WE ARE ALL NEW YORKERS

BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH

For too many years I've been a voice in the wilderness trying to warn the American people and the military-industrial-congressional complex that we've entered a new era of war. Even after World Trade Center I, the embassy attacks and the savaging of the USS Cole, most people didn't want to know the truth. Nor, tragically, did our leaders in government -- probably because it's hard to think out of the box, especially when there's all that pork out there for the easy picking.

Five years ago, my wife decided to take me seriously. We were walking in Central Park when a car backfired. Several seconds after I'd thrown her to the ground and rolled with her under a bush, she asked shakily, "What's going on?"

So I told her that New York was at the top of the terrorist hit list. As a student and survivor of many wars, I could see it all coming down as clearly as I saw and warned the top brass in 1966 that we'd lose in Vietnam unless we fought that war with the correct guerrilla tactics rather than refighting World War II.

My wife loves New York City more than anyone I know. But within the year, at her insistence, we'd left the vibrant Big Apple to live in Connecticut.

Today, of course, much as I wish my predictions had been off-target, nobody rolls their eyes any longer when I carry on about how terrorism has become this country's biggest threat.

But we can't all move to Connecticut -- in fact, nowhere we go can ever be far enough from either the threat or the physical and emotional fallout. There's no longer any safe spot for Americans except what we mindfully make for ourselves.

We are all New Yorkers. We are all the target, all under a shared siege, all bonded in spirit and in blood. Each and every American was hit last week -- and now we must take the hard steps necessary to protect our democratic way of life from an enemy with absolutely no respect for life, even his own.

This means instituting a level of security we've never known and having the unwavering commitment to an unconditional frontless war against an enemy who strikes at unarmed civilians from the shadows with increasingly more unthinkable weapons.

Our very survival depends upon our no longer allowing the MICC to keep trying to fight today's battles with yesterday's war machine. We must instead quickly punch into the basics of counterterrorism and common sense and stop fantasizing about the supposedly miraculous, all-protective Missile Defense Shield.

We must set aside our unilateralism and not-infrequent national arrogance and forge the alliances necessary to close down any terrorist sanctuaries and cut off all support. We must make clear that the friend of our terrorist foe is our enemy and will be treated accordingly: Any state harboring terrorists will get what Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany got after Pearl Harbor. And then we must move in a global effort of civilized nations to bring these monsters to justice -- either in the courtroom or by doing unto them as they've done unto us.

But in order to succeed, we need to act, not react. We must strike only when we are truly ready, only when we know where our enemies are and only at the times and places we select. And our weapons should not only be the sledgehammer we wielded in Serbia and Vietnam, but the pre-emptive scalpel the FBI used so effectively at the beginning of this millennium to prevent terrorist strikes in Times Square and Seattle.

We need to get smart as much as we need to get even -- to put in the time and the bucks to do whatever it takes to make our anti-terrorism defense shield permanently proactive. Just as our New York cousins set a daily example with their courage as they clean up and carry on, so must we all come together as a nation to let the world know loudly and clearly, "Never again."

Terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and sponsors of terrorism like Iraq's Saddam Hussein will soon learn that a fine line separates fear from rage and rage from revenge.

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(c) 2001 David H. Hackworth
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