Monday was pretty much about a cookout at the House of Pho, my continuing quest for the perfect recipe for babyback ribs and generally hanging. Monday night either TCM or AMC ran a war movies marathon including one of my all time favorites “A Bridge Too Far.” One of the many odd aspects of my character is that I’m a peacenik liberal who loves military histories.
Watching the movie reminded me of reading the book two summers ago as the case for weapons of mass destruction was unraveling. A favorite phase at the time was “largest intelligence failure in history.” Cornelius Ryan’s history demostrates that the Allies' disastrous Operation Market Garden certainly outranked it. Still, I was struck by the parallels between the Market Garden failures and those in the run-up to Iraq.
If you are unfamiliar with the story, Wiki has a pretty thorough rundown. Among the many problems with Market Garden, the allies dropped 10,000 troops in Arnhem, Holland unprepared for the two Panzer divisions already parked there. The allies had a fair amount of evidence that German tanks were in Arnhem. They ignored it. The obtained aerial reconnaisance photos of tanks in the viscinity of Arnhem. They dismissed them. The Dutch resistance had information not only about German positions, but also the difficulty of the terrain and the poor prospects for the success of the mission. Allied commanders looked elsewhere for intelligence.
No one involved in the Market Garden planning was being evil. But they believed they knew the truth – that this was the best plan for advancing the Allied lines – and selected those bits of intelligence that supported their point of view. I don’t need to believe that Bush cooked the intelligence and invaded Iraq to benefit Halliburton. It’s enough for me to know he wanted to invade Iraq because he believed it was the right thing to do. Everything else followed as it has before. The Bush Administration fell into the same trap as others -- arguably their betters -- had before. That the missteps of Market Garden have been so well documented makes the Administrations refusal to critically appraise the intelligence in Iraq that much less forgiveable.
The final lesion of “A Bridge Too Far” is the unmitigated hubris of the architects of Market Garden. At the end of the book, Ryan quotes Field Marshall Montgomery from his memoirs:
In my prejudiced view, if the operation had been properly backed from itsI shudder to think what we will get from Bush’s ghostwriter.
inception, and given the aircraft, ground forces, and administrative resources
necessary for the job, it would have succeeded in spite of my mistakes, or the
adverse weather, or the presence of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps in the Arnhem area.
I remain Market Garden's unrepentant advocate.