DEFENDING AMERICA
David Hackworth
May 25, 1999

VETERANS HAVE PAID THE PRICE, BUT HAVE NO VOICE

While bombs rain down on Yugoslavia and politicians around the globe argue about expanding or ending that terrible conflict, America again honors its dead and living veterans from past wars on this Memorial Week.

The ultimate reward for our living veterans who have "walked the walk" in the valley of death would not be more stale parades, perfunctory celebrations and recycled Memorial Day speeches, but only that we listen to their counsel regarding the most critical decision a country can make: to employ the military solution.

Had President Clinton sat down with a group of veterans - veterans who had stormed the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima, stopped communist attacks onsnow-covered mountains in Korea, waded through the minefields of Vietnam and whipped Saddam in the Gulf - and asked their advice about jumping into a civil war in Yugoslavia, they'd have said, "Don't go there." And had heabided by their hard-won wisdom, America would not now be sinking in that quagmire or have kick-started another cold war with China and Russia.

Unfortunately, President Clinton never calls upon our vets for advice about matters affecting the security of our country. Instead, he seeks counsel from advisors such as "It-will-be-a-short-war" Albright, "Just-give-us-a-little-more-time" Berger, and "We-are-prevailing" Cohen, an inner circle of dilettantes with a perfect record of fumbling badly in the life-and-death matters of war.

Back in Arkansas, when Clinton's septic tank overflowed, I'm sure he had the horse sense to bring in a plumber rather than a lawyer. Smart folks like Albright, Berger and Cohen wouldn't know a plunger from monkey wrench - just as they can't possible know a real war from an episode of "M*A*S*H." And while we assume Clinton's uniformed advisers know their job, so far they're performing that old familiar go-along-to-get-along dance - much as the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did during the Vietnam War - instead of standing tall and sounding off.

After the bombing began, 2.8 million members of the American Legion did sound off. They called on President Clinton and Congress to pull United States military forces out of Yugoslavia immediately.

Their common-sense stand didn't get much ink or tube time, and the majority of Congress gave it a miss, a clear indictment of just how much influence our veterans have in an America where so few members of the federal government or the media have worn our country's uniform. Today, school shootouts take up more tube time than repeated threats from the Russians that World War III is once again just a launch away!

In the presidencies of war veterans Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, the America Legion's message would have been carefully considered. It also would have been well-reported at the top of the news by the Edward Murrows and Walter Cronkites, reporters who saw combat and well understood the horror and waste of war. But today's news anchors - among whom only Dan Rather has served our country in uniform (and he was medically discharged before finishing Marine boot camp) - chose to ignore the veterans.

Harold L. Miller, the national commander of the American Legion, also asked that the president do the following concerning future use of our forces:

* Provide a clear statement of why it's in America's vital national

interests to be engaged in hostilities.

* Establish guidelines for the mission, including a clear exit strategy.

* Ensure that both the U.S. Congress and the American people

fully support the mission.

* Ensure that U.S. Forces be commanded only by U.S. officers.

From all reports, Legion Commander Miller - who unlike our representatives in congress has a son on active duty with a strong chance of being sent to Kosovo - has had his get-out-of-Yugoslavia message ignored.

Clinton found time to attend fund-raisers all over the country, visit Littleton Colo., on the anniversary of the shootout for a photo op and to pass through New York City to promote a vote- getting scheme for the Democratic party concerning a new Penn Station. But he couldn't find the time to meet with Miller.

So sure, let's remember our veterans this week. But if we fail to heed their experience, we as a nation do not deserve their sacrifices - past, present or future.

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