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Jessica Lynch, Col. West, and common sense
By Trevor Bothwell
It is an odd phenomenon that a nation immersed in a war for civilization itself is inspired more by the capture of a soldier than by a soldier who prevents capture by enemy forces.
I'm speaking of course about Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who is currently enjoying the spoils of media celebrity, and Lt. Col. Allen West, who is right now being punished for brilliantly thwarting an ambush against his troops in Iraq.
To be fair, it isn't surprising that the media has jumped all over the Jessica Lynch story. Pretty, young, and blonde are three attributes not uncommon to success in the entertainment industry, and we all sympathize with the hardship that Jessica endured during her capture in Iraq. However, intending no disrespect to her, Ms. Lynch is not a heroine -- which she herself recently acknowledged to Diane Sawyer in her first TV interview -- but merely the victim of an unfortunate wrong turn.
In stark contrast, Lt. Col. West, who commanded an artillery unit in the Army's 4th Infantry Division, is being charged with aggravated assault for the heroic tactics he employed a short time ago to save the lives of his men.
Facing gunfire and ambushes, Col. West detained a local police officer he learned had been cooperating with the enemy. Following futile attempts to question the officer, West decided to interrogate his detainee using stronger methods. He discharged his pistol to frighten the police officer, taking care to stand between his weapon and the man, and effectively elicited information that allowed his unit to preempt the ambushes.
For his trouble, Col. West is now faced with the decision to resign from the Army without his pension (for which he would have qualified one week after this incident), or face charges of assault. This is highly disturbing, not least because a distinguished officer is facing his ruin at the very time that the Bush administration is being scolded constantly by the media and other critics for mounting American casualties in Iraq. But when engaged in unconventional warfare, one would think that unconventional methods of survival would seem appropriate when the alternative is sudden and certain death.
The courage of Col. West is evident, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should affirm this by absolving West of these charges. But in the event that Mr. Rumsfeld needs some encouragement, I might point out some earlier heroic actions of one of Rumsfeld's current employees: General John "Mad Arab" Abizaid, Commander, U.S. Central Command.
Abizaid, a highly decorated and accomplished general who now serves as the Pentagon's point man inside Iraq, began his impressive military career, ironically, it seems, similar to Col. West's end.
Abizaid's reputation for decisive action was cemented during the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, where, facing a nest of hostile Cuban troops, then-Capt. Abizaid ordered one of his Army Rangers to climb aboard a bulldozer, raise its shovel, and drive it towards the enemy while he and his men advanced behind it (which inspired a fictional scene in Clint Eastwood's 1986 movie "Heartbreak Ridge").
But a story that is not so well documented is one told by many senior officers at West Point, and it concerns an event that occurred prior to touching down in Grenada. During approach from the air, Capt. Abizaid allegedly put a .45 to the head of the Air Force pilot who initially would not fly over the drop zone. He also jumped from below 600 feet, which is extremely dangerous. But Abizaid knew that securing the airport with his Ranger Company was critical to the success of the mission.
As one Army expert tells me, "Abizaid probably could have been charged with some type of Article 15 offense (Nonjudicial Punishment)" for the harsh measure of threatening another officer, "but any officer (especially in the Special Operations community) worth the rank on his collar would do the same thing."
General consensus in the military is that when the bullets start to fly, good leaders do what needs to be done in order to accomplish the mission (within guidelines of the Geneva Convention, of course).
Most Democrats and critics of this war seem to think we can defeat radical Islamists by sending the cast of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" into the desert to slap our way to victory. America chose to send its best into Iraq because it recognized the need to destroy lunatics who would murder innocent Americans in their sleep. And Col. West exemplifies the bravery and nerve that we'd better demand if we expect to come out of this campaign on top.
Jessica Lynch didn't ask to stand at the altar of idolatry. Indeed, her TV movie was even made without her cooperation. But her ordeal should not highlight the dignity of placing women in combat nearly as much as it should spur consideration of its discontinuation.
Perhaps the media needs Jessica Lynch. But the U.S. military certainly needs Col. Allen West, if it knows what's good for it.
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