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GULF WAR

Invoking the Spirit of Grant in Iraq

By Craig von Buseck
CBN.com Producer

CBN.comWhen American forces finally engaged the enemy in fierce fighting last week, and the number of casualties increased, many citizens finally woke up to the fact that we are truly at war -- and the worst is yet to come.

The bodies of fallen American soldiers are now arriving back in the United States in a somber procession.

Short of a surrender by the Iraqi military in the next few days -- an event that seems highly unlikely at this point -- toppling Saddam Hussein will require crushing the Republican Guard dug in on the outskirts of the city, and then taking Baghdad in a street-to-street offensive.

President Bush has continually praised the efforts of U.S. troops against "ruthless enemies" in Iraq. "The path we are taking is not easy, and it may be long. Yet we know our destination. We will stay on the path -- mile by mile -- all the way to Baghdad, and all the way to victory."

The next phase of the war will find coalition forces coming up against the elite Republican Guard stationed around Baghdad. When the Iraqis ultimately fall back into the city, we will relentlessly pursue them. Untold dangers await our troops once they enter Baghdad.

Military analysts estimate that in urban combat, the kind that will be necessary to take Baghdad and ultimately defeat Saddam Hussein, our troops could suffer up to 30 percent casualties. When we enter the city, fighting will be fierce, and the death toll for coalition troops will be high. The closer we get to the heart of Baghdad -- into Saddam's lair -- the bloodier the combat will become.

In Great Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair prepared his people for this titanic struggle. "There are those, closest to Saddam that are resisting and will resist strongly. They are the elite that are hated by the local population and have little to lose. There are bound, therefore, to be difficult days ahead, but the strategy and its timing are proceeding according to plan."

In every war, people hope that victory will be achieved quickly, with minimal loss of life. In monumental struggles that pit the will of two philosophies against each other -- as is the case in this war -- this is almost never the outcome.

Lessons from the Civil War

In the U.S. Civil War -- the bloodiest of all American military conflicts -- both sides predicted that the other would cut and run at the beginning of the first engagement. Both the North and the South placed the length of the war in terms of days, or possibly weeks. But after the rout of Northern forces at the Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle between the two armies in the war, it became obvious that the South was determined to secede, and would fight valiantly to defend its homeland.

The North held a tremendous advantage in resources and troops. But they were fighting for an abstract idea -- restoring the union. Southerners were outgunned and outnumbered, but they had a concrete reason for fighting -- their homeland had been invaded.

When one Southern POW was asked by a Northern officer why he was fighting, he answered simply, "Because you're down here."

Though we believe the cause in this current war to be just -- liberating the Iraqi people, and overthrowing the ruthless dictator -- it is still an abstract concept, similar to that of the Union forces in the Civil War. The Iraqi military that is loyal to Saddam have the same will as the Southern troops. In their eyes we have invaded their home, and they will fight to the death to see us ousted from their country.

After dozens of Civil War battles where the South showed its resolve, President Abraham Lincoln recognized that there was no other choice than to utterly crush the rebellion in order to achieve victory. One of the reasons that the Civil War lasted as long as it did was that no Union commander could be found who would muster the courage and will necessary to utterly defeat the Confederates.

The Union army endured a string of commanding generals who lacked the necessary nerve to crush the enemy -- Winfield Scott, Henry Halleck, Irvin McDowell, George McClelland, John Pope, George McClelland again, Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, George Meade -- Lincoln couldn't find the general he needed to win.

In frustration he declared, "No general yet found can face the arithmetic, but the end of the war will be at hand when he shall be discovered."

With the fall of Vicksburg on the banks of the Mississippi, Lincoln found his general -- Ulysses S. Grant.

It was Grant's philosophy of war that brought him victory, and brought him to Lincoln's attention. "Find out where your enemy is," Grant declared. "Get at him as soon as you can, and strike him as hard as you can. And keep moving on!"

The resolve of the man was evident in a message that he sent after suffering extreme losses at the Battle of Spotslyvania: "I shall take no backward steps."

Union soldiers, who were used to the timidity and second guessing of many of their commanders, said of him, "Ulysses don't scare worth a..."

One Northern soldier said of the commander of the Union forces, "General Grant habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall, and was about to do it."

It was Grant's tenacity that enabled him to accept tens of thousands of casualties in battle with the goal of defeating the Secessionists.

Though it is brutal, that is the fighting spirit that will be needed to defeat Saddam Hussein.

In this current Gulf War, some are holding up America's technical superiority as the reason for optimism. After all, we suffered no casualties at all in the operation to stop genocide in Bosnia. Our losses were relatively minor in the first Gulf War, and before that in our police action in Panama.

Americans haven't seen major casualties in battle since the Vietnam War -- but that was the last time we faced urban warfare.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Beyond the perils of fighting on the streets of Baghdad, there is another potential danger that we have not faced on a massive scale since World War I -- the threat of chemical warfare.

The discovery of 3,000 chemical suits in a hospital in central Iraq that had been used as an Iraqi base raised further speculation that Saddam Hussein's regime was prepared to use chemical weapons. Every day since, coalition forces have found more hidden chemical suits, gas masks, and nerve gas antidote injectors as they move closer to Baghdad.

"What we found at the hospital reinforces our concern," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has warned about this possibility. "Intelligence reports tell us that the closer U.S. forces get to the Iraqi capital the greater will be the danger of chemical attack."

U.S. officials say the Iraqi leadership has drawn a "red line" around the map of Baghdad and once American troops cross it, the Republican Guard has been authorized to use chemical weapons. Intelligence reports indicate that the Iraqi leadership has distributed chemical weapons, most likely nerve gas.

Paul Strand of CBN NewsCBN News reporter, Paul Strand, is an embedded journalist with the American Army's 3rd Infantry Division, the spearhead of the attack against Baghdad. From the battlefield he confirmed this information in his report. "Saddam has pushed the level of authority for using chemical weapons down to the commander level. That means young officers have the orders now that they can go ahead and use these things if they are about to be overtaken. That is a disturbing development. Not only have we found the warheads, but now officers can use them."

From the day coalition forces entered Iraq, they have worn chemical suits, boots, and gloves, and they have carried gas masks. "The masks fully protect us," Strand reported. "In our pack we have atropine that we can shoot in our legs, and pills against anthrax. The soldiers seem very comfortable with getting hit with this stuff."

And yet with all of this confidence, there are still the unknowns. Will the suits actually work in a real-life attack? Do the Iraqis have battlefield nuclear weapons that they can unleash on our troops? How many lives will be lost in street-to-street fighting inside Baghdad itself?

Invoking the Spirit of Grant

Americans have endured long lists of war dead in the past in Vietnam, Korea, World War II, World War I, the Spanish-American War -- and in the bloodiest conflict in our history, the Civil War.

A Confederate survivor of the grisly Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864 described the Union soldiers who followed the orders of General Grant: "The dead covered more than five acres of ground about as thickly as they could be laid."

The slaughter at Cold Harbor led to the grueling siege of Petersburg, which eventually led to the end of the Civil War. The ultimate sacrifice of these brave men, under the stubborn and courageous leadership of General Grant, ended slavery forever in America, and brought us together as one nation.

With our technical superiority, hopefully we will not see the massive number of dead in this struggle that Americans faced in the Civil War. But the American people will need to muster the same resolve that Grant showed as we face the inevitable casualties that will be required in the coming battle of Baghdad -- a conflict necessary to bring freedom to the Iraqi people, to end this tyrannical regime, and to rid the world of one more terrorist threat.

More from Craig von Buseck on CBN.com


Craig von BuseckCraig von Buseck is the Programming Director for CBN.com. E-mail your comments to him.

 

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