On bioterror, war for women, and uncommon valor

Posted: Nov 29, 2001 12:00 AM
The news from the terror front comes in torrents: the Taliban practically routed, falling-out among the Afghan tribes, attention turning to ferreting out Osama and the war's next phase... Such as bioterror. At home, talk is about (e.g.) anthrax and smallpox - and how to counteract them: Medical science is buckling down. Abroad, talk is about the Sinister Six - identified last week as North Korea, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Iran and Iraq - building germ-warfare arsenals. Serious consideration ought to be given - now - to how best to rub out not only the arsenals but those who oversee them. As UN Ambassador John Negroponte has said - citing the UN Charter's Article 51 - "We may find that our self-defense requires further action with respect to other [terror] organizations and other states." Only the imagination can limit the locales and methods of spreading malign germs or detonating a small nuclear device. Osama's disciples may have had crop dusters in mind. There's concern about bridges, water supplies and, of course, more aircraft. We are dealing with a global Vietcong that has sought to decapitate the United States government (the White House was likely the primary target of the plane that went into the Pentagon, and the Capitol almost certainly was the intended target of the plane that went down in Pennsylvania). Would such types' artificial-disaster mentality stop at - let's see - either (a) parachuting into a crowded stadium and spewing bioterror spores from a backpack, or (b) stashing some suicidalists and a small nuclear device in a container and loading the container onto a merchant ship destined for a major port? And speaking of UAL Flight 93 that went down in Pennsylvania, President Bush has taken to using the phrase of Todd Beamer - the 32-year-old Sunday school teacher who was overheard on a cell phone as passengers charged the terrorists. Beamer's words sound like a fitting motto for the war on terror: "Let's roll!" That's clearly more catchy but not nearly so eloquent as Woodrow Wilson in his April 2, 1917, address to Congress requesting a declaration of war: "The day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured." The Sept. 11 attacks spurred lackadaisical 18-year-olds, who were supposed to register with Selective Service but hadn't, to get with the program. Notes a Selective Service official: "On September 11, that particular Tuesday, we had 6,400 men register via the Internet where, over the previous 52 weeks, we were averaging 1,600 online registrations per day. For the next two or three weeks we had 2,500 to 3,500 online registrations, [though] it's tapered off now." Also, for a time, mail-in registrations "at least doubled." That's reassuring, yet the surge unfortunately (a) dissipated and (b) did not translate into significantly increased enlistment. Afghanistan produces 70 percent of the world's opium. Most Afghan opium reaches Europe, notably Britain, and accounts for 80 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product. Like the Taliban, the Northern Alliance - our principal Afghan ally of the moment - is up to its eyeballs in poppies. And Mohammad Zahir Shah, the country's exiled king whom many would like to see reinstated, won't commit on whether a new government should or would get out of the drug business. Thus does the Afghan front of the war on terror intersect with the war on drugs. Afghanistan also is a front in the war for women. China and other Oriental societies have degraded women for centuries; since Mao's accession in 1949, Communist China annually has compelled the aborting, the killing, or the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of baby girls. The Taliban oppressed women, denied them education, and forced them to wear the chador or burqa - which they threw off the moment the Taliban headed for the hills. Mohamed Atta, the reputed head of the Sept. 11 hijackers, said in his will he wanted women barred from his funeral. Liberating Afghanistan means liberating Afghan women as well. Military tribunals to try foreigners suspected in the terror war? As proposed, yes. Monitoring the conversations between lawyers and terror suspects in federal custody? Yes. Truth serums for suspects? With judicial authorization, why not? They were used on World War II suspected spies - and Chief Justice Earl Warren sanctioned them in the investigation into the Kennedy assassination that he oversaw. In this hour, they could prove equally important. A message transmitted by a U.S. Special Forces officer operating with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan - as released by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to demonstrate that success in Afghanistan has derived in large part "from putting extraordinarily brave men on the ground so they could direct ... air power and make it truly effective": "10 November 01: ...USN/USAF did a great job. I am very proud of these men who have performed exceptionally well under very extreme conditions. I have personally witnessed heroism under fire by [two U.S. noncommissioned officers - one Army, one Air Force] when we came under direct artillery fire last night, which was less than 50 meters from me. When I ordered them to call close air support, they did so immediately without flinching even though they were under fire. As you know, a [U.S. element] was nearly overrun four days ago and continued to call close air support and ensured [mujahedin] forces did not suffer a defeat. These two examples are typical of the performance of your soldiers and airmen. Truly uncommon valor has been a common virtue amongst these men."