When we ran into difficulties in Iraq after the major combat operations, war opponents pointed to all we did to plan for the post-World War II in Europe.
I protested that we planned for post-war Iraq. It's just that many of our assumptions went awry.
I also protested that we had years to make plans for the treatment of defeated Germany. Were we really to be condemned for winning in weeks rather than years?
Or should we have spent years on the plan before invading?
As it turns out, I shouldn't have been generous in assuming the anti-war account of the smooth post-World War II occupation was accurate.
That was always a hole in my education. I knew that things were rough in Europe after World War II, but basically it was the interlude between World War II and the Cold War. Even my post-World War II European history education skipped over the end of the 1940s for the most part.
So it has been with some horror that I have been reading Savage Continent by Keith Lowe. It is honestly numbing in the horrors of the post-war in failed plans, hatreds erupting that led to new slaughters and ethnic cleansing, hunger, and political violence:
Imagine a world without institutions. it is a world where borders between countries seem to have dissolved, leaving a single, endless landscape over which people travel in search of communities that no longer exist. ...
Nothing is made here: the great factories and businesses that used to exist have all been destroyed or dismantled, as have most of the other buildings. There ar no tools, save what can be dug out of the rubble. There is no food.
Law and order are virtually non-existent, because there is no police force and no judiciary. In some areas there no longer seems to be any clear sense of what is right and what is wrong. People help themselves to whatever they want without regard to ownership--indeed, the sense of ownership itself has largely disappeared. Goods belong only to those who are strong enough to hold on to them, and those who are willing to guard them with their lives. Men with weapons roam the streets, taking what they want and threatening anyone who gets in their way. Women of all classes and ages prostitute themselves for food and protection. There is no shame. There is no morality. There is only survival.
It was painful to read. There was shame enough to go around. No wonder it is so easy to skip over this period between periods.
But the point is that compared to Europe after World War II, our post-war occupation of Iraq was friggin' brilliant. Sure, the scale was far less. But the fact is, but for the Iranian, Syrian, and al Qaeda invasion of Iraq after Saddam's regime was destroyed, the Iraq post-war would have gone pretty smoothly. Remember, Europe was not invaded right after the fall of Hitler's regime. Yet still it was a horror show.
I should also point out the obvious: Don't assume that because we did succeed in Europe that it was inevitable. We can look back on Europe as a success despite the horrible post-war because we stayed for the long haul and struggled to rebuild the institutions and repair the physical damage.
Do you really want to say that Iraq had to fail when we walked away in 2011?
Perhaps we are getting involved enough now. If so, perhaps the last 30 months will seem like an interlude like the time between VE Day and the the era when we passed the Marshall Plan and formed NATO.
If we ultimately succeed, I can forgive lapses like prematurely walking away from Iraq. Stuff happens.
And I don't want to hear how the poor Sunni Arabs were mistreated after their bloody reign was ended. They had it easy after 2003, all things considered.