Every war is born with hateful qualities, like the promise of waste and cruelty. So to be considered good and honored in memory, a war must overcome its very nature, leap past means to ends. World War II remains the model Good War, and D-day, its greatest day--one of those rare hinges of history that might have bent the other way. It had taken years for the U.S. to embrace its urgent necessity and hurl itself into the battle. The invasion plan, two years in the making, was still a mad gamble; though the force was overwhelming, the outcome was never assured. The 150,000 men who landed that June dawn carried a copy of General Eisenhower's "Order of the Day," which declared that they had embarked on "the Great Crusade." By the end of that day, thousands would be dead, yet by then few would question whether the price had been worth paying for the prize of Hitler's defeat.
America now finds itself in the middle of another war--or two wars, depending on how you count--allied once again with the British against an implacable enemy. When President Bush visited the 101st Airborne troops in March, he recalled how on the night before D-day, Eisenhower went down to the airfield where the troops of the 101st were preparing to load onto C-47s for their flight to Normandy. He told the men not to worry because they had the best leaders and equipment. One of them looked at him and said, "Hell, General, we ain't worried. It's Hitler's turn to worry." "That spirit," Bush told the soldiers, "carried the American soldier across Europe to help liberate a continent. It's the same spirit that carried you across Iraq to set a nation free."
This is Bush's own crusade, in which his faith remains steadfast. To critics who charge that he has dragged the country into another Vietnam, he responds that World War II is the more apt analogy. "America has done this kind of work before," he says. "We lifted up the defeated nations of Japan and Germany and stood with them as they built representative governments ... America today accepts the challenge of helping Iraq in the same spirit, for their sake and our own." Perhaps the greatest difference is that this time the actual invasion feels like the easy part. "While we can't be defeated militarily, we're not going to win this thing militarily alone," General John Abizaid told the Senate last week. "We have to get everything together: economics, politics, intelligence, you name it ... It's really one of the hardest things that this nation has ever undertaken in this part of the world or anywhere else."