Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld was in the news again on Wednesday. From the Washington Post: "Rumsfeld Assails Critics of War Policy;" from the DOD (Armed Forces Press Coverage): "Rumsfeld: Truth Powerful Weapon in War on Terror." Read the TRANSCRIPT (here) of his speech to the American Legion in Salt Lake City, UT.

Rumsfeld is always worth reading; he is a disciplined and logical rhetorician, who regularly gives voice to what the administration is thinking.

Comparing our current political division over the "War on Terror" to the "cynicism and moral confusion" and "appeasement" that encouraged the rise of fascism and Nazism during the 1930s, Rumsfeld called on Americans to learn the lessons of history and "face the central questions of our time:

With the growing lethality and availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased?

Can we really continue to think that free countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists?

Can we truly afford the luxury of pretending that the threats today are simply “law enforcement” problems, rather than fundamentally different threats, requiring fundamentally different approaches?

And can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America -- not the enemy -- is the real source of the world’s trouble?"

An aside: I like Rummy and tend to support him. But I fault him for the myriad poor choices and miscalculations in our current war in Iraq. He is the person in penultimate authority. From a corporate perspective, If we viewed DOD as a division in the larger Executive, based on overall performance and net results, Rumsfeld would have lost his job years ago. Having said that, Rumsfeld is a courageous and serious person, who embodies the best of the public service tradition.

"Fascism" and "Appeasement." Apparently, the White House is fully committed to employing the ghosts of the 1930s. I have a few questions about the analogy, as I do all historical analogies (some earlier indirect skepticism on my part here).

Notwithstanding, I welcome any serious conversation regarding the threat we face, and I appreciate another effort to take this debate to the public. However, extended discussions of 1938, as well as 1945, provide some insight at times, but most often cloud the reality that we are laboring under a completely different set of circumstances and assumptions today.

The world has changed:

For example: The 33-day-long Israeli offensive aimed at destroying Hezbollah, in the words of the UNSC Resolution 1701, resulted in "hundreds of deaths and injuries..., extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons." World reaction to the Israeli response to the Hezbollah provocation tagged the actions of Israel as "disproportionate."

Disproportionate? Perhaps. As an exercise in objective thinking, embrace the Israeli perspective for a moment. Israel views itself under constant threat from a whole slew of hostile elements in the region intent on the destruction of the Jewish state; they believe they are in a perpetual "sudden death" circumstance. For Israel, the Hezbollah incursion into its territory, bombardment of Israeli population centers and the killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers on Israeli soil threatens its most vital interest: survival. What is a proportionate response?

Conversations about 1938 and 1945 must consider how much the world has changed. As a people, our propensity for violence waxes and wanes depending on our circumstances. The international community recoiled in horror during the late-1930s at the wanton aerial destruction visited upon the cities of Shanghai and Guernica. Less than a decade later, Allied bombers regularly delivered unprecedented violence and annihilation upon the civilian population centers of our enemies. Was Dresden, Tokyo and Hiroshima disproportionate retaliation?

As a people, we were completely different in character in 1945 than we were in 1938. The long and bitter war steeled us and desensitized us to killing on a massive scale. When confronted with the death (100,000 Japanese civilians) and the destruction (sixteen square miles of Tokyo lay in embers) wrought by his firebombing raid of Tokyo, Curtis Lemay, the architect of the campaign, purportedly replied: "We don't pause to shed any tears for uncounted hordes of Japanese who lie charred in that acrid-smelling rubble. The smell of Pearl Harbor fires is too persistent in our nostrils." FYI: Americans lost approximately 2400 sailors and Marines at Pearl. Disproportionate?

My point: we are not at the place in our own consciousness where we can justify massive retaliation. To say it another way, we are nowhere near a "total war" mindset. Most of America is not at war. Even Americans who most often articulate the "war on terror" mantra are merely in "phony war" mode.

My point is not that we should nuke the Islamists (even if we could find them). We are in a much more humane place as a people, which is good. But we should be realistic about where we are in this "war." Waxing nostalgic about our ruthlessness in defeating fascism and Japanese militarism ignores our reality. We should realize that we are in a very different psychological state today. We are years away from fighting "Islamic fascism" with the vehemence and intensity (and unity) we brought to World War II.