Rumsfeld on Military History

I caught a clip on CNN of Rumsfeld saying something to the effect that the march to Baghdad was the fastest in history. That didn’t sound true, so with the help of Google I found the exact quote (near the end): “Baghdad was liberated in less than a month, possibly the fastest march on a capital in modern military history.” [emphasis mine]

I guess it all depends on the meaning of “modern” and “possibly”:

  • In Grenada, Marines were in the capital on the first day (the medical school that was evacuated was in St. George, the capital of Grenada).
  • In Panama, the US invaded on December 20, 1989 and Noriega surrendered on January 3, 1990–two weeks, start to finish.
  • In Poland, Germany invaded on September 1, 1939 and had Warsaw surrounded on September 17th–slightly more than two weeks (the Poles completely surrendered on September 28th, though heroic partisan activity continued throughout WWII).

So yes, it is “possibly” the fastest in history, but it’s “factually” not. This is something of a minor point, but the invasion went smoothly enough that it doesn’t need to be exaggerated (and I suppose we could reasonably hold Secretary of Defense to a high standard on the subject of military history). Similarly, the extent of the looting after the takeover of the capital should not be minimized (in case you missed it, Rumsfeld recently said “The images you are seeing on television, you are seeing over and over and over. It’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase and you see it twenty times. And you think, my goodness, were there that many vases? …[pause for laughter]…Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?” Given 5,000 years, I hypothesize that a nation the size of California can in fact accumulate many, many, vases.