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thedrifter
12-14-04, 08:04 AM
12-08-2004

Goodbye to All That



By Ray Starmann



I knew something was different the day the planes stopped flying. Every day at noon, like clockwork, they flew in pairs buzzing above my office and sweeping low over the checkerboard Hessian countryside. One day there was only silence and the sound of birds chirping. I opened my window and gazed out. The GR-1 Tornadoes and F-16s were gone. In the coming months, the troops and tanks would begin their long march home.



For one brief shining moment in the spring of 1990, hope seemed eternal. Communism was dead and peace was burgeoning. There were no hot wars, no cold wars, no Reforger Exercises, no armed borders and shoot-to-kill orders and attack dogs and land mines.



Berlin, once a divided city and the center of international espionage, had become the world’s biggest block party where soldiers of the Warsaw Pact mingled with NATO troops and traded souvenirs as if we were all at the Olympics. East and West German border guards socialized as if nothing had ever happened. At Checkpoint Bravo, in Helmstedt, I was waved through one of the world’s most secured borders with a smile.



A smile – that signaled to me that anything was possible. When the biggest worry of the average soldier in Europe was what castle he was going to tour for the weekend. During “Warfighter ’90,” we spent our time watching German women sunbathe and slept under the stars after a Bratwurst cookout with the knowledge that the Russians would never come through the Fulda Gap. On one night, a drunken German, riding a horse rode up to our position and saluted us by playing the Star Spangled Banner on a bugle.



Historians will always say that Ronald Reagan and the West won the Cold War. As an admirer of the late president, I couldn’t agree more. But, the world also won it. We won an opportunity that we quickly stepped on and smashed like a used cigarette butt.



The world had its chance for peace in 1990 and blew it. Did we ever know what a phenomenal opportunity we had? Did we even care? Or, were we somehow too slow to react, to ensure that peace? Perhaps if more Americans had seen what the U.S. troops in Germany had long experienced, things might have been different. Perhaps if more people had turned their minds away from Seinfeld and their latest dotcom coup. If, if, if … as Winston Churchill once said, “the terrible ifs accumulate.”



Since 1991, the slow fuse of hate has burned and finally exploded into the conflagration which rages now. Maybe if we had been tougher in Somalia. If only we had captured Osama bin Laden years ago. If only we had swiftly responded to the USS Cole and Khobar Towers bombings. If only we hadn’t invaded Iraq, that Pandora’s Box in Hell. If, if, if … oh, how the terrible ifs accumulate.



For much of my life, I have been fascinated by war. I fought in the 100-hour ground war in Operation Desert Storm and since then have continued to study it all as an historian.



Frankly, I admit today that I am tired of the war on terror, this endless war without an end, war infinitum, pre-emptive war, war at all costs. When will it ever end? Will it end?



My eyes grow misty when I see soldiers and Marines dragging their dead comrades through some Iraqi shooting gallery. When I see the amputees and the wounded, I wonder if things could somehow have been different … somehow.



War infinitum …. So much hope gone, blown to smithereens.



We are living in a world on fire. What can we do now except fight? But, sometimes, as the rain falls and the cold wind blows, I think back to those warm, sunny days in the Spring of ‘90, when the hope of the world had a chance. To be an American was to be a hero, a larger-than-life giant representing freedom.



In the span of a year, I was thanked, congratulated, kissed and hugged hundreds of times. It was all for one simple reason. I was an American.



I’ve tried to never forget the expressions I saw on those thousands of faces in 1989 and 1990. But, some have faded in memory, and have been extinguished in a world consumed by evil.



Robert Graves, the English writer and World War I veteran, wrote a superb autobiography titled, Goodbye to All That.



I couldn’t think of a better phrase to describe the world that we have inherited since that false peace of the early 1990s: “Goodbye to all that.”



Will we ever have another chance again?



Ray Starmann is a Contributing Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at thrillerwriter39@verizon.net. Send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com.

Ellie