Which way blows the wind today?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 31, 2002

It’s difficult to tell by the information media we are subjected to if we are edging closer to or farther away from war with Iraq. It depends upon what day it is and who is putting out the info. But I smell unlimited pools of underground oil over there and it wouldn’t be all bad if we had our own gas station in the Middle East. There is a continual argument over the amount of nasty weapons Sadamn has stored and bets about whether or not he’d use them on his neighbors, or us if we attacked. Few experts give him credit for being able to hit the United States with a missile of any sort – judging by the accuracy of his early Scud versions they would probably land in Canada or Mexico, and maybe explode. There is a buildup of our military units forming a ring around Iraq and if it’s only for intimidation purposes it is working. So he would have someone on his side in Iraq Sadamn turned his political prisoners loose, thinking they would be happy to take up arms and defend their country against invasion by the infidels. But I suspect they are looking for a way out of Dodge and would be overjoyed if Sadamn went up in smoke with one of his palaces.

Among those military units are the Special Forces, so highly trained we have come to believe they are almost invincible – much different than most of us who went overseas back in the ’40s. It is relatively easy to train small groups of eager young men who will go through hell for certain designations. Millions of us were just kids out of school with six weeks of basic training. But there was one thing in common between these modern soldiers and those of any previous war – constant fear of snipers. A few Special Force soldiers have already paid dearly and those are the best, most protected we have.

It is all but impossible to protect the human body from a lead projectile traveling at a high rate of speed. Some part of your body is vulnerable and that’s what a trained marksman aims for. Those innocents up in the D.C. area were easy targets but any soldier can be put out of action if the lead is big enough. You saw the fear that spread about the cities for 21 days while only one sniper played his game, nearly bringing business to a standstill. In a real war there may be hundreds of them and they can hide anywhere.

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Try to imagine what combat soldiers think about constantly whether in the front lines or twenty miles behind it. Any enemy soldier who did not escape or surrender is a potential sniper and doesn’t have to be expert with a rifle. Even in the ’40s we were trained to hit a 12-inch bull at 500 yards with an M1-A1 nine-pound rifle. We laid the barrel on a sandbag to steady it but a trained sniper can do it from anywhere and in any position. Like the killer up in D.C. they might be in a tree or a church belfry, or shoot out of a car window.

There is always at least one stationary target but it makes no difference to a professional.

Those residents around D.C. had a taste of gut fear. Though the odds of being a target were less than being hit by a falling tree, they were scared every moment they were vulnerable. Think back to those citizens of London or Berlin who daily suffered bombs dropping on their homes, often in the middle of the night. Not for 21 days, four years. Imagine being blocks from a bomb shelter, if there was one, and having to hurry there maybe three times a night or day with your kids and your valuable possessions in the buggy with the baby. I hope those people in the D.C. area can get over their fears in a few months without the help of counselors; how easy it is to panic any American city. Terrorists have taken note of this and are doubtless planning similar actions, probably across the nation.

We talk a great deal about going to war these days, but I wonder if we are up to it, if we have the stomach for it. Our response to those 21 days indicates fragility. Would pre-empt save thousands of lives? Before you say yes, pretend you have been asked to join up. And I have a related question – are families of sniper victims entitled to the same millions given to the families of 9/11 victims? Terrorists might soon generate hundreds of them.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular columnist for the News-Herald.