View Full Version : An Open Letter to Tim Russert

06-20-04, 06:25 AM

An Open Letter to Tim Russert

By Larry Stephens

Tim, I saw you on Larry King being interviewed about your book “Big Russ and Me”. Clearly, you were raised by a loving father and, because of his love, you have and will continue to extend that love to your son. The world would be a better place if each son had the love of not just a father, but also a daddy.

Your father and mine were alike in many ways. Both served in WWII, both were seriously injured. Both also returned to jobs and worked hard to provide for their families and, more importantly, ensure opportunities for their children.

However, my father had to endure an experience that possibly your father did not – and that was sending not one, but eventually both his sons off to the war in Viet Nam. This is why I am writing to you now, as in the next 12 to 18 months we may both be forced to send our sons to war and risk having them killed, maimed, wounded, injured, or psychologically damaged.

The parallels of the Viet Nam war to Iraq are stunning:

Both wars were founded on lies and fear. During the paranoia of the 1950s, Viet Nam was thought in to be part of a “domino theory” – that should one country fall to the communists, they all would. The incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, which may or may not have happened, became the trigger for a deadly and un-winnable war. Even if it were true, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident did not rise to the level of declaring war. Iraq: the fear of weapons of mass destruction, a reconstituted nuclear program, and its supposed ties to Al Qaeda. There was also fear about the spread of Terrorism within or through Iraq.

Troops being sent into battle without the appropriate equipment. In Viet Nam, the M-16 was a piece of junk that got many Marines and soldiers killed. Also, if you called the vehicles I personally worked on junk, it would be an upgrade in status. In Iraq, the administration sent our troops into battle without the appropriate body, vehicle and helicopter armor.

Insurgency, guerrilla attacks and terrorist bombings, and the failure to keep the peace amid a growing outcry from the civilian population.

The killing of innocent civilians, which further aggravated the situation and alienated the people even more.

The mistreatment of prisoners on both sides.

Multiple combat tours during a single enlistment period – an enlistment period that can and was being extended.

The final element to complete the comparisons to Viet Nam would be the return of the “Draft”. The comments on your recent show by Lindsay Graham came as close to saying “Draft”, without really speaking the dreaded word.

If you doubt that the “Draft” is not a matter of if, but when, consider the following. We are using the National Guard for combat duty in Iraq. This alone is a significant sign that our military strength was seriously depleted, primarily during the Clinton years. In addition, there are currently 200,000 soldiers on “Stop Loss Order”. This includes soldiers eligible for retirement and those with expired enlistments. So, when the “order” is lifted, if only two-thirds of the soldiers leave, the military could lose the equivalent of the United States military contingency serving in Iraq within a matter of weeks.

In another twist, Knight Ridder reports that the Department of Defense is so strapped for personnel that they want to recall the Individual Ready Reserve. This involves soldiers who have been released from active duty, but subject to involuntary recall, and the DoD is asking the IRS to help track down these individuals.

There have been over 780 deaths, over 7,000 wounded and possibly 40,000 to 50,000 evacuated from the battle theater. I hope you or NBC will investigate, as the total evacuation numbers I cited may be low. I suggest you work with Col. David Hackworth. He may have other sources.

To compound the issue, we will be in Iraq for years. Where will the replacement soldiers come from, not to mention the billions of dollars in taxpayer money to keep them there?

Why has there been so little discussion on the re-instatement of the draft until now? First, the administration does not want to discuss such an explosive issue. The American People would not accept any administration taking their sons or daughters to die, be wounded or injured in some sandpit. Secondly, Republican Conservatives have yet to find a safe place to put their sons and daughters, like George Herbert Walker Bush did for his son George W. in the Air National Guard.

What I am speaking about is experiencing the “True Impact of War” and with that, I would like to relate an experience I had with my father in the fall of 1968.

We were sitting in our family room just talking like fathers and sons do. I had served my three year enlistment in the Marine Corps, thirteen months in Viet Nam, and as I recall, was not yet old enough to buy a beer or own a .22 rifle. At that time, any young man could receive a Draft notice within 2 to 3 weeks of their 18th birthday, and service in Viet Nam was all but assured.

While we were talking, my brother came home. He had just turned 18, wanted control over his military service, and informed us he was going to join the Navy. Dad was OK with that, until my brother asked him to sign a paper. Dad responded that since he was already 18, there was no need for him to sign. My brother said he wanted to join the Seabees and go to Viet Nam.

I will never forget the blank, but anguished look in my dad’s eyes. He took a drag off his cigarette and gave the following answer:

“Look boy, there have been two men in this family that have gone off to war, and that’s two too many. I am not going to sign.”

This is when I realized that he felt the “True Impact of War”; and the thought of placing his remaining son (the youngest) in harms way was something he was not about to do willingly - no loving parent would. Seeing this, and being a Viet Nam veteran, I made myself a promise - no child of mine would ever have a war they could call their own.

My brother did go into the Navy, but without joining the Seabees, and made a career of it. Only a few years ago, after our mother’s death in 2001, I learned he served on the ground in Viet Nam. Mom and Dad never knew, and my brother was not about to tell them, as he did not want to put them through the anguish.

Tim, parents of those serving are going through this anguish now and thus know of the “True Impact of War”. You and I could also be going through this experience sooner than we think. Given your influence, your son will be protected as no administration would risk your ire; but what about the rest of us who do not have your influence; or the power of a politician?

This war has yet to be personalized. But, once it has, parents will realize that their child could be serving in Iraq. Then I believe support for this war will wane. There is a very real self-serving reason for this administration not allowing the public to see flag draped coffins and undercounting the wounded.

I leave you with the following: “War to many Americans is an abstract concept. War is a movie, TV show, video game, newspaper article, part of the evening news or talk show subject. Unless the death, destruction and the impact of war is felt in each American’s life, war is painless and will always be something somebody else does.”

Those who support this war have no one to lose; nor care about the loss of someone else’s child.

Kenneth L. (Steve) Stephens served in Vietnam with the U.S. Marine Corps during 1966-67. He can be reached at ljstephens@mail.com. Send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com.