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

After 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.

A 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.

Now 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?

Most 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.

So 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.

Let 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.

As 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Everyone 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.

As 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.

But, 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

The 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 List. You'll just have to step out your front door.

But 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.

And 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.

One 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?

February 1, 2003