Remembering Iwo Jima

From Feb. 19, 1945 (when U.S. Marines assaulted its beaches) to March 27 of that year (the day combat officially ceased), the island of Iwo Jima was hell on earth. In 2009 I began writing occasional columns commemorating the 70th anniversary of key WW2 battles and events. I dedicated them to the WW2 generation. Twenty-year-old Marine vets of February 1945 are now 90, if they are still among us. Iwo Jima was on my list of must-cover subjects. By sheer coincidence, my wife and I spent this past weekend in Dallas, Texas, with the sister of a Marine F4U Corsair pilot who was shot down near the island in late February 1945. He survived WW2, but is now dead. I thanked her for her brother’s service. She said she believed her brother was supporting Marines fighting on Iwo. Then — eyes tearing — she added that she wished he was still alive. Iwo Jima is one of WW2’s more memorable battles. Popular culture certainly treats it as an iconic clash. John Wayne’s epic Sands of Iwo Jima is one of many Hollywood fictional treatments of Iwo Jima’s terrible reality that inform the collective memory of 21st-century audiences. Nonfiction reporters and film crews thoroughly documented that terrible reality. The savagery on Iwo Jima’s eight square miles of beaches, ridges and volcanic rubble produced a trove of combat film and photos. Wartime censors often clamped down on footage they thought too ghastly to include in public theater newsreels. However, the image of Iwo Jima’s relentless close battle of infantry and flame-throwing tanks was difficult to cleanse. On Feb. 23, 1945 photographer Joe Rosenthal followed Marines up Mount Suribachi and snapped his Pulitzer Prize-winning picture of Marines (and a Navy corpsman) raising the U.S. flag on its heights. We later learned Rosenthal photographed the second Suribachi flag-raising, but the dangerous gallantry he recorded was authentic. Three of the men who raised the flag would die on the island. Which leads to the fundamental reasons Americans should remember the battle: its price in blood and the strategic value of seizing it. Between Feb. 19 and March 27, the U.S. suffered 25,000 casualties; approximately 6,800 Marines and U.S. Navy personnel killed, another 18,000 wounded. Pre-invasion, U.S. intelligence estimated the Japanese garrison had 22,000 soldiers. By March 27, the Marines had taken 216 Japanese prisoners. Many Japanese prisoners did not surrender. Marines found them amid volcanic rubble, wounded and unconscious. U.S. commanders believed their forces had killed the other 21,800. Note this column’s first sentence identifies March 27 as the official date the battle concluded. Over subsequent weeks and months, several hundred more survivors emerged. Japan had 25,000 troops on the island. Some of the 3,000 holdouts committed ritual suicide rather than surrender. The holdouts hid in the island’s extensive defensive system, which included machine gun bunkers and concealed artillery positions, concrete-reinforced tunnels connecting underground barracks (some branches extended beneath Mount Suribachi) and hundreds of caves with bunkered or camouflaged entrances. The tunnels and caves were stocked with food and ammunition. The system was designed to do two things: withstand the hellacious bombardment U.S. air and naval forces always delivered, and then force American infantry to spill blood and die for every inch of the island rock. Beginning with Peleliu (September 1944), Japan pursued a strategy of strategic attrition. Fanatic resistance on heavily fortified outlying islands would bleed U.S. forces. Rather than suffer horrendous casualties, America would negotiate a ceasefire. Iwo Jima was, in many respects, a super-Peleliu, a strategic trap. This is why, among military historians and military planners, Iwo Jima has become one of the war’s more controversial operations. The island was supposed to serve as a staging area for invading Japan; it didn’t. Some senior officers argued that seizing the island gave B-29 bombers attacking Japan’s home islands a safe landing strip. But at the price of 6,800 dead Marines? At a dinner party in 1998, a Marine vet told me that in 1968, Iwo Jima was still a touchy subject in the Corps. His comment paraphrased: We paid such a steep price, you just didn’t raise the issue of utility. I said, as a guy still pulling duty on joint planning staffs, the decision to invade Iwo Jima troubled me. And maybe it should. But that’s hindsight. There were several vets at the dinner. We poured another round of drinks and toasted the Marines, every damn brave one of them. To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2015 CREATORS.COM

Democrats’ ‘Blue Wall’ not Impregnable to Republicans — If They’re Smart

Do Republicans have a realistic chance to win the next presidential election? Some analysts suggest the answer is no. They argue that there is a 240-electoral-vote “blue wall” of 18 states and D.C. that have gone Democratic in the last six presidential elections. A Democratic nominee needs only 30 more electoral votes to win the presidency, they note accurately. A Republican nominee, they suggest, has little chance of breaking through the blue wall. He (or she) would have to win 270 of the 298 other electoral votes. Democrats do have an advantage in the electoral vote, because heavily Democratic clusters clinch about 170 electoral votes for them, while Republicans have a lock on only about 105. But the blue wall theory, like all political rules of thumb, is true only till it’s not. And this one could easily prove inoperative in a competitive 2016 race. To see why, go back and put yourself in the shoes of a Democratic strategist following the 2004 presidential race. Assume that a stronger 2008 Democratic nominee will win all of John Kerry’s 252 electoral votes (which happened). Then take a look at the states in which Kerry won 43 percent or more of the popular vote. The four states in which Kerry won 48 percent or more — Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio, Nevada — were obvious targets, seriously contested in three or four of the previous four elections. Add Florida (47 percent for Kerry and obviously closely contested) and you have 318 electoral votes easily accessible in a good Democratic year. What states should you target beyond that? It depends on who your nominee is. If it’s Hillary Clinton, you might look at Missouri, Arkansas, Arizona, Tennessee and West Virginia. Bill Clinton won Arizona once and the other four twice, and Hillary Clinton won all but Missouri in the 2008 primaries. These states’ 43 electoral votes raise the potential win to 361. If your nominee is Barack Obama, your targets are different. You might look at Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina, plus Missouri. All but Colorado have large minority populations, and all but Missouri have large blocs of upscale whites — groups among which Obama demonstrated strong appeal in 2008 primaries. These states had 48 electoral votes in 2008. Obama won all but Missouri’s 11 and made up for that by winning 11 in Indiana, a 39 percent Kerry state. The lesson here is that in a favorable opinion climate, a party can successfully target previously unwinnable states containing voting blocs that can be moved or just mobilized. It helps greatly if, like Obama, they increase their turnout in primaries. Likewise, a Republican strategist looking ahead to 2016 has 12 states where Mitt Romney won 43 to 49 percent of the vote in 2012. Add some significant share of their 146 electoral votes to the 206 Romney won, and you get well above the 270 majority. At the top of the list are perennial targets Florida and Ohio. Just below, at 47 percent in favor of Romney, are Virginia and — part of the supposedly immoveable blue wall — Pennsylvania. Republicans nearly beat a popular Democratic senator in Virginia last year and have been making steady gains in blue-collar Western Pennsylvania. Those four states added to Romney’s would give Republicans 286 electoral votes — George W. Bush’s winning total in 2004. What states could Republicans target beyond that? A nominee with Midwestern appeal might go after Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota (42 electoral votes). One with Hispanic appeal could target Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico (20 electoral votes). One with appeal to upscale whites could target Colorado, New Hampshire and Minnesota (23 electoral votes). One with working-class appeal might choose Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan (32 electoral votes). Critics might ask whether a 2016 Republican nominee can count on all the Romney states. Certainly not, if the party is as unpopular as it was in 2008. And North Carolina, a 48 percent Obama state, certainly looks like a realistic Democratic target in a close race. But Obama got no more than 45 percent in other Romney states. Of the six where he got 44 or 45 percent, Democrats have had little success lately, even when running candidates better adapted to the local terrain than Hillary Clinton would be. None looks like a good Democratic target. Republicans looking to 2016 can learn from Democrats’ 2008 success. Target wisely, and think of states you haven’t carried in years. And use the primaries to expand potentially favorable blocs. Michael Barone, senior political analyst at the Washington Examiner, (, where this article first appeared, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2015 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Heroes in the Age of the Selfie

Heroes, real ones, are getting harder to find. One of the few remaining annual surprises in the typical State of the Union address is the president’s introduction of his “mystery guest.” Ronald Reagan introduced the first one in 1982, celebrating one Leonard Skutnik for an extraordinary act of courage. Lenny Skutnik was among the spectators standing on the Virginia banks of the Potomac River, watching the attempts to rescue survivors of an airline crash onto Washington’s 14th Street Bridge. The plane bounced into a frigid river choked with ice. Mr. Skutnik noticed a woman passenger too weak to hold onto a rope dropped from a helicopter. Like a hero from a movie, he stripped off his coat and boots, dived in and swam through 30 feet water and floating ice to reach her. He got her safely to shore, where medics took over. He had saved her life. President Reagan, who knew a little something about Hollywood theatrics, put a note of warm human drama into the usual laundry list of boasts and proposals for Congress, and the nation cheered. Since then presidents have followed the Gipper’s lead to copy what White House speechwriters call “a Skutnik,” a hero invited to sit next to the First Lady to listen to the president celebrate selfless bravery or to make a political point. The hero is usually a war veteran, the widow of a man killed by terrorists, a civil-rights activist. This year, President Obama invited a different kind of heroine. The president and the first lady invited 21 guests this year, and the president singled out Rebekah Erler, a young mother of two in Minnesota, who, when her husband lost his construction job, had a particularly hard time recovering from the recession. They survived, testimony to grit and endurance. A heartwarming story, to be sure, but Mr. Obama aimed the spotlight on himself: “You are the reason I ran for this office,” he told her and the part of the nation watching. “You’re the people I was thinking of six years ago today, in the darkest months of the crisis, when I stood on the steps of this Capitol and promised we would rebuild our economy on a new foundation.” It turns out that Mrs. Erler was once a Democratic campaign aide, and got to have lunch with the president last summer when he singled out a group of such partisans for praise. The Minnesota Republican Party was predictably outraged, demanding of the president whether he was “so out of touch with reality that he thinks a former Democratic campaign staffer speaks for every Minnesotan.” That was a bit of a cheap shot, but it’s true that “the Skutnik” has lost its luster, diminished by political point making. Looking for something heroic beyond ourselves is ever more rare. A Pew Research Center survey of the young finds their heroes twice as likely to be a family member, teacher, mentor or an entertainer than the young of previous generations. Heroes grow scarcer. The “me” generation has become the “look at me” generation, armed with ubiquitous cameras to snap the serial “selfies” to illustrate profiles uploaded to social media. Their frame of reference is narrow, like the president’s. The president lost an opportunity to inspire Americans to something higher than that. Heroes have become representative of groups, rather than the individual who does something heroic. It’s a shift in the culture. Controversy is swirling now about the movie “Selma,” celebrating an iconic event of the civil-rights revolution, beginning with a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge spanning the Alabama River. The movie distorts the relationship between Martin Luther King, an authentic American hero, and President Lyndon Johnson, an authentic hero of the struggle to enact the laws that transformed America in an era of momentous tumult. The original script depicted a balance between the heroics of Martin Luther King and LBJ, but the director, Ava DuVernay, tells Rolling Stone magazine that she deliberately used her own facts. “I wasn’t interested in making a ‘white savior’ movie,” she says. “I was interested in making a movie centered on the people of Selma.” Directors, like novelists, are entitled to poetic license, but this narrows history, too. Individual heroism, with authentic courage, whether black or white, deserves its own recognition and appreciation. Clint Eastwood exemplifies this in his new movie, “American Sniper,” now red-hot at the box office. He says his movie is more complex than most of its critics discern, because in its appeal to patriotism it does not give short shrift to the complex human questions about the price of glory, the costs of courage, the sacrifice, at the same time the public is disengaged from what it takes. Recognizing the authentic American hero is always difficult, but never more important than today. Write to Suzanne Fields at: Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” To find out more about Suzanne Fields and read her past columns, visit the Creators webpage COPYRIGHT 2015 CREATORS.COM