A Question From One Patriotic Veteran To Another: Mr. President, Whatever Happened To Osama Bin Laden?

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digesting the State of the Union address, it suddenly hit me that
thirty-three years ago I was a rookie grunt in Vietnam, serving
as an U.S. Army combat correspondent with the Americal Division,
of which Collin Powell and "Stormin'" Norman Schwarzkopf
were members. Only months before, my unit had been involved in an
incident in a tiny hamlet called My Lai 4, a place I had walked
many times. Today, we were making a sweep through a village in the
Batangan Peninsula, and the whole area had been raked with artillery
and tactical air strikes. There were bodies everywhere…people of
all ages, water buffalo, dogs, pigs and chickens. Even the rats
probably didn't make it. The North Vietnamese Regulars we had been
hunting, meanwhile, were long gone.

grunt waved me over to a hootch, the only thing left standing in
the village amid thickets of scrub palm trees reduced to nothing
but stubs. He was clicking a Zippo lighter open and shut, wanting
me to take a picture of him as he torched the straw hut. Beside
him squatted an old woman, her arms wrapped around her face, and
she alternated between a howl and a string of pleading words I didn't
understand. I distinctly remember the look of pure hatred she gave
me. We had destroyed the old woman's entire existence, and adding
insult to injury, we were preparing to burn down the only roof over
her head. She couldn't do a thing about it except squat on the red
dirt and scream in helpless rage.

33 years later, I see the inexplicable spectacle of CBS cheerleading
the drums of war as thousands of fresh-faced American soldiers head
for the Middle East to another woeful, long-suffering, bedraggled
little country, and it sickens me with worry. Will I see them performing
this same hootch-burning ritual? As the invasion unfolds, will I
also see more pictures like the ones of Israeli soldiers using American
weapons to riddle a helpless 12-year-old Palestinian boy with M-16
bullets as his frantic father desperately attempts to shield him?
What in the world is Dan Rather thinking?

galling of all is the brazen demand from government officials to
take their pronouncements as Gospel delivered straight from the
Almighty. Once again, the people are asked to trust their government
without correlating evidence, a government offering as its credentials
such auspicious chamber pots as the trumped-up Gulf of Tonkin incident,
the shameful scapegoating of ordinary soldiers for the My Lai massacre,
the cover-up of the USS Liberty incident that left dozens of American
sailors dead, again in Beirut when hundreds of dedicated young Marines
died because of the negligence of their commanders, and even once
again in Somalia where multiples of dozens of Special Forces Green
Berets died because it was politically inexpedient to reinforce
or re-equip them. Remember the naked corpse of the American soldier
being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu? In sum, the problem
transcends political administrations and speaks to the intellectual
blood contempt that the ruling Washington cliques, both Democratic
and Republican, hold for average citizens in the "flyover country."
There isn't a credibility gap here; it's a canyon atop a volcanic
fault line.

far, not a single shred of evidence has been offered to show that
Iraq has a nuclear weapons program of any kind, just cloud after
thick cloud of pettifoggery. Why doesn't the government open its
books — right this minute — and show us the goods? For one thing,
the "evidence" is coming on faith from a foreign government
in the region, and the relationship would be exposed and compromised,
and for the Muslims, this scenario would be the proverbial straw
(and painful pun) that broke the camel's back. For the second, the
government doesn't even expect to find nuclear weapons, and in the
post-invasion fog, will shrug off reporters by saying the evidence
has been destroyed. Yes, I understand how all this works because
I used to be a gear in the same military machine.

me tell you in advance how this war will unfold: our initial casualties
will be minimal, because the type of urban combat offered in Iraq
is too casualty-intensive, despite the fact that the vast majority
of the people will be unarmed. This landscape isn't an empty jungle
but mile after mile of heavily populated collections of narrow streets
and rock/masonry buildings, filled with endless dead ends and cul-de-sacs
that can be contested with small arms. The military brass is still
smarting from the political lessons learned during the Mogadishu
slaughter and will insist that there is no alternative to saturation
bombing. Yes, most Iraqis will run, but some will stand and fight
— it is, after all, their country and their homes we're liberating
with 500-pound bombs and cruise missiles.

the smoke clears, the bodies of women and children by the tens of
thousands will fill piles of rubble and will be videotaped and sent
all over the world in real time, along with digitized screams of
the wounded and dying. The stench will be horrific and you can bet
that nauseated journalists present at the carnage will have an overwhelmingly
negative impression of the American "kill u2018em all and let God
sort u2018em out." mentality. Military commanders will not be capable
of managing the media situation simply by the overwhelming size
and scope of the operation. For those with a high pain threshold,
a report titled "Collateral Damage" at medact.org
is frighteningly instructive.

every Muslim with a television set and a CNN signal will correctly
interpret this as an open, lethal declaration of war on each and
every one of them, and that we will not hesitate to blow them, their
families and their homes to bits. We will have instantly made ourselves
the enemy of 20 percent of the earth's population and every filthy
rich tin-pot with paranoia and a nervous trigger finger will scramble
to obtain one of the 14,000 nuclear weapons AND delivery systems
from the ruins of the Soviet Union. The example of North Korea has
been quietly but acutely observed.

in the world except for America understands that Iraq is only the
first step in a re-conquest of the entire Middle East and the Caspian
Sea region. Palestinians will be expelled en masse, and following
a cursory pretext, territory will be forcibly seized from Egypt,
Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. A permanent security zone will be established
that encompasses huge areas of northern Africa and southwest Asia.
Maintaining this hegemony in perpetuity will require military conscription
on a large and never-ending scale, make no mistake about it.

one loyal veteran to another, Mr. President, all I ask is that you
have the honesty to engage the American public with the truth. War
is the most heartbreaking decision a nation ever has to make, and
it must be done in the certain knowledge that it is just and moral.
Until now, my country has been the ferocious counter puncher, the
Nazi slayer and the supreme engine of freedom. It was American soldiers
who righteously blasted down the gates of the death camps and crushed
the culture of genocide, and in two world wars, 426,000 of them
died to rid civilization of despotic cancers. Yes, our own past
is stained, but we have always seemed to learn from our mistakes
and to become better for them. We have always had the potential
to rise and show the world what free men and women can do. From
time to time, we even allowed ourselves to be sucker punched just
to make sure we were in the right.

Mr. President, if you can't be swayed by huge economic problems
like the social costs of uncontrolled mass immigration and the plight
of millions of ordinary families who have seen their retirement
savings and jobs disappear, think of the message we're sending the
rest of the world. We're telling the planet we want its resources
and will stop at nothing to get them. In short, you are bequeathing
the American people an endless, self-inflicted nightmare, and the
war will come home to us as certain as the sunrise. Of course, it
also goes without saying that foreign travel will become extraordinarily
perilous and impossible in many nations. Eventually, it will even
become a life-threatening experience to travel in parts of our own
country, skulking like lepers from one gated enclave to another
in our rolling fortresses. People will begin taking their Caribbean
cruises on the USS Eisenhower instead of a Princess

America this generation knows will cease to exist, along with any
notion of freedom or the rule of law. Dumbed-down, disorganized
and finally disarmed, we will have become foreigners in our own
land. One of our closest allies has already declared that it will
send armed operatives to murder Americans they deem their enemy
on American soil, aided and abetted by our national police apparatus.
An improbable worry, you say? Well imagine a burning church filled
with almost 100 women and children in Waco, Texas. You won't have
to go to a movie theater to experience Shindler's
. You'll just have to step out your front door.

more importantly, I don't want to give the next generation a legacy
that is closer to the Third Reich than the Founding Fathers. All
this veteran asks of the president and his advisors is to leave
the rope-a-dope to Muhammed Ali and simply remember that their first
priority is to serve the American people and the national interests.
If we are to trade away the last shreds of our national morality
to preserve multinational oil corporations…just be honest with us.
If political lobbies are dictating our foreign policy…just be honest
with us. If corporate interests are to be rewarded for looting our
future on the altar of greed…just be honest with us. If we are expected
to condone the slaughter of people who have never threatened us…just
be honest with us.

don't you dare kill any more of our dedicated and honorable young
men and women who are willing to serve their country just so you
can create an empire ruled by the sons and daughters you hid from
the sting of battle. If you're going to toss the Constitution into
the fireplace, just do it and don't stand there lying to our faces.
If you insist on dragging this nation into World War Three, the
least you can do is tell us why. We remember that fifty million
people died during the last world war, so tell us how many will
die this time.

little aside: having John Ashcroft and Jerry Falwell pose together
in matching black uberfeurer hats and clicking their boots together
with forearm salutes, however, might be a little over the top. And,
oh…whatever happened to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden? Didn't he
do something to us once upon a time?

1, 2003

Swindell [send him mail],
a Vietnam combat vet, is a newspaper editor in north Texas.


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