"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Huertgen Forest

Sixty-six years ago, in November of 1944, the American Army was embroiled in one of the hardest-fought and most costly battles of World War II in the Huertgen Forest on the border of Belgium and Germany.   The U.S. Army's Center of Military History has estimated that 120,000 troops, plus replacements, were committed to Hürtgen; by the end there had been 23,000 battle casualties plus 9,000 non-battle. Two divisions, the 4th Infantry and the 9th Infantry, were so badly mauled that they were withdrawn from the line to recuperate. Charles McDonald, the preeminent US Army historian and former company commander who served in the Hürtgen battle, has described it as "a misconceived and basically fruitless battle that should have been avoided."  Hemingway, who was there -- and who later memorialized the battle in his novel Across the River and Into the Trees, described the battle as "Passchendaele with tree bursts."

Lest we forget.

Charles McDonald, by the way, is author of probably the best memoir of the small unit infantry commander in World War II, called Company Commander, which is still taught at West Point.

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