Thursday, December 30

The Blame Game: Media & Citizens Must Share Blame With Government

When I spoke out in defense of the soldier who asked the question of Sec'y Rumsfeld and remarked that many of our troops are and have been badly equipped during this war I came under strong criticism by my conservative friends who accused me of everything from not knowing what I was talking about to maliciously defaming the Secretary. Neither is true and I was pretty delighted to find this piece by Mark Shields. It stokes vague impressions into flames of actual memories.

In the three years immediately after Pearl Harbor, the United States, a nation of 132 million people with a gross domestic product of less than $100 billion, produced the following to win World War II:
296,429 aircraft,
102,351 tanks,
87,620 warships,
372,431 artillery pieces and
2,455,694 trucks.

Compare those heroic achievements to the current, dismal supply record as the U.S. war in Iraq is fast approaching its third year and the United States, now a nation of nearly 300 million with defense spending in excess of half a trillion dollars:

Only 5,910 of the 19,584 Humvees U.S. troops in Iraq today depend upon are protected with factory-installed armor;

8,002 of the 9,128 medium and heavyweight trucks transporting soldiers and supplies in that war zone are without armor.

Because of the incompetence or indifference of this nation's civilian leadership of the war, Americans in Iraq are tonight living with an increased risk of death in Iraq.

All the official transcripts of White House signing ceremonies for every defense spending bill, all the presidential proclamations for Veterans Day and every prepared statement by the secretary of defense before a congressional committee include the same stock phrase.

U.S. troops are invariably referred to as "the best trained, best equipped" ever. Best equipped? To call today's American troops Iraq "best equipped" is more than a counterfeit exaggeration, it is bilge, baloney.

An America coming out of the Great Depression somehow found the leadership and the will to build and to deploy around the globe 2.5 million tanks in the same period of time that the incumbent American government has failed to get 30,000 fully armored vehicles to Iraq.

The Bush administration has appropriated $34.3 billion on a theoretical missile defense system -- which proved again this week to be an expensive dud in its first test in two years, when the "kill vehicle" never got off the ground to intercept the target missile carrying a " mock" bomb -- but has been able up to now, according to congressional budget authorities, to spend just $2 billion to armor the vehicles of Americans under fire.

Nobody has been more persistent in holding the Pentagon and the White House accountable than maverick Mississippi Democrat Rep. Gene Taylor, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

"When I visit Iraq," says Taylor, "I ride around in an armored vehicle, and I am sure the secretary (of defense) does, as well. That should be the single standard: If it is good enough for the big-shots, it is good enough for every American soldier."

The armor is truly a matter of life and death, as the Mississippi congressman explains: "Half of all our casualties, half of all our deaths and half of all our wounded are the direct result of improvised explosive devices [IEDs, or homemade bombs]." But when Washington officials visit Iraq, their traveling security includes not only heavily armored vehicles, but also radio-signal jammers, which can disable the IEDs.

What makes Taylor authentically angry is the inexcusable failure of the U.S. brass -- Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he names -- to provide radio jammers (which cost $10,000 each) to the fewer than 30,000 U.S. military vehicles in Iraq.

Okay. Let's hold up a minute. I remember those early days of WWII. There are similarities today: The President is saying just about the same things. The Secretary of Defense and the Defense Department are doing just about the same things. And the armed services are doing just as good a job -- even better, actually.

Now let's look at the differences. Maybe here is where we should look for the Blame Game: the press in WWII was immensely supportive. Newspapers initiated scrap drives and various community activities to support not only our troops but "The War Effort." The government came out with savings stamps and "war bonds" to raise money for defense and women went to work in plants to build war materials. Hollywood made movies romanticizing support for the war and everyone put their collective shoulders to the wheel to "get the job done."

The media didn't report troop movements. Talk about the logistics of war was discouraged. "Loose lips sink ships" was one of the many phrases that reminded us not to talk about things soldiers might have written home about. But those wouldn't have gotten through the military censors, anyway.

Yes, there were military censors who read mail going to and from the troops and deleted sentences that seemed inappropriate. And NO ONE WHINED ABOUT FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS BEING SUBJUGATED!

Shields' column continues:
How many U.S. vehicles are now equipped with jammers? The Pentagon insists the figure is classified. According to Taylor, the number is " miniscule." But because he is offended by visiting corporate CEOs and deputy assistant secretaries of weights and measures getting better protection than Marine lance corporals and Army privates, Taylor would not appreciate that funds for the jammers have probably already been dedicated to underwriting the next failed missile defense test.

"A jammer costs about $10,000, and it probably costs about $10,000 to bury a dead GI. I believe Americans would rather the spend the $10,000 to prevent the GI's funeral being held."

Gene Taylor is right. Every American has a moral obligation to make certain that the nation's troops are truly the world's " best equipped."

More than that, every American has a moral obligation to put political differences aside (and that includes Hollywood) to support this war in every possible way. That means save the criticism until a year before the next election. That means for government to begin a national war effort. That means for all of us to look for ways we can help -- from working with the Red Cross and USO to refraining from protesting and, instead, working to help get the war over.

We should be putting pressure on Congress to rev up the civilian war machine. Otherwise it's going to take four times longer and be twice the fight because we have to fight activists as well as terrorists.

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