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The Conservative Curmudgeon
May 5, 2009

Reflections on Visiting a U.S. Military Cemetery Abroad:
The Uniqueness of America and the Dangers of Going to War Precipitously

by Allan C. Brownfeld

I recently visited the U.S. military cemetery at Nettuno, Italy, down the road from Anzio, with my son Peter and grandson Dario. This visit caused me to reflect on both the unique nature of American society and the dangers of going to war precipitously.

The Sicily/Rome American Cemetery — established as a temporary wartime cemetery on January 24, l944, two days after the landing at Nettuno/Anzio — covers 77 acres. The total number of interred is 7,86l, which represents only 35 percent of those who died in combat from the invasion of Sicily to the liberation of Rome. The Wall of the Missing located in the chapel has 3,095 names inscribed. Twenty-three sets of brothers are buried side by side, as well as two sets of twins.

The U.S. maintains 24 permanent military burial grounds on foreign soil for the 124,914 U.S. war dead interred. Headstones of pristine marble with stylized marble Latin crosses mark the graves. Headstones of those of the Jewish faith are tapered marble shafts surmounted by a Star of David.

While looking at the names and birthdates on the headstones, I remarked to my son, now 3l, that most of the soldiers buried there were much younger than he is now.

Reading the names of the dead and their home towns tells us much about the uniqueness of the American society. Virtually all nationalities and ethnic groups are represented. In the l840s, Herman Melville wrote that, “We are the heirs of all time and with all nations we divide our inheritance.” If you kill an American, he said, you shed the blood of the entire world.

America is more than simply another country. Visiting New Amsterdam in l643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that l8 languages were spoken in this town of 8,000 people. In his Letters From an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in l782: “Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”

During the radicalism of the l960s, when many young critics of America denounced their own country although they understood little of its history, author Mario Puzo wrote: “What has happened here has never happened in any other country in any other time. The poor who had been poor for centuries... whose children had inherited their poverty, their illiteracy, their hopelessness, achieved some economic dignity and freedom. You didn't get it for nothing, you had to pay a price in tears, in suffering, why not? And some even became artists.”

As a young man growing up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Puzo was asked by his mother, an Italian immigrant, what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he said he wanted to be a writer, she responded that, “For a thousand years in Italy no one in our family was even able to read.” But in America everything was possible — in a single generation.

Puzo writes: “It was hard for my mother to believe that her son could become an artist. After all, her own dream in coming to America had been to earn her daily bread, a wild dream in itself, and looking back she was dead right. Her son an artist? To this day she shakes her head. I shake mine with her.”

In l866, Lord Acton, the British Liberal leader, said that America was becoming the “distant magnet.” Apart from the “millions who have crossed the ocean, who shall reckon the millions whose hearts and hopes are in the United States, to whom the rising sun is in the West...?”

America has been a nation much loved. Germans have loved Germany. Frenchmen have loved France. Swedes have loved Sweden. This, of course, is only natural. America has been beloved not only by native Americans, but by men and women throughout the world who have yearned for freedom. America dreamed a bigger dream than any nation in the history of man.

Yet, if visiting the American military cemetery caused me to reflect upon the unique nature of our society, it also produced concern about those who would take our nation to war precipitously — unless absolutely necessary for our own defense and survival.

Consider the neoconservatives who led us into war in Iraq, a nation, however objectionable its government, which never attacked us and which bore no responsibility for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Kenneth Adelman, head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during the Reagan administration, predicted that the mission would be a “cakewalk.” Other advocates of the war were equally optimistic. It would be like Paris in l944, we were told, with the Iraqis greeting American troops as liberators, not occupiers. Columnist Mark Steyn predicted in 2003 that “in a year's time Baghdad and Basra will have a lower crime rate than most British cities.” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz rejected the idea that the occupation would be a financial drain. He predicted Iraq’s oil revenues would pay for the entire cost of reconstruction.

These same neoconservatives are now beating the drums for war with Iran. Fortunately, the American people, with two wars now in process, are unlikely to heed their call. The neoconservatives themselves do not take responsibility for their role in taking the nation to war — and even deny their own existence. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank reported in February about Richard Perle’s appearance at the Nixon Center. Perle, a leading neoconservative promoter of war, seeks to rewrite history. According to Milbank, “He created a fantastic world in which: l. Perle is not a neoconservative. 2. Neoconservatives do not exist. 3. Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years. ‘There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy,’ Perle informed the gathering…. I’ve never advocated attacking Iran,’ he said, to a few chuckles....”

Because of policies advocated by such neoconservatives as Perle, new U.S. military cemeteries will be filled. Traditional conservatives always believed that the reason to be the most powerful nation on earth was precisely so that we would not have to fight wars. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, in his July 4, 1821, address, provides a helpful reminder about the traditional goals of our foreign policy: “The United States... is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own... She might become the dictatress of the world: She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

We defeated the Soviet Union, a real enemy dedicated to and capable of our destruction, without going to war. We maintained diplomatic relations with Moscow and engaged in summit meetings and negotiations. Why should we do less with the potential and much weaker adversaries of today?

The U.S. military cemetery in Italy was, to me, a reminder of the high cost of war. Visiting with my son and grandson made me hopeful that their generations will be spared the sacrifices made by the young men and women interred there.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2009 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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© 2009 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation