Blame the Humvee for U.S. failures in Iraq?
Credit: Jeep This month marks the 66th birthday of the Jeep. During WWII, more than 600,000 of the little green 4-wheelers helped the Allies win. In fact, the Jeep became synonymous with that conflict. Look at any news coverage from the war, and a Jeep is bound to be featured prominently. The image of the Jeep, historian Paul Fussell ...
This month marks the 66th birthday of the Jeep. During WWII, more than 600,000 of the little green 4-wheelers helped the Allies win. In fact, the Jeep became synonymous with that conflict. Look at any news coverage from the war, and a Jeep is bound to be featured prominently. The image of the Jeep, historian Paul Fussell has noted, “conveyed the firm impression of purposeful, resourceful intelligence going somewhere significant, and going there with speed, agility, delicacy — almost wit.”
Nearly seven decades later, the Jeep’s great-grandson—the Humvee—has become synonymous with the conflict in Iraq. But the two vehicles couldn’t be more different. The Jeep was small, light, and open. The Humvee is massive, twice as heavy, and fortified. So what do these two vehicles say about America’s changing perceptions of war? A lot, argues military historian Jon Grinspan over at AmericanHeritage.com:
American troops, many military theorists now argue, are too removed in their vehicles, fighting for Iraqi hearts and minds with a drive-through mentality. The open-air jeep meant that soldiers could, and had to, interact with the people of occupied nations; the closed, air-conditioned Humvee has only isolated American forces from Iraqis…. Though the tactics of the current surge seek to get troops out of their vehicles more often, many politicians involved in the debate over Humvees assume—perhaps erroneously—that more armor means more safety and success.”
Maybe. But wars rarely turn out the way they are envisioned at the start. Is the Humvee perfect? Hardly. But neither was the Jeep. If the Humvee is overly isolating, the Jeep was certainly overly optimistic. It is often forgotten that at the outset of WWII many thought the fight would be, in Fussell’s words, “fast-moving, mechanized, remote-controlled, and perhaps even rather easy.” What followed, of course, were merciless battles such as Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Normandy, and the Bulge. Sound familiar? Iraq turned out just as unpredictable. My guess is that rather than revealing a great transformation in American strategic thinking over the last 70 years, the evolution from Jeep to Humvee mostly sheds light on the unchanging nature of war.
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