"Our Predicament Was Damned Humiliating"

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The battle that Ernie Pyle and his buddy almost drove into, the Battle of Kasserine Pass, was a disaster for the US Army. We were driven back and lost many lives and vast quantities of supplies. Huge stockpiles of gasoline and ammunition that had been transported at great cost from the US had to be destroyed.

This defeat could have had a devastating effect on morale in North Africa and at home. Yet there was no attempt to prevent the press from reporting what had happened.

Here’s what Ernie Pyle wrote about it, and as you read, think of the effect this had on morale at home and in the theater. In my opinion his straightforward assessment is a good example of the power of good old-fashioned truth telling.

I think hearing these words from America’s friend Ernie Pyle, who lost friends in the battle, was exactly what was needed to motivate everyone on all fronts to buckle down and work even harder to get the job done. I also think that by explaining our defeat in plain terms, he did more than any spinmeister could do to boost confidence in our armed forces.

But see what you think:

“You folks at home must have been disappointed at what happened to our American troops in those Tunisian battles. So were we over here. Our predicament was damned humiliating, as General Joe Stilwell said about getting kicked out of Burma the year before. We lost a great deal of equipment, many American lives, and valuable time and territory — to say nothing of face.

“The fundamental cause of our trouble over here lay in two things: we had too little to work with, as usual, and we underestimated Rommel’s strength and especially his audacity.

“Both military men and correspondents knew we were too thinly spread in our sector to hold if the Germans were really to launch a big-scale attack. Where everybody was wrong was in believing they didn’t have the stuff to do it with.

“Personally, I feel that some such setback as that — tragic though it was for many Americans, for whom it would always be too late — was not entirely a bad thing. It was all right to have a good opinion of ourselves, but we Americans were so smug with our cockiness. We somehow felt that just because we were Americans we could whip our weight in wildcats. And we had got it into our heads that production alone would win the war.

“There were two things we had still to learn: we would have to spread ourselves thicker on the front lines and we would have to streamline our commands for quick and positive action in emergencies.

“As for our soldiers themselves, you need not have felt any shame or concern about their ability. I saw them in battle and afterward and there was nothing wrong with the American soldier. His fighting spirit was good. His morale was okay. The deeper he got into a fight the more of a fighting man he became.

“I saw crews that had had two tanks shot out from under them but whose only thought was to get a third tank and ‘have another crack at those blankety-blanks.’

“It is true they were not such seasoned battle veterans as the British and the Germans. But they had had some battle experience before that last encounter, and I don’t believe their so-called greenness was the cause of our defeat. One good man simply can’t whip two good men. That’s about the only way I know how to put it. Everywhere on every front we needed more stuff before we could start moving forward instead of backward.”