The ‘Successful’ Post-World War II Model for Iraq

The Bush administration says that this war on Iraq will not repeat the failure of Vietnam, but rather it will repeat the successful outcome of World War II (WW2). The administration has oft repeated that US postwar occupation of Iraq will follow the model of the successful US occupation of Germany and Japan. The administration has thus emphasized the benefits of that experience, but it has not reminded Americans of the apparently forgotten extreme costs of that wartime and postwar US policy.

If the administration and Americans are determined to retread the path of the 1940s, are they really prepared to pay those high costs again? Do they even remember what those virtually endless and excruciating costs actually were? First, there was the over 300,000 US war dead, not counting the maimed. And then in 1945, did peace and prosperity return in short order? The fact is that nothing like that came until 1955, after a decade of postwar economic trauma and renewed bloody warfare.

Beginning in 1946 when the economy-retarding price controls were lifted, US war-induced inflation began a long spiral lasting years. It inflicted an ever-deepening economic recession that plunged to new and painful depths in 1949. The economic stagflation/recession of the late 40s, with its attendant grinding poverty and unemployment, was the direct result of huge federal expenditures funding the newly conquered postwar empire. The GI Bill and the Marshall Plan were only the most celebrated expenditures of the new US warfare-welfare state created by WW2.

By 1949, the ever-spiraling inflation was finally crushed by a politically correct Federal Reserve, when it plunged the US into the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 30s. That postwar cycle of inflation, stagflation, and deepening recession caused not only prolonged economic chaos in the US, but political chaos as well. The long Democrat dominance in Congress was unceremoniously thrown out in the 1946 elections when the voters reinstalled the Republicans to a majority in the House for the first time since 1928. The Republicans were enabled by their campaign slogan that asked weary Americans if they had "Had Enough?"

Americans indeed had, but the Republicans were not able to cure the economic and foreign crises that only worsened by the next election in 1948. The continuing misery at home and abroad caused the increasingly distressed voters to throw the Republicans out in 1948 and again reinstall the Democrats to a majority in Congress.

It was not only stagflation and recession that had done so, but also the alarming new foreign threat then looming, the advent of Cold War with the erstwhile wartime ally, Russia. The dismay and despair caused by the deepening postwar recession was doubled by the increasingly obvious fact that WW2 had actually produced yet another war; this one with the new Soviet enemy of an expanded US global empire. As the economy plunged into a deep recession in 1949 and the Cold War exploded with new ferocity that year with both Russia and China, Americans were asking when exactly peace and prosperity were going to be produced by that supreme sacrifice promised by the war party.

It was not to come in 1950 when the US found itself thrust into yet another hot war, this time in Korea. This latest catastrophe was yet another direct result of US intervention in WW2, and it resulted in, yet again, more economic and political chaos in the US. The war did not favor the wartime government in 1950 when the American voter reduced the ruling Democrat majority in Congress. And the Democrats suffered even more for their pursuit of the post WW2 activism when the voters threw out the Democrats from the White House and the Congressional majority in the 1952 elections. As the Korean War ate its political patrons, it also ate away at the vitals of the American economy via stagflation and another sharp and deep recession in 1953-4.

This continual catalog of deepening economic, political, and military chaos that consumed the decade following WW2 is the "successful" model that the Bush administration intends for the US, just as soon as it "wins" the current war, whenever that may be. If the Bush administration and the American people feel they would like to achieve the "benefits" that followed WW2, how likely is it that they are prepared and willing to pay the exorbitant costs that were exacted by the mythically "glorious victory" of WW2? How many years of sacrifice will Americans pay for such a crusade that finds the nation already significantly divided? If WW2 is to be the model for postwar Iraq, why is it that the actual post WW2 experience and costs are not even being discussed?