Revisionist flapdoodle on the Berlin Airlift

As he would do later mischaracterizing the allies’ D-Day victory, the Democratic presidential candidate inaccurately described the Berlin Airlift as the “most unlikely rescue in history”, and seemed to miss the central point of the Berlin airlift and its lessons for today:

another World War could have easily begun. All that stood in the way was Berlin. And that’s when the airlift began – when the largest and most unlikely rescue in history brought food and hope to the people of this city.

The “most unlikely rescue in history”? Huh? (Each of us has perhaps a favorite “most unlikely rescue” that is not the Berlin Airlift.) No such braggadocio exists in the Truman library in describing the airlift, nor among the airmen who actually performed the mission. General Curtis LeMay, when asked if he could carry out the airlift, said “We can haul anything.” Of course it goes without saying that the airlift was a tremendous logistical accomplishment, as well as a clever exploitation of an existing written agreement with the USSR that pre-ordained certain open air corridors into Berlin from the West.

Along the same line Drew Middleton in the NYT in June 1948 reported the airlift matter-of-factly, nowhere calling it “unlikely” or anything like that. Indeed, the message of the airlift is precisely the opposite that Senator Obama made — the airlift was not unlikely (at least given the particular character and judgment of Harry Truman), it was essential to maintaining American and Western credibility in the free parts of Europe:

Then, as now, our enemies said that the “crisis could only be settled when the Western allies left.” Is there an echo of Iraq there that perhaps might have occurred or even been instructive to the Illinois Senator? One can only wish, but don’t hold your breath.

Retreat and defeatism were unacceptable to President Truman, who understood that retreat in the face of such aggression by the USSR would be a calamity for much of Europe. Andrei Cherny, the author of “The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America’s Finest Hour” put matters this way in an interview in the NYT:

Avoiding a World War III that would result in the Soviets quickly overrunning American forces and holding most of Europe was seen as a necessity. Thus when Harry Truman announced in the Oval Office a few days after the Soviet blockade that “we are going to stay — period,” his advisers reacted as if he had lost his mind. Many of his advisers would continue to try to get him to change his mind.

As late as October of 1948, four months into the airlift, Bradley and Air Force Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg pleaded with the National Security Council to begin steps “leading to our withdrawal from Berlin” and a C.I.A. white paper for President Truman concluded that the United States was now worse off than if the airlift had never been attempted.

The huge effort had resulted in “making Berlin a major test of U.S.-Soviet strength in the eyes of Germany and of Western and Eastern Europe, and reaffirming a direct U.S. responsibility for the welfare and safety of the German population of the western sectors of the city.” The very fact that the airlift had so caught the imagination of Germans, Americans and all over the world meant that “the U.S. is now committed, in Berlin, to maintaining a strategic outpost on political grounds when, in the final analysis, that outpost can be maintained only by force or with Soviet tolerance.”

It was Truman who kept up a stubborn insistence on finding a path between appeasement and annihilation in spite of opposition from within his own administration and from both sides of the political spectrum in the midst of a difficult election year.

One major lesson of the Berlin Airlift would appear to be that staying the course during tough times when faced with warlike, bullying aggression is very often the correct course of action. That’s what President Truman did, and it’s also what President Bush did in the Surge. Both Truman and Bush ignored the voices that said that the “crisis could only be settled when the Western allies left.” It would seem that “President” Obama appears to have chosen a bad precedent to highlight — not that it matters any to the media.

To much of the media, all that matters is whether the fellow is good looking, striding “confidently with his jacket crooked over his shoulder in classic Kennedy style.” It likely won’t bear mentioning by Obama’s acolytes that a lot of his crowd in Berlin may have come to see the rock concert warm up act, or that the Senator canceled his visit to wounded servicemen at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on the lamest of pretexts (was it really to avoid a less than enthusiastic reception by wounded GI’s and poor photo-ops, or for even tackier reasons?).

And of course, few will mention that one profound consequence of the Berlin Airlift is that the US has kept an enormous military presence in Germany, and its “strategic outpost” in Berlin for over 60 years now. Perhaps that too would be an unfortunate parallel with Iraq. Not that anyone in the media would notice, of course.

One Response to “Revisionist flapdoodle on the Berlin Airlift”

  1. MarkD Says:

    “When the going gets tough, quitters quit.”

    The Obama campaign can use this slogan without payment or attribution.

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