FIGHT OR FLIGHT

BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH

My No. 1 son rang from Florida: "Dad we're scared. We're starting to wonder if we made a mistake leaving Indiana." Another Floridian, Frederick George, wrote: "I've never been more depressed than now. I'm 86 years old, and I've seen a lot."

My phone rings off the hook, and my mailbox is jammed. Most of the messages say: We're not coping well with this War Against Terrorism.

My como back: Get used to it!

We're in for at least 30 rounds, and Round One is far from being over. My 5- and 8-year-old grandkids will probably be in college before the last terrorist creep has been hunted down and folks can get back to the way things were before Sept. 11.

You can try running, but you can't hide from fear. Just ask the yellow-stained members of the House who ignored the report from last year's Hart-Rudman Commission predicting "a direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter century" and then cut and ran when the first shot came their way.

But the attack on the World Trade Center proved in spades that all citizens of every free country in the world are now targets, so there's no longer any place safe to run. The quickest way to get a grip and make it through this new kind of war is to check out -- and copy -- the combat soldier's MO. The whole living-on-the-bayonet-edge mindset becomes almost second nature once a grunt accepts that his life can be snuffed out any second. His ears get used to incoming -- they automatically tell him to hit the deck because a round's about to thud in close, or to finish that smoke because it's going over the hill. He's used to walking through areas where one misstep will explode a mine and take his leg or life, and he learns to take care of himself and his buddies almost without thinking. Or he lets fear rule and goes mad. Or he goes into denial and gets killed.

Many of you are combat vets -- you just don't remember that for most of your lives you lived with the fear of being instantly incinerated and radiated by The Bomb. Remember the air-raid sirens and the "Duck and Cover" drills? Those 25,000 Soviet nuclear warheads once pointed at you and yours would have done a zillion times more damage than terrorist bombs, kamikaze planes or bugs and germs.

On the battlefield, I wore my steel pot begrudgingly. It was heavy and a pain. But I knew it would improve my chances of staying alive, so I cursed it while I wore it. Now I resent wearing a surgical mask and gloves and opening much of my mail outside. But just like wearing that helmet, it helps me stay alive while the FBI and the police track down the terrorist sleepers imbedded in our society.

And so must all of you learn to live on a potential killing field. Instead of letting fear knock you down, use it as warriors do to stay alive. Fear can pump up your reactions if employed positively and let you make it through the darkest night. Survival is our strongest instinct, and we will win this sucker just as we did World War II, the Cold War and the conflict that follows this one.

The other survival skill you should borrow from a grunt is alertness. A soldier asleep on guard duty is a dead soldier. A terrorist will have a tough time doing his thing if we all keep a sharp eye out for whatever doesn't compute. Like some weirdo learning to fly a plane who wants to give takeoffs and landings a miss. Or a non-islander buying a one-way air ticket to Hawaii or Guam.

Fortunately, most Arab terrorists coming our way will be easy to spot except on Halloween. If you see some character at the water reservoir, parked near the nuclear reactor, fiddling with a building's air-conditioner intake vents, delivering unordered fire extinguishers or bicycling around with a backpack, keep him under surveillance and notify the authorities quick smart.

Use that fear to Stay Alert and Stay Alive.


Http://www.hackworth.com is the address of David Hackworth's home page. Sign in for the free weekly Defending America column at his Web site. Send mail to P.O. Box 11179, Greenwich, CT 06831.

(c) 2001 David H. Hackworth
Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.