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Jewish World Review Oct. 30, 2001 / 13 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Who will ever tell
the world this is over? -- WE have all been so consumed with the beginning stages of this war -- with reacting to what was done to our country, and with starting to fight back -- that something essential has been pushed into the background.

On a much less monumental scale, it can be compared to something routinely seen in business offices.

If, in your workplace, you have ever been involved in a long project initiated by your boss, you probably are familiar with the kind of memo circulated after the project has been completed.

It tells you that this particular assignment is over, and that your company has succeeded. The memo is almost always self-congratulatory in tone; your boss is writing it as much for himself as for you, his employees. He is putting it on the record: We accepted this assignment, you have all done good work, I'm proud of you and of the company, and now we will move on together to our next project. It's a standard part of corporate life: the memo that officially thanks everyone involved for a job well done, and officially announces that this task has been accomplished.

I bring this up, in the context of our new war, because one of the most valued historical artifacts I have is a copy of an announcement-from-the-boss-that-the-job-is-finished memo. It didn't come from a corporate boardroom, and the job to which it alludes was about as big a task as any group of people has ever undertaken.

I received a copy of this memo during the time I spent with the B-29 combat crew that flew to Japan in August of 1945, dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and brought about the end of World War II. You tend to think of the history of war in terms of battles and bravery -- but there is paperwork, too. And this piece of paper is about as sobering and satisfying a job-well-done memo as has ever been written.

It is all in capital letters, in the form of a teletype. Its author, as noted on the copy I have, is not the CEO or sales director of some corporation, but the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. The memo is copied to a long list of others within the organization, but this is not the usual assortment of company vice presidents and marketing managers whose names appear on a corporate memo routing list -- these people are the commanding general of the Sixth Army, the commanding general of the Eighth Army, the commanding general of the Tenth Army, the commander of the Third Fleet, the commander of the Seventh Fleet, the commander of the British Pacific Fleet. . . .

Here is the complete text of the memo:


World War II was over -- and this was the memo telling those involved that the job was, at last, done. I keep my copy in a place where it will not get lost, as the ultimate reminder of what a nation can accomplish when it knows it must not fail.

Which brings us to the troubling days which we are all passing through. For all the talk of our national resolve -- for all of our acknowledgment that, yes, we understand what the president has told us, yes, we understand that this will be a long war -- there is something fundamentally different in this war than in any war our nation has ever fought.

The difference comes into focus when seen in the context of that memo from 1945.

When we look ahead to the end of our new war -- when we dream of the day the terror will be wiped from the face of the Earth, and new generations of Americans will be born with the right, won by us, to breathe easily and securely -- how will we know that the war is over? How will we know that our enemy has surrendered?

It's a basic and profoundly troubling question:

Who will sign the truce for their side? Who will sign their papers of surrender? Who will tell us that they give up?

The answer is: No one. That is one of the most haunting things about fighting an invisible enemy that wears no uniform, that carries the colors of no country, that has issued no formal declaration of war. As difficult as it will be battling that enemy, just as difficult, in a different way, will be knowing with any certainty that the war is over, and that the enemy succumbs. Who will put his signature on the contract of surrender -- and even if someone does, will it mean anything? Who will that person speak for?

I look again at the old and momentous teletype:


Who will sign the document telling us that our enemy has agreed to stop fighting? The awful thought is that perhaps no one ever will.

Our nation's leaders have informed us this will be a long war. We can only pray that they do not mean it will last forever.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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