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It's Time for Straight Talk from Politicians on Iraq
Rick Fulton

We Americans have, in the main, forgotten that real war doesn't last a hundred hours, has very few American losses, and always ends in American victory. We have particularly forgotten the most important lesson of the last real war we fought, the one in Vietnam. What we should have learned from that struggle and had inscribed in indelible ink in our souls is a very simple proposition.

Soldiers don't fight wars.

Soldiers fight battles.

War belongs to every citizen in the Nation.

Now we have politicians (notice I did not say leaders) who are using the formal propaganda device of ever increasing crescendo, perhaps combined with other kinds of formal propaganda devices, to somehow convince the American people at large that it is right to launch an attack against Iraq.

From where I sit, out here in Pittsburg, Kansas, I don't think very many people, at least in this region, are buying in to the argument that only a major urban war, fought without Congressional Declaration, waged only on Administration say-so, is the proper solution for present circumstances.

I kicked around the business of national defense, in one way or another, from the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 until the Haiti mission in 1995. I look at my wall and see a couple wooden frames full of brightly colored bits of ribbon hooked to chunks, circles and stars of metal....the "I was there" kinds of stuff from a variety of Asian escapades, most of which took place wearing muddy boots, way out in the weeds.

The kind of war we are looking at in Iraq will probably not have the wide open spaces of another Desert Storm, nor the isolation of rural Southeast Asia. It will, instead, be the ugliest kind of urban struggle; the kind of block by block and doorway by doorway fighting where we get back as much as we give.

Now don't get me wrong. I may be a center of the road kind of Democrat, and by the way I am very proud to be such, but there is not an ounce of liberalism in my heart when it comes to the terrorism we experienced last September. If it can be proven to the Congress that Iraq was a direct participant in 9-11, and Congress accepts the offering of evidence as valid and declares war against the state of Iraq as a result, I will be like a lot of fellow military vets, all cheering and all trying to find some way from the sidelines to help out.

But it has to be proven, and Congress then needs to act as the Constitution directs with regard to the matter of war. Proper Constitutional actions taken by the People's Representatives means development of links of steel that we are all in this together.

On the other hand, the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue simply screaming "Trust Me!" doesn't cut the mustard.

It doesn't take much reflection to arrive at the opinion that the theft of Presidential authority from Al Gore in 2000 denies the current administration any legitimate claim to the kind of character ingredients that a "Trust Me!" plea requires.

There are a couple of things that concern me very much.

I am a graduate of the Army Advanced Public Affairs Course. In that course we spent 80 percent or more of the time studying formal propaganda in order to be able to recognize it when it is used against us. One of the points instructors stressed was that while the use of formal propaganda in World War Two was sanctioned by Congress, that authority was terminated when the war ended.

Since that time it has been against the law to use formal propaganda techniques as instruments of internal government policy. Get a hold of a lawyer and check me out on this. After you have done that, step back, take a deep breath and raise the shot group of your thinking about the spin coming from inside the beltway concerning a need for battle with Saddam.

Is there violation underway?

I don't know, but I do know I don't like the smell very much.

With a bit of time in Vietnam, dealing with the likes of the MACV "Nine Rules" program, and with a lot of time in Korea contributing to a "Seven Themes/Objectives" program, some of our Democratic leadership need to start taking a very long, detailed, harsh kind of look at the "information" being pumped through the media to the people regarding a need for the United States to fight a war against Iraq.

Are we American citizens the targets of military training being misused?

Put another way, are the ultra conservatives now in control of the executive branch of the national government so out of control that they would misuse the military mechanism of training to recognize and counter formal propaganda aimed internally at our Nation?

That is the question proper civilian leadership needs to explore, and that is also something proper, politically untainted military leadership under correct and positive civilian control needs to ask of itself.

Does the Army Inspector General have the courage and fortitude and the character to do what is legal and what is right regarding exploration of the issue? I hope so.

If an investigation is done and it shows political abuse of any military program, will the Army Chief of Staff then do what is legal and what is right?

Again, I hope so but -- given what happened in the matter of the Ranger Black Beret which was stolen from Soldiers who could only wear it after having earned the right in the toughest possible kind of military training, and then given to the force at large by the current Chief of Staff to achieve a "professional warrior look" -- let us just say that there is reason to doubt.

Credibility, Character and Integrity.

Such words are so hard to define, using words, and yet, when missing from any kind of situation, are so obviously gone.

As one who cares about the Nation, I ask you to apply the words of credibility and integrity in a general sense to the war on terrorism.

Does Aunt Sarah sitting on the front porch of her home in Parsons, Kansas -- or in Decatur, Illinois or in Medicine Bow, Wyoming or in Blytheville, Arkansas -- really believe the Nation is at war?

Does the toxin beat of the war drum have credibility with all who hear it?

How does mainstream America truly view those who claim war against Iraq is necessary?

Integrity and character and credibility.

Remember what I said about Soldiers not fighting wars? That Soldiers fight battles in war, but that the war belongs to every citizen.

With that thought in mind, I believe the current status of our Nation is very much in the questioning mode. We need answers, and not persuasion, nor "persuasive communication."

If there is, indeed, a reason to strike Iraq, then national leadership needs to do what is right with regard to our internal political system, and with regard to our heritage, to quit stalling, to quit playing unbecoming and childish political games, and to make the case.

The same goes for the process of how we are, daily, in this quite troubling and threatful time, defending America.

The words "Homeland Defense" as they have been used by officials of the current administration have quite an odious ring to them; somewhat akin to the knell of early 1940s Germany. We were right to get worked up when 9-11 went down, but we are not doing right to use that attack as an excuse to revert to undemocratic behavior.

The defense of American Freedom and American National Interests belongs to every citizen. Every citizen needs, first, simply to believe; and then, second, to have a role to play. Internal defense has had a lot of airplay and a lot of ink? It is a ssubject that is on a lot of media lips and therefore on a lot of citizen minds -- but instead of substance, we get "shake and bake" empire building, and that of the worst sort. By the way, the phrase "shake and bake" refers to a program during the Vietnam War when certain new privates were pulled from the basic training ranks and sent to classes to somehow turn them into non commissioned officers. Then they were sent to Vietnam and, as squad leaders, they exercised life and death authority within the lowest tactical kind of unit.

Traditionally, competent non-commissioned officers, or NCOs, become such only after several years of military experience; certainly not after a few weeks of "sergeant" school. The "Shake and Bake" NCO program was one of the Army's more dismal failures of the Vietnam era. See if you can guess who was a "Shake and Bake" back in those days, who is now, allegedly, the leading light of the homeland security movement? Check it out.

The point is, that with 911, we, together, are in a dangerous time. We, together, need to be working together, and that means, first, training together. Yes, we went off to Afghanistan to fight what, hopefully, will be remembered as a successful war. But let us not forget that the planes making the attack didn't strike at skyscrapers in Kabaul. They hit buildings inside the USA, and the enemy responsible for the assault is still outside our perimeter wire, probing for weaknesses. Are we properly preparing to meet him on internal battlefields, if he comes at us again? Is necessary training taking place outside the beltway?

Hard questions.

As a broken down old Kansas National Guard Infantryman, proud former holder of US Army PMOS 11B30, as well as some other identifiers, I may not know as much as upper crust East Coast residents, but I do know we all have a time-tested political system which provides political methodology to address aggression against our Nation. And I do know we are all in this together, and that war to defend Freedom belongs to every citizen.

Some say it would be unseemly this year to debate 9-11 in the upcoming political fray before the general election in November.

I think that is generally right. The attack happened and when it did we all pulled together in the days immediately afterwards. We can all be proud of the way we came together. So let us not debate the attack itself and attempt to lay blame. Leave that for History.

Instead, let us look to those who would be our leaders in the year and more after the attack, and require them to clearly and plainly state their views regarding how to meet another such event, before they get our vote.

That is not happening. Instead of localizing the threat we get empire building, and we find there are blustering bullies out in the schoolhouse play yard who want to change the rules of the game.

What we need are candidates wanting to be State Governors and State Legislators, and Members of Congress, who will cut to the chase, and tell us what they truly think about the way things are, and about what needs to be done.

That is what we need -- some honest dialogue about a very grave situation -- and what was lacking in the primary just past.

And most of all, in the future, we need political leadership that doesn't need to reach for a dictionary when it comes to the kind of words we all want to describe our country and our government.

Rick Fulton is a retired civilian employee of Department of the Army who received the Decoration for Meritorious Civilian Service. In the 1960s he was in the active duty Air Force for eight years and received the Bronze Star (Meritorious) and the USAF Commendation Medal.