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The Truth, Mainly - 09/16/2002

On heroes, Chicken Hawks, and invading Iraq

I begin with a preemptive confession, the relevance of which will not be immediately clear.

My military career was no more heroic than the President's. I let myself get drafted in 1954—after we stopped fighting in Korea and before we started fighting in Vietnam. My motive was self-serving: to get in on the Korean G. I. Bill of Rights. I spent a year and a half as an assistant company clerk in Germany. I took leaves to Paris, to London, and to Rome. On weekends I explored Bavaria and Switzerland and Austria. No one ever shot at me. The greatest threat to my well-being was my inability to remember whether you get terrible hangovers from drinking German beer on top of German wine, or the other way around. So I was no hero. Okay? Let's move on.

The Bush administration has a problem. It's been trying to convince Americans we must invade Iraq, unilaterally if necessary. And that's a hard sell. There are too many foot-draggers making too many obvious points:

(1) Saddam's desire for nuclear weapons is not sufficient cause for an invasion. Seventeen other countries either have nuclear weapons or know how to make them. Must we invade them all?

(2) Even if Saddam gets his nukes, we've been pretty good in the past at avoiding war with other nuclear-armed nations. Is Saddam crazier, more suicidal, than Mao? Than Stalin, Khrushev, Bulganin, Kosygin, Brezhnev? Or are we just not as smart as we used to be?

(3) To go to war with Saddam would distract us from our primary task of making sure al-Qaeda will never again pull a 9/11 on us. A US-Iraq war would tickle the turban off of bin Laden. If there's evidence that Iraq is responsible for 9/11, the administration should let us see it.

But the most entertaining point the foot-draggers have been making grows out of the anti-Chicken Hawk argument. It goes like this: It's difficult not to snicker when Chicken Hawks tell us to invade Iraq. Chicken Hawks are those who make hawkish arguments for going to war now, but who declined the opportunity to fight in Vietnam. Foot-draggers find it unseemly for Chicken Hawks to tell others to do what they chose not to do.

Among the Chicken Hawks, the foot-draggers say, are:

•The President Himself, who, along with the sons of other rich and influential Texans, sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, protecting Houston from Russian attack.

•The Vice President, who once said "I had other priorities in the 60's than military service."

•The hawkiest hawks on the Bush staff, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, and the hawkiest hawks in Congress, Trent Lott and Tom DeLay, all of whom stayed the hell out of Vietnam.

The Truth, Mainly


On the other hand, many of the foot-draggers did go to Vietnam. They include:

•Secretary of State Colin Powell, the most reluctant warrior in the cabinet.

•Other retired generals, Zinni, Scowcraft, and Schwartzkopf.

"It's pretty interesting," Zinni said, "that all the generals see it in the same way and all the others who have never fired a shot and are hot to go to war see it another way."

•Sen. John Kerry, who won a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts in Vietnam, and Sen. John McCain who spent years as a POW in Vietnam.

•And Nebraska's own Sen. Chuck Hagel, winner of two Purple Hearts in Vietnam.

Sen. Hagel may have started the whole Chicken Hawk flap last month when he dropped this one on Richard Perle: "Maybe Mr. Perle would like to be in the first wave of those who go into Baghdad." Hes been a talk-show regular ever since.

One of America's wise men, Jim Lehrer of the PBS News Hour, recently reminded CNN's Capital Gang of this truth:

"Wars are fought by real people, eyeball to eyeball, and they bleed and they scream and they die, and as long as everybody who's making decisions remembers that, were going to be always OK."

I end on another confession: As a non-hero who did nothing to earn any medals, I'm with the foot-draggers on invading Iraq. I know it's not patriotic, but the prospect scares the bejeezus out of me. I'd feel a lot better if I were certain the administration has enough collective moral imagination to remember that invasions, I've been told, almost always cause lots of bleeding and screaming and dying. Maybe before we decide, the whole nation, including the administration, should watch the first half hour of "Saving Private Ryan." Over and over.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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