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Good morning, it’s Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Seventy-seven years ago today, the U.S. Marines’ 1st Division landed on the beaches at Guadalcanal. Until then, most Americans had never heard of the 90-mile-long chunk of jungle in the Solomon Islands. By the time the Japanese evacuated their remaining forces the following February, the name of that Pacific island was seared into the nation’s collective consciousness.

Although a frightful land war on two fronts had raged across Europe since 1939, the Aug. 7, 1942 invasion of Guadalcanal was the first major military offensive launched by the United States in the Pacific theater. It was undertaken suddenly, too, without much foresight or planning. The Japanese naval defeat at the Battle of Midway had created an opening, and Adm. Ernest J. King, commander of the U.S. fleet in the Pacific, was determined to exploit it.

Give my men six months, replied Marine Corps Gen. Alexander Vandegrift. King, who didn’t want to wait, gave him two. We’re going in, King said, “even on a shoestring.” Officially, the invasion was code-named Operation Watchtower. Naturally, the Marines dubbed it Operation Shoestring.

It was more than that: The Marines would be reinforced by two U.S. Army divisions in combat so lethal that it shocked Americans still reeling from the carnage at Pearl Harbor. By the time the fighting on Guadalcanal was over, 1,592 Americans had been killed in action, with 4,183 wounded and thousands more put out of action by tropical disease. The Japanese losses were stunning: 15 times as many dead.

In a moment I’ll have an observation about how these U.S. troops kept up their morale during months of jungle fighting. Actually, the words will be from a revered American president and the Marines on Guadalcanal themselves. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

* * *

Steve Bullock Straddles Two Worlds on Gun Control Laws. Phil Wegmann interviews the Montana governor and presidential candidate, whose red-state constituents’ views on gun rights tend to be at odds with those of Democratic voters he needs to win over.

Why We Need a Senate Resolution Denouncing Socialism. Jenny Beth Martin responds to the measure put forth by Sen. Steve Daines.

Success of the Trump Economy Is Bad News for Democrats. Kimberly Guilfoyle lays out the numbers.

We Are All Originalists Now, Sort of. David McDonald asserts that a quiet judicial revolution may be taking place.

Mueller May Have Lied to Congress. In RealClearInvestigations, Paul Sperry reports on the underpinnings of the special counsel’s puzzling May 29 press conference, and his remarks about it to lawmakers last month.

Strained Civilian-Military Relations? Blame Pundits. In RealClearDefense, George Fust writes that complaints leveled at the service academies’ curricula are misguided. 

Americans Need a Balanced Portfolio for the Power Grid. In RealClearEnergy, David Holt argues that renewables simply cannot do it alone.

Against Campus Activism. RealClearPolicy spotlights the observations of Oberlin College alum Elizabeth Corey, who describes her feelings about a school that was life changing in both good ways and bad. 

* * *

On Feb. 12, 1943, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, another great wartime president spoke at the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner. “It is nearly two years since I attended the last dinner,” Franklin D. Roosevelt began. “A great deal of water has flowed over the dam since then.”

A great deal of blood had been shed, too, and lives lost. That night, the commander-in-chief sought to bolster the will of his countrymen by extoling the commitment of those doing the fighting and dying. “Our men in the field are worthy of the great faith, the high hopes we have placed in them,” FDR said. “No American can look at these men, soldiers or sailors, without a very great emotion and great pride -- and a deep sense of our responsibility to them.”

Roosevelt went on in this vein, evocatively so. I’d like to quote him for a while here before we return to the deadly Pacific island where Marines were fighting for their lives on this date in 1942.

“In every battalion and in every ship’s crew, you will find every kind of American citizen representing every occupation, every section, every origin, every religion, and every political viewpoint,” FDR said. “Ask them what they are fighting for, and everyone one of them will say, ‘I am fighting for my country.’ Ask them what they really mean by that, and you will get what on the surface may seem to be a wide variety of answers.

“One will say he is fighting for the right to say what he pleases, and read and listen to what he likes. Another will say he is fighting because he never wants to see the Nazi swastika flying over the old First Baptist Church on Elm Street. Another soldier will say that he is fighting for the right to work, and to earn three square meals a day for himself and his folks. … But all these answers really add up to the same thing: Every American is fighting for freedom. And today, the personal freedom of every American and his family depends -- and in the future will increasingly depend -- upon the freedom of his neighbors in other lands.”

Franklin Roosevelt was perhaps the 20th century’s most eloquent president. But the men on Guadalcanal were even more so. Life magazine war correspondent John Hersey embedded with the U.S. Marines’ 2nd Division when he put the very question FDR would discuss in Washington to a detachment of men standing in a jungle clearing: What are you fighting for?

After a long silence, one of them muttered, “Jesus, what I'd give for a piece of blueberry pie.”

Hersey initially believed the man was changing the subject, or perhaps even making fun of him. “But of course he was not,” Hersey wrote. “He was answering my question very specifically.”

A second Marine quietly added, “Personally, I prefer mince.” A third whispered, “Make mine apple with a few raisins in it and lots of cinnamon; you know, Southern-style.”

In the brief, but brilliant, book he wrote afterward, Hersey amplified on the meaning of the scene:

Fighting for pie. Of course that is not exactly what they meant. Here, in a place where they had lived for several weeks on captured Japanese rice, then finally had gone on to such delicacies as canned corn beef and Navy beans, where they were usually hungry and never given a treat -- here, pie was their symbol of home.

In other places, there are other symbols, For certain men, books are the thing; for others, music; for others, movies. But for all of them, these things are just badges of home. When they say they are fighting for these things they mean they are fighting for home -- "to get the goddamn thing over with and get home."

Perhaps this sounds selfish. … But home seems to most Marines a pretty good thing to be fighting for. Home is where the good things are -- the generosity, the good pay, the comforts, the democracy, the pie. 

Carl M. Cannon  
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.



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