- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2000

Military troops aren't good 'shepherds' for civilians

I greatly approve of your editorial regarding combat troops in noncombat missions ("Softer, gentler paratroopers," Sept. 25). It shows a general understanding of the inconsistencies of involving line-combat arms troops (infantry, in this case) in missions better suited for combat-support arms soldiers such as military police.

Back in the late '70s and early '80s, I was a junior officer in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment stationed in Bad Hersfeld, Germany. Our Cold War mission was to patrol the Iron Curtain border between East and West Germany and to prepare for and engage in combat in the Fulda Gap in the event of hot-war hostilities. As a result, the Blackhorse Regiment probably was the best trained and most combat-ready heavy U.S. force outside of Korea. We were the well-honed edge of United States Army Europe's saber.

However well-trained we were for our mission, there were a few difficulties associated with maintaining a cutting-edge force in the midst of German civilians. Some Blackhorse troopers were involved in violent altercations with Germans or other civilians, but for the most part, our command structure and mission statement assisted us in keeping those problems at a much lower level than in rear units.

Our commanders found that keeping the soldiers in the field, either on border missions or on maneuver exercise, for most of the time removed them from potential trouble as well as heightened their military proficiency. (My unit at the time could boast that it had troopers in the field more than 270 nights in one year.)

The main difference between my unit and our mission, and the troops in Kosovo and Bosnia and their police mission is that my enemies were well-defined and we actively kept tabs on their locations and movements. The troops today suffer an inordinate and unfair amount of stress in having to maintain the ability to engage instantly in "shooting for your life" operations while performing the police mission of being shepherds for civilians. A secondary advantage we had was that our mission was regarded by all involved as one of necessity, while the current mission generally is regarded as one of political expedience.

RICHARD D. VANORSDALE

Captain, U.S. Army (retired)

Southlake, Texas

The military is spread too thin in manpower and more

At last, Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has told Congress what the rest of us have known for some time: The military is stretched too thin in manpower, equipment and funding ("Shelton warns military is underprepared to fight two wars," Sept. 27).

While every service has its specific needs and wants, the laundry list of deficiencies and shortfalls offers an illuminating view of the Navy's plight and just one example of the challenges facing all the services. War-fighting commands reported, among other things, deficiencies in intelligence and reconnaissance and in information operations. Both of these high-priority missions are accomplished by attack submarines. But in the past 10 years, the number of attack subs has been cut from 92 in 1990 to 56 today. During the same period, intelligence-gathering and surveillance tasks for attack subs have doubled.

A recent study by Gen. Shelton's office indicated that the nation will require 68 attack subs by 2015 and 76 by 2025. With a current shipbuilding rate of about one sub a year, those numbers are virtually unattainable unless Congress takes action now.

PHILLIP THOMPSON

Senior fellow

Lexington Institute

Arlington

At what age does life become sacred?

I would like to respond to the Sept. 27 article "House OKs bill to protect infants in failed abortions." If the 15 dissenting votes against the bill give any indication of what is to come, all our lives are in grave danger. If the lives of our most innocent and defenseless can be destroyed heinously or those innocent persons can be left for dead, what life can we be assured will be protected? At what age does life become sacred?

What is more staggering than the fact that there are instances that would necessitate passage of such a law is that there are 15 elected U.S. government officials who oppose it.

Since 1973, we have seen the sanctity of life devalued rapidly as a baby moves through a mother's body and out into the world. Initially, the decision to have an abortion was to be based on extreme circumstances involving the mother's health, but as time has passed, the abortionists' instruments have not had to probe so far as the depths of the womb.

As was feared, abortion became accepted even when the child was partially outside the woman's body. Now infants are being killed even when they are completely outside the body of the mother after a failed abortion attempt, hence this unfortunate, yet apparently necessary, law requiring abortionists to protect the life of the child the exact opposite of what they had intended.

JEFFREY HICKS

Arlington

Voluntary ratings system doesn't have to involve censorship

In "How much sex and violence? The problem with a voluntary ratings system" (Op-Ed, Sept. 13), Daniel Troy and Elliot Mincberg argue that such a system may "become tools for censorship." The term "censorship" is used as a scare tactic to turn public opinion against common-sense measures that would help parents protect their children from violent or sexual content.

The government censors when, according to the Supreme Court, it issues an "administrative and judicial order forbidding certain communications … in advance of the time that such communications are to occur." Rating a movie as violent is not the same as prohibiting the production or release of such violent entertainment. A private actor who voluntarily limits his speech at the suggestion of the government is hardly analogous to governmental review and prohibition of a message before its publication.

The authors then speak of "efforts to transform these advisory labels into mandatory governmental restrictions," making them "a tool for government coercion."

The courts have upheld hundreds of federal and state laws that criminalize unprotected speech against First Amendment challenges. The Supreme Court has held that "the mere assertion of some possible self-censorship resulting from a statute is not enough to render an anti-obscenity law unconstitutional under our precedents." By encouraging the entertainment industry to describe accurately the content of its material, the government is trying to enable parents to make an educated decision as to whether their child is mature enough to view such material. That can hardly be called "government coercion."

The cases mentioned by the authors are not applicable to the conclusions in the Federal Trade Commission's report. The courts that decided those cases rejected the use of the ratings as the basis for criminal statutes because the ratings are vague and overbroad. And by using them, Congress had unconstitutionally delegated its authority to a private association. In 1996, the Court of Appeals for Washington upheld the use of the rating categories to define a "premium channel" in the 1992 Cable Act. The court held that the ratings were not a direct restriction on speech and, instead, served as a useful disclosure to parents.

A voluntary ratings system calls upon the producers of content to do a better job of labeling their material. Food manufacturers, for example, are required to divulge the ingredients of their products on their labels. The First Amendment provides no defense against such compulsory "speech."

The notion that the entertainment industry should be able to feed children a daily diet of violence while making a buck is about as logical as arguing that a company can put beer in soft drink cans and sell it in schools.

As the Supreme Court has said, "[T]he State has an interest 'to protect the welfare of children' and to see that they are 'safeguarded from abuses' which might prevent their 'growth into free and independent well-developed men and citizens.' "

CRYSTAL ROBERTS

Legal policy analyst

Family Research Council

Washington

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