The Penalties

Nazi tanks, crunching west through the mud and sleet of Luxembourg and Belgium last week, gave the U.S. two separate setbacks: one on the Western front, one on the home front. The size of the military defeat would be measured some day in American soldiers killed, wounded, captured. The shape of the home front defeat was already obvious. U.S. civilians would begin a not-so-happy New Year by paying penance for incorrigible optimism.

Suddenly, with the news of the German breakthrough, many U.S. preoccupations—even Christmas—seemed like luxuries. It was no time to scramble...

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