Marine general reflects on Sept. 11; Lehnert warns against hasty answers to terror

By: JOE BECK - Staff Writer

FALLBROOK ---- The general in command of West Coast Marine bases urged Americans to resist seeking "instant gratification" against terrorism in a speech Monday at Fallbrook's program commemorating Sept. 11, 2001.

Attempts to rush a solution to terrorism are likely to meet with failure, Maj. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert told an audience of about 150 that included dozens of schoolchildren and many members of the military, police and fire services.

"This war is going to last a long time,'' Lehnert said. "It may not be over in the lifetime of our sons and daughters."

Lehnert assumed overall responsibility for seven West Coast Marine bases late last year, including Camp Pendleton, where he is headquartered. His call to guard against instant gratification was one of several warnings contained in his speech reflecting on 9/11 and subsequent events. Though the nation's mood toward the politics of terrorism has turned sour since the first weeks of unity after Sept. 11, 2001, the military must steer clear of such divisive issues, Lehnert said. "We have to remain above the political fray,'' he said.

He called the conflict between terrorists and Western societies a "war of ideas'' with democracy on one side and those who seek to destroy it on the other. "It is not a religious war,'' he said.

Turning to the controversy over the treatment of prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, Lehnert talked about a visit he made to the base at which soldiers told him that they treated the prisoners much better than Americans would be treated if the current roles of captors and prisoners were reversed. Lehnert said he told them that their comments were accurate but "irrelevant."

Americans must not succumb to the temptation to copy terrorists' vengeful, inhumane treatment of those they deem their enemies, Lehnert said. "We cannot afford to sacrifice the values that made us great on the altar of expediency,'' he said.

Lehnert was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., during the terrorist attack, where he recalled predicting that America would never be the same again ---- a prediction he said had proven regrettably accurate.

The audience gave Lehnert its strongest applause for the praise he offered at the end of his speech for the impressive performance of the Marines serving under him.

"They are in fact the inheritors of Tom Brokaw's 'Greatest Generation,' " Lehnert said.

Many of the children at the event performed songs, danced and recited the preamble to the Constitution in unison. The program hit a somber note with the tolling of a bell ---- nine times for September, 11 times for the 11th day of the month and one bell for 2001.

The program's theme was "Let's Roll,'' a phrase attributed to Todd Beamer, a passenger on board a hijacked plane that crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside before it could reach Washington. Beamer is credited with leading a passenger revolt that is widely believed to have stopped the terrorists from completing a mission that had targeted the Capitol or the White House.

Mitch Chandler, commander of Fallbrook's Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1924, called Lehnert's remarks impressive in articulating and grasping "the range of the problems we are facing."

Chandler said this year's ceremony was much improved over 2005.

"Overall, I thought we really got the community involved at a much higher level than last year," he said.

-- Contact staff writer Joe Beck at (760) 740-3516 or