Beltway Beat

John McCaslin
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Posted: Mar 26, 2003 12:00 AM

WAR OR SADDAM

"War is a dreadful thing, but there are things more dreadful even than war; one of them is dishonor." -- William Randolph Hearst, former New York Democratic congressman, journalist and publisher (1863-1951)

GRIM REAPERS

As sole anchor of "NBC Nightly News" for 20 years, Tom Brokaw has encountered his share of difficult moments. Last Friday was one of his toughest.

"I always worry about getting too emotional on air," he tells this column. "This one cut deep to the bone."

Flanked by four senior retired members of the U.S. military, Brokaw was narrator to literally millions of TV viewers who, for this inaugural war of the 21st century, have been given unprecedented front-row seats.

It is called "real-time reporting." When hundreds of Western reporters, producers and photographers, "embedded" with the troops as they chip their way toward Baghdad and Saddam Hussein, granted he's still breathing, bring new meaning to the term "reality TV."

As they marveled at the technological advances of war, Brokaw was informed that a Nancy Chamberlain wished to address the nation.

What was surprising was that just a short time before, this well-spoken mother from Winslow, Maine, had received horrific news that her son - Capt. Jay Thomas Aubin, a helicopter pilot who had dreamed one day of flying the president aboard Marine One - perished in the Kuwaiti desert with the 11 other men in his chopper.

Chamberlain said she "knew for some reason" that her son wouldn't be coming home, long before she was officially notified of his death.

Military families, she explained, find themselves watching TV constantly, seeking reassurance that their loved ones are safe. These families at home, it turns out, are seeing more of the war than the soldiers in combat.

They experience the terror, she said, feel the stress. Brokaw was moved to tears. When he was unable to respond at one point, a general jumped in to address her concerns.

"Here is a mother who was just told that she had lost her son," Brokaw told us later. "And she appears on television with this important message about (military) families living 'in terror' in their homes. And we (the news networks) needed to hear that. These images are spectacular and violent. And there is going to be death," he says. "And nobody could have (reminded us) as eloquently as this woman. Our switchboard lit up."

'SHOCK AND AWE'

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) has taken to complaining that the Senate has more pressing matters to debate - namely, the war in Iraq - than to "rush through the 2004 budget.

Yet at the very moment the "shock and awe" campaign began on the streets of Baghdad, Byrd interrupted a busy day on the Senate floor Friday (March 21) to give his annual "First Day of Spring" speech.

It made for an interesting transposition. While every network was showing stunning live coverage of military installations in Baghdad being consumed in huge fireballs, Byrd was speaking of the wonders of the return of flowers to the gardens of the nation's capital, with a few passing references to our troops in danger abroad.

"Nature now hangs her mantle green on every blooming tree and spreads her sheets of daisies white out over the grassy field," Byrd said as bombs were exploding over Iraq.

"I look forward to turning away from the incessant news coverage of war, and I look forward to spending a few precious moments outside listening instead to the spring peepers, those little frogs whose singing brings back to me boyhood memories of long ago," Byrd said.

CLEVER BUNCH

"Dubya Dubya III" -- Name given by anti-war protesters to the U.S.-led war with Iraq.

CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY

The Democratic National Committee is not overly concerned about Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's untimely criticism of President Bush for leading the United States into war against Iraq.

In fact, just the opposite is true.

Reacting to the widespread criticism leveled against Daschle after his remarks, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe has issued a memo saying that as "Democrats stand up to President Bush, we must stand up for Democrats."

"Democrats speak out on the war," it states. "As Democratic leaders led by Tom Daschle have fulfilled their constitutional duties by holding President Bush accountable for his actions, Republicans have responded with personal attacks that question the patriotism of Democrats."

The DNC stresses that regardless of what comes out of Republican mouths - and, for that matter, Daschle's - Democrats continue to stand behind America's troops.

THINK IT'S HOT NOW?

Think it's hot now?

"I guess the environmental and green groups will want to bring Saddam Hussein before the International Criminal Court for ... doing 'possibly irreversible' environmental damage. From their perspective, that should be a much more serious crime than killing a few million subjects." --Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Christopher C. Horner, responding to a Washington Post story quoting environmental experts warning that the war in Iraq will cause "massive and possibly irreversible damage" to the Persian Gulf region and "significantly add to global warming."

HIPPIE CANNONBALLS

A retired Marine colonel, who handled anti-war demonstrations in Washington, D.C. during the Vietnam era, tells this column that one group of protesters decided against blocking traffic on the busy 14th Street Bridge after the military officer in charge told them that his orders were to keep the bridge open, and that - if push came to shove - he would not hesitate throwing each and every one of them over the side into the Potomac River.