Jewish World Review Dec. 22, 2003 / 27 Kislev, 5764

Jack Kelly

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The greatest American military hero most have never heard of | Major General Frederick Funston is perhaps the greatest American military hero of whom hardly any Americans living today have ever heard. He won the Medal of Honor fighting guerrillas in the Philippines in 1899, and two years later captured their leader, putting an end to a war in which 4,234 American soldiers were killed.

For eight months in 1914, Funston was the military governor of Vera Cruz, Mexico, after President Woodrow Wilson's first intervention in the Mexican civil war (1910-20). Funston did a bang-up job under very difficult circumstances, according to Andrew Birtle of the Center of Military History. "Having established the basic machinery of government, Funston (inaugurated) a vigorous civil affairs campaign, both to demonstrate America's benevolent intentions and to establish precedents he hoped the Mexicans would emulate after the Americans had gone," Birtle wrote.

"There was much to be done. Vera Cruz's government was notably corrupt and inefficient. The sorry state of municipal affairs was best illustrated by the city's trash disposal system, which relied entirely on the huge, black vultures that adorned city edifices.

"Like Hercules in the Augean stables, Funston threw himself into the work. He imposed strict sanitary codes, established refuse collection services, paved streets, installed sidewalks, began a vaccination program, improved the prisons, reformed the city's finances, and eliminated government corruption."

A former newspaperman who fought as a guerrilla in Cuba before the Spanish-American War (1898), and who directed relief operations after the San Francisco earthquake (1906), Funston wrote two books describing his experiences. In his cubicle at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Bill Flavin, a former Special Forces soldier who retired as a colonel in 1999, is poring through them for tips that could help American soldiers in Iraq today.

"He had a very similar challenge," Flavin said. "(Mexican guerrilla leaders) told Mexicans not to cooperate with the Americans, and tried to assassinate those who did."

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Funston's life story is a reminder that the United States has considerably more experience in what the Army calls "stability operations" - the shadow period between the end of major combat operations and the time there actually is a peace to keep - than most Americans realize.

The U.S. has conducted stability operations in the Philippines, Mexico, Haiti and Nicaragua; in Germany, Japan, Italy and South Korea after World War II.

History indicates success in stability operations rarely comes quickly or easily. The Philippine Insurrection was more controversial in the America of a century ago than the Iraq war is today. Nearly 10 times as many soldiers died in the Philippines as so far have been killed in Iraq, at a time when there were only 65,000 soldiers in the regular Army, and just 76 million Americans in the entire population.

The Philippines today is a democracy, and a U.S. ally in the war on terror. Germany, Japan, Italy and South Korea also are prosperous democracies, and U.S. allies.

We've been in Iraq for barely six months. Yet some already are declaring our mission there a failure.

This attitude perplexes Diether Haenecke, a former president of Western Michigan University who grew up in Nazi Germany. In a letter to the Kalamazoo Gazette, he recalled that "hunger, joblessness and economic chaos" were the order of the day for years after the war ended.

"I view these impetuous criticisms with disbelief," Haenecke said. "A country that was just devastated by war and has no familiarity with free elections and the rule of law...cannot in a few months be pacified."

The lessons of history are clear. When we stay long enough to finish the job, good things happen. When we leave too soon - as in Cuba, Vera Cruz, Haiti and Nicaragua - what good we accomplished is swiftly undone.

Haenecke said he owed his "free and prosperous life" to the American soldiers who fought Hitler. We owe a similar debt to the American soldiers who are fighting Saddam Hussein and his thugs, he said.

"I hope that we at home have the courage and the patience to hold steady and make their sacrifices worthwhile," Haenecke said.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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