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In January of 1942 — one month after the Pearl Harbor attack
plunged America into war — Franklin D. Roosevelt went before Congress to ask
for funds for his “Victory Program,” which was the name he gave to
the government’s program for wartime production. Roosevelt called for building
45,000 military aircraft that year and 100,000 in the following one. Considering
that just 19,000 had been built in 1941, and just 4,000 in 1940, that was asking
quite a bit.

But the aircraft manufacturers — working out of converted auto
factories and new aircraft plants — delivered the goods. Under a national program
coordinated by the Pentagon (itself a brand-new building), they turned out 44,479
aircraft in 1942 and 81,028 in 1943; by the end of the war, the total reached
260,000. At the same time, America’s shipyards increased the size of the Navy’s
carrier fleet from 7 to 144 (including smaller escort carriers) and the destroyer
fleet from 171 to 520. Thousands of landing craft were built to land armies
in Normandy and on Pacific islands. Hundreds of thousands of young men were
taught to fly planes and navigate ships. Total enrollment in the armed services
grew from several hundred thousand to more than 11 million soldiers, sailors
and marines. The armed forces were required to fight on several huge fronts
simultaneously, with more than a couple million men in harm’s way by late 1944.
All this growth occurred in the little more than three-and-a-half years from
Pearl Harbor to the Japanese surrender, and in a nation whose population was
less than half what it is today.

And today — in a nation that is incalculably richer than it was
in the 1940s, in a nation that is the world’s unchallenged superpower — U.S.
soldiers are scrounging through garbage heaps for armor to affix to their Humvees
as they dart around Iraq. Our force in Iraq is minuscule compared to the forces
we deployed in World War II — currently just 135,000 soldiers, marines and National
Guards; the total will rise to 150,000 as the January elections draw near. We
have been fighting in Iraq for 21 months now — enough time, by World War II
standards, to build whole damn fleets of ships and planes and tanks.

But today, in Iraq, we have 19,389 Humvees in which we move our
troops around the country. Of these, just 5,910 are fully armored; 9,134 have
bolted-on armor; and 4,345 have no armor at all. Which is why, when National
Guard Spc. Thomas Wilson asked Donald Rumsfeld in Kuwait last week, “Why
do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal
and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” the hall erupted
in applause. Blame war movies or the History Channel or even the public schools,
but somewhere in the collective consciousness of our troops there is a dim memory
of a time when the United States sent its forces into battle actually equipped
to meet the enemy.

Of course, as Rumsfeld responded, “You go to war with the
Army you have.” Franklin Roosevelt went to war with the army he had, at
a moment not of his own choosing but rather that of the Japanese Navy. He managed
to build the most remarkable army the world had ever seen in an astonishingly
short time.

George W. Bush went to war at precisely the moment of his own
choosing, with the army that he and Rumsfeld had insisted on. The head of that
army, Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, had argued that we needed a different
army in Iraq, one of no fewer than 200,000 soldiers to handle the difficult
occupation, but Shinseki was the subject of one change in the army that Bush
and Rumsfeld wanted and got: For daring to suggest that the administration’s
plan for war was inadequate at best, Shinseki did not have his term as chief
of staff renewed.

And in the 21 months since we’ve been in Iraq, we just haven’t
gotten around to armoring our vehicles there. The chief U.S.-based contractor
for armoring Humvees, O’Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt of West Chester, Ohio, actually
announced earlier this month that it was working 22 percent under capacity and
that the Pentagon hadn’t asked it to step up production. Beyond Defense Department
fecklessness, though, there’s the problem of our declining manufacturing sector.
All the army’s medium-size trucks, Newsweek reports this week, are made
by a single, Texas-based manufacturer. The administration exhibits equal indifference
to the survival of our soldiers and the survival of our manufacturing base.

If this were a Democratic administration, you can be sure
there would long since have been calls for impeaching the president and defense
secretary. Imagine how Bob Dole would react if a Democratic president were as
unconcerned about the safety of our troops as Bush and Rumsfeld plainly are.
As things stand, though, John McCain can declare on Monday (as he did this Monday,
in fact) that he has “no confidence” in Rumsfeld, and the Tuesday
papers either ignore the story or bury it with the quilting-bee news.

It’s not hard to understand how Rumsfeld can survive his responsibility
for the Abu Ghraib atrocities and the abuses at Guantánamo. The Geneva
Conventions have never loomed large in the minds of American voters. But blowing
off the concerns of American troops in harm’s way by noting, as Rumsfeld did,
that even fully armored vehicles sometimes blow up should be another matter.
(By that logic, why weigh down the heads of our men and women under fire with
those clunky helmets?) Yet the silence of such ostensibly pro-military right-wing
media goons as the boys at Fox News has been as deafening as it is predictable.

For decades, Bob Dole has complained about “Democrat Wars”
— attributing both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam, at minimum, to his rival party’s
partisan machinations. Say what you will of the Democrats, though, they at least
cared enough to build armored vehicles. In Republican Wars, you may go out of
this world as naked as when you came in.