Paul Greenberg

For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

-- First Corinthians

This is where we came in. For we've seen this movie before, or rather this all too real, all too familiar tragedy. And travesty. In the Korean War and Stalemate, for painful example, the military objective became not victory but an unending, inconclusive draw -- day after bloody day. And year.

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After a dramatic end run -- the master stroke that was the Inchon Landing, Allied troops led by American forces headed for the Yalu and the liberation of all the Korean peninsula. But on the verge of victory, the military calculus was turned upside down by the massive intervention of well-prepared, well-supplied troops pouring into the battle from Red China -- in what seemed infinite numbers.

Having let himself be surprised, the great American commander -- the long triumphant and occasionally humiliated but always imperious Douglas MacArthur -- made repeated requests to Washington for permission to bomb the bridges over the Yalu, hoping to stop or at least slow the advancing horde. His pleas were ignored. Finally he got permission to blow the bridges. Too late. And even then he was told to be sure to bomb them only on the Korean side. This would no longer be a military theater but a theater of the absurd -- in slow, painful, freezing motion. The Longest War would become longer.

casualties mounted ever higher, eroding what was left of the country's will to win. Not till a new commander-in-chief took over in Washington would America begin to give the enemy a different impression -- that this country was no longer prepared to be slowly bled but would strike with all the power at its command, including the nuclear variety. A truce followed.

The armistice in Korea was achieved within months of Dwight D. Eisenhower's inauguration as president and commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces. That armistice now has lasted half a century, however precariously at times. Leadership can be all in these dangerous matters.

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Vietnam would provide an even starker and longer example of the toll that indecisive leadership can take year after terrible year.

Now, once again, an uncertain trumpet is sounded. A president and supposed commander-in-chief has invited Congress to set military policy. Just as it finally did when the war was in Vietnam, cutting off supplies and air support, leaving the forces of freedom defenseless.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.