DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
February 15, 1994

'ON BEHALF OF A GRATEFUL NATION'

Television footage is spinning American warriors into Bosnia. First came pictures of the slaughter, then images of concentration camps, mass murders and rapes, children being cut down at play and finally the shelling of the marketplace. That last horror show did the deal.

Now NATO (read: mainly the United States) prepares for the first phase in a four-part operation.

Phase 1 is the United States going against the Serbs. Ironically, we accept the shelling story without witnesses or proof and we take sides, perhaps widening the war.

Bombing the Serbs will move NATO to Phase 2: the dispatch of ground troops, many of whom, including United Nations "peacekeepers," will return home in body bags. The only effective weapon that might prevent this would be bombs filled with Prozac and dumped into the Serbian water supply.

Without Prozac, the grim pictures on the little screen will move American policy to Phase 3, in which our attitude will change from getting involved to "Why are our boys dying in someone else's civil war?"

Phase 4 will be when Ted Koppel peers out of the tube one night and asks, "How did we get into this mess? How do we get out?'

Sadly, Phase 4 always comes after too many deaths and too many perfunctory messages like, "On behalf of a grateful nation..." as the burial flag is passed to the next of kin.

Before we leap into the inferno, let me share my Balkan experience. My first encounter with the Yugoslavians was at the end of World War II along the Italian-Yugoslavia border, when a bullet from a Yugoslavian gun zipped over my head. The shooting continued for four more years as my recon unit patrolled the no man's land between Tito's and Truman's lines as the Cold War heated up.

During a fourth visit there in 1992. I looked into three shooting incidents. One was reported as a mortar round fired into the Sarajevo market. It turned out to be a claymore mine, probably fired by a Bosnian gangster.

The second was a mortar barrage fired at the Muslim president of Bosnia and a British minister just minutes before they entered a bunker. A U.N. soldier told me he saw Muslim gunners fire mortars in that direction at that time.

The third was a missile that struck an Italian aircraft flying supplies into Sarajevo. An investigator told me the plane was probably shot down by a U.S. missile smuggled into Sarajevo from Afghanistan and fired by Muslim gunners. The Serbs have committed plenty of killing, but it appears they took an unfair rap on these counts.

Nine wars later, I rate the Yugoslavians as the meanest, most violent, hate-driven killers around. I have no doubt that Serbs would kill Serbs, Croats would kill Croats and Muslims would kill Muslims to coopt NATO. Such tricks are the oldest ruses of war.

In this age of fast and loose TV news, people must respond with caution to what they see and hear on the tube. We must learn to get the facts first and ponder the consequences of rushing to war. Too often, pictures without the background of hard facts trigger impulsive actions that override good judgment.

Before America goes to war, we should take a deep breath and ask what price we're prepared to pay in dead and wounded, especially in a war where our national security is not at stake.

America's emotional frenzies rushed troops into Korea, Vietnam and Somalia. Yet when our boys got cut down, reality set in, and the nation's mood always invoked Phase 4.

But military machines don't turn on a dime. In Korea and Vietnam, it took years to pull out and decades to recover from the pain. In the case of Somalia, we will not have disengaged until five months after we first saw the Oct. 3, 1993 carnage on CNN -- and once we depart, the mass deaths will return as if we'd never been there.

A U.S. war in Bosnia will kill many Americans. My youngest son is 16 -- dying age in the possible third year of an insane war. But he will not feed these cannons. That's a consequence this parent has well thought out.