The first recorded war in history happened about 4700 years ago between what are parts of Iran and Iraq today. (Some things never change, do they?) There was obviously earlier wars, since’s man’s propensity to slaughter his fellow man seems infinite, but the first time war was actually recorded was about 2600 B.C. I guess weapons of mass destruction in those days were clubs and perhaps a spear or two. Fast forward through history, and an untold number of wars in which millions were killed, to World War I where weapons of mass destruction were bombs being dropped from planes. Bombs had been around for at least 2 centuries, (they’re mentioned in our “Star Spangled Banner”), but WWI was the first time they could be dropped from the air on a hapless population that were unfortunate enough to be on the ground beneath them.
WWI was also famous for its trench warfare. Both the German and French sides drew huge trenches in the eastern part of France where the war bogged down after the German invasion. Besides the constant bombardment between the 2 sides, life in the trenches was a living hell. It continually rained or snowed, so the trenches were always a muddy, rat-infested hellhole, where hundreds of thousands of lives were lost, more due to disease from the miserable living conditions, than to enemy fire. Trench warfare continued for about 3 years as the war degenerated into a stalemate, until the U.S. entered the war, which enabled the allies to push Germany out of France and finally ended with Germany’s defeat. So many lives were lost in the trenches that burial was out of the question. Instead they built a huge structure around all the dead with side glass panels. To this day visitors can look inside this monument to the dead and still see their bones.
Fast forward now to the late 1930s when Nazi Germany was gearing up for the next war. When the Nazi’s were re-arming, in violation of the treaty that ended WWI, France could have easily intervened and put a stop to the re-armament process, and probably could have put an end to Hitler’s rise to power. But France did nothing, primarily because the French military and population were too demoralized by the horrific losses they had suffered in WWI. Everyone knows about how the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain came to Munich and tried to appease Hitler in 1938 by ceding over parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler’s demands. Chamberlain apparently believed he had achieved “peace in our time” through appeasement of perhaps the most evil dictator of all time. What many people are not aware of is that the French Prime Minister was also at that meeting in Munich. His name was Edouard Daladier, and unlike Chamberlain, he had no illusions that Hitler could be bought off. He knew full well that Munich was just a prelude to WWII but he was too worn down by French malaise to do anything about it. Getting off the plane when he returned to Paris, and to throngs of people cheering him because they had believed Chamberlain’s proclamation that peace had indeed been achieved, he looked tired and haggard, with large bags under his eyes. Looking at the waving crowd, he was heard to mutter to one of his aides:”The damned fools.”
Of course, instead of peace, war ensued and about 60 million people lost their lives in Europe, with millions more lost in the Pacific. The good guys (the Allies) finally won, and those Nazi war criminals that hadn’t committed suicide were hung at Nuremberg. But most people are unaware of just how close the Allies came to losing, in which case it would have been Truman and Eisenhower, and Churchill and Montgomery that were hung at Nuremberg, and Nazi rule prevailing throughout the West. Within a matter of weeks after the war begun, Nazi forces rampaged through and took over all of western Europe except for England. Thereafter Hitler invaded Russia in eastern Europe, and his forces marched almost unopposed over a thousand miles to the gates of Moscow. If Moscow had fallen, Russia would have been out of the war, and to try to retake Europe by fighting on just the western front would have been nearly impossible. Stalin, himself no stranger as an evil dictator, ordered the Russian military to defend Moscow at all costs, or to the last dead man, and somehow, although heavily out-gunned and out-manned, Russia held on, and the Nazi army was finally force to retreat back to Germany in the dead of winter. Hitler still had one ace up his sleeve, however. The Nazis were within weeks of developing an atomic bomb as well as rockets that could have reached New York and Washington before the Third Reich was finally forced to surrender. That’s how close we came to total disaster.
In the Pacific, the only thing that saved us, after the fiasco at Pearl Harbor, was that our carrier fleet, with all its hundreds of war planes was out at sea, instead being in port, when Japan struck. As bad as our losses at Pearl Harbor were, we could have never recovered if our carrier fleet had also been destroyed. Indeed after the destruction at Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt White House fully believed that Japan would invade our west coast. We were so militarily unprepared, that had such an invasion occurred, Roosevelt believed we could not have stopped it. Military planners were prepared to set up a line of defense around the Chicago area, as a last-ditch effort against an invading Japanese army. The only thing that saved us was that Japan never realized how unprepared and vulnerable we were. It’s amazing how often wars are won and lost based on sets of missed opportunities.
Which brings us to the the present and our conflicts in the middle east. With Iran feverishly in the process of developing a nuclear arsenal, the next war could make the casualties suffered in previous wars look small in comparison. With Americans sick and tired of the wars in Iraq (which we are out of now), and Afghanistan where we’ve been bogged down for over 10 years, there is absolutely no desire for another conflict, especially not with Iran. Yet if we don’t take out Iran’s nuclear development now, that window of opportunity will soon be gone. We are at a point where France was with Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. France still had time to take out the Nazi war machine as late as 1938, but was too demoralized to take action. Are we also in the same category?