?

Koppel's fulsome reverence is disgusting.
Bill Heuisler

Les Hildering - 7/7/2005

I recall when Ted Koppel on Nightline read the names of the fallen in Iraq and there was an uproar that it would sap the morale of the troops and would undermine the war effort. All he did was read names along with the photos. I will say that broke the ice in that CBS and the Newshour on PBS the photos and names are given regularly without protest. I think the right does not like it because it reminds of the names on the Vietnam Wall.

Frederick Thomas - 7/7/2005

Thank you for your remarks and the tone with which they were delivered. A couple of comments:

"Congress declared war in 1917 and 1941 following some unauthorized shenanigans by the executive branch, e.g. not radically different than in 2002-03."

-to the contrary, they are very different situations legally. WW and FDR violated several laws specifically prohibiting acts of war and went against overwhelming public opinion.

-Both lied about what they were doing in numerous public speeches, and were covered up by most media. In both cases, these executive actions constituted "high crimes" and were readily impeachable. Had they been impeached instead of being permitted to continue, over 700,000 American lives may been saved.

-In contrast, GB2 went to Congress, and to the public, got legal authorization, and used it. I get it that you do not like Bush. But how can you say that these situations are the same? They are nowise legally similar, Bush-haters’ wishful thinking notwithstanding.

"Nor have you offered any credible systematic evidence of presidential party affiliation being related to warmongering proclivities..."

-True, I merely reported that the author attacked only Bush, not the others who did more and much, much worse than Bush.

-But there is a quite reasonable argument to say that Democratic presidents and the entire party have been more radical than Republicans in the sense of ignoring the Constitution, and less careful about truthfully communicating with the public, which they manipulate.

-As regards Democrats and war, how can we forget Truman (Korea) and Johnson (Vietnam), which had huge body counts and extremely poor execution.

“As for your Holocaust speculation, it is both interesting and purely speculative. The fact that many thousands of civilians had already been slaughtered in cold blood by the Nazis before Pearl Harbor, however, limits the possible historical import of such speculation considerably.”

-a point of correction on dates and numbers: as of December 1941, Hitler’s murderous acts were limited to killing mental defectives, communists, and political opponents. These groups included Jews but were not at that time specifically directed against Jews per se, at least on anything like the scale they were later.

-You may have a point that this total came to thousands (the liquidation of the SA Brown Shirt leadership killed hundreds), but not much more, and nothing like what happened later.

-Three events changed that after the Reichstag speech declaring war on the US.

-First the Wannsee conference planned it all (2/42,)

-then war was declared against the USSR (5/42) with “SS Einsatzgrueppen” (“single mission troops”) specially trained to recruit highly disaffected Ukranians, Belorussians etc to round up and kill local Jews, or place them in camps.

-Though set up in 1940 as a small slave labor facility, Auschwitz was expanded by 500% beginning around the time of the attack on the USSR (6/42).

-All of these portentous events for Europe’s Jews followed the Reichstag speech I alluded to, and seem to be a direct implementation Hitler’s threat. This is why I think it not unreasonable to presume that they are connected, and not just “speculation”.

Thanks again for your comments.

Bill Heuisler - 7/6/2005

You are in way over your head as usual. A trope is the use of a word or expression in a different sense from that which properly belongs to it - changed significance - a figure of speech.
Examples of the proper use of trope:
"As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin." Emerson

"And though our tropes of fairyland be mixed with those of entomology they shall not spill one drop of ambrosia from the rose-crowned melody of Maggie's one perfect night." O Henry

"Not that I wanted beans to eat, for I am by nature a Pythagorean, so far as beans are concerned, whether they mean porridge or voting, and exchanged them for rice; but, perchance, as some must work in fields if only for the sake of tropes and expression, to serve a parable-maker one day." Thoreau

No derisive adjectives attached - no adjectives at all. In the future, use the English language to project thought rather than to display over-inflated importance. Pomposity is most embarrassing when it's an unconscious affectation.

But, as usual, you are unconscious of your absurdity and try to avoid responsibility when someone objects. Saying an argument is retarded or stupid is the same as calling the arguer those names. When you attempt an insult it's best to understand the language or you appear foolish.
Bill Heuisler

Mark A Newgent - 7/6/2005


If you have proof of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld draft dodging please provide it. Otherwise stick to what you can prove, which, going by your post, is not much.

President Bush never said Iraq was an imminent threat. His words were "grave and gathering." The 9/11 Commission did find a connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq, but no Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 plot. Stephen Hayes has noted this operational alliance between the two. What the left has done is distort this finding by floating the lie that there was no connection between the two at all. Which, as anyone with common sense, can see is patently false.

International support was not scoffed at. Colin Powell and President Bush went before the UN on multiple occasions to get that body to enforce the 17 resolutions Saddam had violated; UNSCR 1441 being the final ultimatum before facing the consequences of his actions. UN resolutions warning of consequences have no meaning if they are not enforced.

You are blatantly lying by saying international support was scoffed at. The administration’s pre-war attempts to garner international support refutes your claim. The UN failed to live up to its founding principles, and France and Germany abandoned their responsibilities. France, Germany, Russia et al, who opposed the war, all had the same intelligence on weapons of mass destruction as the US did, and all came to the same conclusion. The security of the United States should not be left to the purview of allies unwilling to meet their responsibilities. If a serial killer breaks into my house and threatens the lives of my wife and child, I am not going to wait for my neighbor to give me his assent to shoot the serial killer.

The intelligence was flawed, but an illegal war that does not make. Also, if Iraq did not have the WMDs, why then would he continue to flout the resolutions and the inspections? Why not open up and show the world that he indeed had nothing to hide? The truth is, that we now know, that he was in the process of reconstituting the banned weapons programs. I think the administration underestimated the difficulties in post-Saddam Iraq, but an illegal or necessary was that does not make either.

How many more crumbling skyscrapers and beheadings will it take for you to realize that the war on terror is not a bogus war! The notion that the war on terror (those who have attacked the US and threaten its people) is, “a crock designed to dupe enough voters in enough swing states to win Republicans seats in 2004” is ludicrous on its face. It represents the conspiratorial mindset of the loony left, and reveals that it uses lies and invective and passes it off facts and reason.

I surely hope for the sake of truth that you are not the historian who has the final word.

Frederick Thomas - 7/6/2005


Thank you for your remarks, which but for one I will let stand without answer.

The sequence of events which created the war is well documented. It is hard to find a detailed translation in English of Hitler's Reichstag speech, which makes it inaccessable to many American academics, so it is little discussed here. In December 1941, it was a sensation in Europe, even in the US administration.

As I stated, however, this speech and the February Wansee conference did happen, and I believe must be honestly counted as real events leading to the abuse and deaths of many.

The weakness of my argument is "post hoc ergo propter hoc". The fact that the camps were mostly established after these events does not mean that these events caused them.

However, Hitler as a personality was driven by his "unbending will" as he put it, and the concept of "Vergeltung," or "vengeance", which he loved to enunciate publicly for domestic and foreign consumption.

I believe that the immediacy and the deadliness of the camps were probably both affected by FDRs secret acts of war against him and against Japan. In this case I take Hitler at his word, but understand if others do not. That should not keep us from considering the actual facts.

Frederick Thomas - 7/6/2005

Mr. Clark:

Thank you for your nuanced and learned comments. As a vereran who has participated in and survived the atrocity of modern war, I would bet that few here are more anti-war than I am, although like the founders, I understand that at times one must defend oneself.

By requiring a formal Declaration by Congress, the founders put huge reins upon this process which have been evaded entirely in the 20th century. That pisses me off.

I think you may have misunderstood my point on FDR and WW, (LBJ might be included as well.) In those two, laws prohibiting warlike actions and the constitution were deliberately violated, and acts of war were secretly ordered by sitting presidents. Horrible consequences resulted.

This was not done just toward Germany, but also Japan (see R.Stennett: "Day of Deceit"). In both cases, the intent was to get the US into war to help Britain, against 80% public opinion.

Bush, on the other hand, went into both current theatres under very clear congressional mandates, with majority public support because we were attacked.

I see no comparison between these two situations, and find it rather disingenuous that the author implies a moral equivalence. If there is one, I can't find it.

It seems that we might as well strum our guitars, smoke pot, and sing "Cum by ya" as make this invalid comparison. I suspect that not fingering FDR and WW was the author's bow to his own political leanings, which should not necessarily be confused with truth or logic.

Thank you again for your remarks.

Throughout, the point is unintended irony. Perhaps I am wrong, but I see a clear double standard here.

It seems to me that Wilson and FDR deliberately violated their respective neutrality acts, ordering illegal acts of war on Japan and Germany, but are not called to account by the author.

It seems to me that Bush's real sin was Republicanism, that and having won the election by such a large margin.

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/6/2005

Bill -
Defender of the language -- whom did I call a name? Ahhh, yes -- no one.
As for the definition of retarded, apperently your dictionary does not have something called "secondary definitions" and your thesaurus does not have "synonymns." Beyond your literalist interpretation, "retarded" can also be used in lieu of "stupid." So We were dealing with a stupid trope -- a secondary definition for trope might be "idea" or, if you prefer "comparison." I stand by my argument, though I always maintain that it is nice to be corrected by such an established writer as yourself.


Oscar Chamberlain - 7/6/2005

Mr. Thomas, you should have stuck with your first post. I always point out FDR's illegal waging of an undeclared naval war in my US survey. The point I make there is rather different, however. It is that our eventual entry into World War II and American acceptance of that war as a just one did more than justify the illegal way retroactively. It gave an unfortunate moral patina to such illegal actions.

As presidents ever since, including Reagan and the current Bush, have tended to model their presidencies on FDR's, I think it has been one factor in presidents seeing the law as something that does not govern them, particularly in foreign policy.

Sadly the connection you draw between the Holocaust and American entry into the war is pretty ludicrous. Any impact it might have had was pretty minor. The one major American contribution to the Holocaust was eugenics, and that, alas, was bipartisan educated opinion in the early 20th century.

Frederick Thomas - 7/6/2005

Mr. Catsum:

Thank you for your comments, however unresponsive they are to the important issues set forth, and however eternally unconvincing such boring and childish ad hominem attacks may be. One would think that an obviously intelligent person such as yourself would have noticed that.

In this case you seem to deny that WW I and WW II, etc. were illegally mongered by democratic US presidents, who were strangely in love with the degenerated British Empire, although the article slams only Pres Bush. One would think that even one with an utterly flat-lined sense of irony would have found irony in that.

You say that you favored WW II. Setting that aside, I say that the best one to have eliminated was WW I. Out of that came WW II, murderous Communism, the enslavement of East Europe and China,, Korea Vietnam, and today North Korea. WW I was the sum of all evils, Mr. Catsum, and WW II was a predictable result of it, all brought to you by democratic presidents, who seemed never to find a war they did not like.

By the way, there is interesting evidence that US entry into WW II is directly responsible for the Holocaust. In his Reichstag speech two weeks after Pearl Harbor, after almost a full year of acts of war by FDR against Germany, Hitler said (my paraphrase and translation), "The Jews gave us Napoleon, the War of 1870, World War I, bolshevism, and now they maneuver their lackey Roosevelt into war with us. There is no great crime without the Jew behind it. Until now we have forgiven them, but this time, this time, my friends, they will pay the blood price (werden der Blutpreis bezahlen!)"

Two months later, in Wannsee, outside Berlin, Heydrich convened an interdepartmental task force to organize the exacting of that "Blutpreis". This post hoc testimonial evidence may not be complete or convincing. But it surely shows that the emotional component of the decision which led to the Holocaust was created by the US entry into the war. Lay that one at FDRs feet as well, Mr. Carsum.

You missed the best rejoinder to my arguments, however. You should have said that Lincoln and the Civil War should be included, which would have still put the Democrats ahead in the death toll, but not by much. Of course, I would then have rejoined that if one substitutes "more radical" for "democratic", it would have revalidated my argument again.

Please lead with your fine mind rather than emotions, Mr. Catsum. You will be more effective. I wish you well.

Bill Heuisler - 7/5/2005

Why not try discussing issues rather than calling people names? First, a trope is a figurative use of a word and cannot be retarded. Retardation generally signifies an IQ of 69 or less. Retardation can be applied to a word only by someone of delayed or impeded discernment of words.

Assuming you meant the use of political comparisons was retarded, why did you not reproach the article author for using Pat Tillman and Ronald Reagan? Why not call the first poster names for his many political comparisons? Are certain Presidents above reproach? If so, why begin with FDR and a Destroyer? Why besmirch the altruism of a young man who gave everything for his country by saying his death was for nothing and was also mishandled for political a political article?

Stupidity is manifest when a writer sneers at patriotism and calls it jingoism; when he misapplies reverence and grief into recruiting tools. More to the point, Derek, stupidity is grossly manifest when writers regularly replace thought with venom.
Bill Heuisler

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/5/2005

Are we really going to return to the retarded trope of labelling wars by the parties of their presidents? The implications of the comment above are that World War II was somehow an unjust war to fight. Me? I generally tend to support war against Nazism and Japanese imperialism. And I will gladly accept the mantel of "Democrtatis war." What was the partisan breakdown for the vote of World War II, by the way?

The analysis in Mr. Thomas' comment is so manifestly stupid as to defy comprehension. It almost is deserving of some sort of award.


Lynn Bryan Schwartz - 7/5/2005

This is a disappointing article, because it moves from being a discussion about the cost of war to a partisan ramble about the legality of the war in Iraq. But that is for another discussion.
My grandfather was also in WWII. Although he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, a wound that could have sent him home, he reenlisted to continue the fight to the end. Like the author' father, my grandfather likewise said little about the horrors of war, the fighting and dying. But that did not mean he wished to forget and that the sacrifices made were meaningless. As commander of the local VFW, my grandfather called attention to his and every other man's service to their country. By doing so, he and his fellow old soldiers challenged younger generations to remember what their duty and responsibility were to their families, their communities, and their nation. But I guess my family is different. I was taught that my family was very fortunate to be welcomed to this country, and it was our responsibility to contribute. I guess others have only a sense of entitlement.

Frederick Thomas - 7/5/2005

It seems ironic that this interesting and well-presented article begins with a quotation from Guthrie's "Reuben James," ironic because of the way that these men were lost, and who was responsible for their loss.

The first clue was the date of the loss, on October 31, Halloween, 1941, over a month before Pearl Harbor. The United States was not at war, and four Neutrality Acts then in effect prohibited American warships from aiding either side.

Yet the circumstances were damning: at the order of the Commander in Chief, FDR, and contrary to the neutrality acts and the wishes of over 80% of Americans, US ships were ordered to aggressively escort British convoys carrying US war material, ie attack German submarines, which is an act of war in anyone’s book. The order was given in March 1941, 9 months before Pearl Harbor.

Thus DD 245, “Reuben James”, a 1919 vintage US destroyer poorly equipped for new realities of improved submarines and torpedoes, was illegally ordered to Iceland to escort British convoys carrying war material. Of such things the loss of perhaps 50 million European and American lives are made, the destruction of much of Europe assured, together with the enslavement of all of Eastern Europe under the murderous hand of Communism, and the resulting Cold War.

The (perhaps foolishly) valiant German captain decided to attack the destroyer escort coming after him rather than going deep and quiet, as common sense and standard tactics dictated. He shot well-the first fish hit DD 245’s mid-ship powder magazine, resulting in immediate killing of most sailors on board-only 44 survived-those at bow and stern.

The irony is that this manifestly illegal (in the sense of violating US statute) act of war, with truly vast later loss of life, was surely and without question carried through by the orders of the most leftie of us presidents, FDR. Because Mr. Palaima often asserts the questionable illegality of Mr. Bush’s war, and his own leftist sympathies, I wonder what he would say about a war so much more deadly, so much more clearly illegal, which was clearly ordered by the most leftist of American presidents? One may ask the same about Wilson and our contrived entrance into the First Great War, under similar circumstances.

Do 1800 American “Republican” dead in Iraq trump 400,000+ American “Democratic” dead, in WW II, plus 160,000+ more in Korea and 55,000+ additional in Vietnam, and 50 years of horrific military expenditures in the Cold War? (Those latter wars I take as the result of the rise of militant Communism due to Stalin’s victory over Hitler.) It looks to me, with a little arithmetic, that leftist Democrats presidents are about 370 times more deadly to American soldiers, and more than that to civilians, than rightist or centrist Republican presidents.

I would ask of the 700,000 plus Democratic dead, "what were their names?" Or perhaps there are too many to count.