Jewish World Review April 30, 1999 /14 Iyar, 5759
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The lady wanted to know what we intended to do about it. The world needs to know about this, she said. It ought to be exposed, published in the newspaper, shouted from the rooftops. She'd already written a letter to the editor about it, and shouldn't we be editorializing about it, and . . . .
I glanced down at the list of all our Possible Enemies. One needs to know these things. Our eye happened to fall on the Czech Republic. Vaclav Havel's republic? If we're his enemy, we surrender. He's one of the few great men left. The Czechs are our possible enemies? Strange: They've just joined NATO, along with Poland and Hungary, and were standing with us, however uneasily, in the current unpleasantness with Serbia.
Leafing through the lady's abundant material, I looked for a source of all this dubious data and these even more dubious conclusions. We'd been spending too much on a military that even now is running short of cruise missiles? Our "ready response'' team of 24 Apache anti-tank helicopters and their ground support weren't even ready for a month. Some ready response. Aircraft needed to enforce the no-fly zones over Iraq have had to be diverted to the Balkans.
We're at war, and our neglected military, it suddenly becomes apparent, is stretched to the limit, if not beyond. It is poorly prepared to fight the kind of war this is but wasn't supposed to be. And we're overemphasizing defense? Who puts out this stuff?
"The Department of Defense,'' said the lady. That's strange. I hadn't ever heard of the Department of Defense complaining that we were spending too much on defense. It would be unnatural. Ever heard of any government agency complaining it was getting too much money?
The ex-senator must be mighty proud. The defendant-in-chief said he was, too -- that it had been an honor to be impeached. If so, this president must consider his recent contempt citation a canonization.
And here this lady had come to call with her facts and her figures and her cause. All on a nice spring day in April. It was Holocaust Remembrance Day. And even as she spoke, the armed forces of the United States were engaged in combat, trying to prevent another one.
We were in the midst of the worst, continuing war crime on the European continent since World War II. Our men were in the air; three were prisoners of war. And this dear lady was saying we were spending entirely too much on defense. Boy, had she picked the wrong day to call.
I told her we welcomed her letter to the editor on the subject and had been happy to publish it. That's what we're here for. I urged her to keep writing, to continue expressing her views in every forum. It's a free country, I said. And because we want it to stay that way, I had to add, some of us intend to redouble our support for the under-appreciated, under-supported, under-prepared, and, yes, under-funded armed forces of the United States. And I resolved inwardly to write another column making all that even clearer.
I wanted to say more. I wanted to explain that when America is strong, the tyrants of the world tremble. And the oppressed hope. I wanted to talk about what those Albanian refugees must feel, the ones who managed to make it out, hungry and cold and in anguish, with the kids and the old folks in tow. They must wonder if anybody cares, or if they'll ever get home, even as they grieve for the dead left behind. Has anything really changed since the 1940s?
Here's what I think: At least this time -- however late, however disorganized, however unsure and divided and squabbling -- the world is taking some notice, even beginning to strike back. If only beginning.
I wanted to tell the lady that when America is weak, indecisive and tempted to withdraw into its shell, into its old isolationist self, Kosovos happen. Bosnias happen. Holocausts happen. And Europe, cradle of world wars, the truly dark continent, slips back into hatred, violence and wars against whole, defenseless peoples. And those wars inevitably draw us in -- until the New World must once again come to the rescue of the old. It's happened before, and it was happening again.
And because we had hesitated so long this time, because year after year our hearts had hardened, and we thought we could just let Bosnia burn itself out, we were now confronted by Kosovo. And worse will come if we falter now. Or if we grant this tinpot Hitler any part of his demands.
I wanted to say all that, but didn't. There was a paper to put out, page proofs to read, news to catch up with, prayers to say and, yes, our armed forces to support. I have no reservations about them, not a one. No, ma'am. They restore my faith every day and every night. I only wish they had more to work with, not less -- more missiles, more aircraft, more support and supplies, and most of all better organization and political leadership.
I wish our forces had more of everything they need to accomplish their mission, end this thing
and come home. It is only their commander-in-chief who worries some of us, he and all the
other sunshine soldiers in their nice clean, well-lit offices who started this war without a plan
and may yet end it without victory.
But instead of explaining all that, I just wished the dear lady a good day. Hurry back. And I
thought, not for the first time:In war there is no substitute for
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