Coffin Shipments Signal Need For Local Debate On War


January 13, 1991|By Mark Guidera

As you turn the pages of this section on Sundays, it's likely you've seen short notices about men and women serving in the Armed Forces.

The notices often list training the service members have completedor new bases or ships where they've been assigned. Many readers, I'msure, skip over these notices, which run under the heading "Service Notes."

But there is a large segment of readers who do watch them closely, for this county has a significant number of its men and women -- fathers, sons, daughters and, yes, mothers -- serving in the military.

If you've been reading these items, you've no doubt noticed latelymore and more of them are about county residents or relatives of county residents who have been assigned to duty in Operation Desert Shield.

The drums of war beat more loudly this Sunday morning than they have in a long, long time. And so, as I read over the notices we have been publishing about men and women stationed in the Mideast, I shudder to think that there is a very real possibility that in just a few weeks I could be sending my reporters out to cover the funerals and memorial services for the sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters, the fathers and the mothers of Harford residents who lose their lives in war.

Almost all military experts agree that should the confrontation come to military intervention, many Americans will die inthe hot sand of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq.

And if you think that some of our sons and daughters and our fathers and mothers assigned to Operation Desert Shield will not die or be tragically, horriblyinjured, you are wrong.

Stop in at any VFW or American Legion hall in the county and look for the plaques on their walls listing county residents who fell at the great and small battles of Vietnam, Korea, World War II and World War I.

There is a powerful message in those simple and sometimes forgotten plaques honoring the fallen.

This message hit me two weeks ago as I read over a story filed by a reporter we had sent up to Dover Air Force Base. The reporter had interviewed Harford residents in the Maryland Air National Guard loading military planes bound for the Persian Gulf.

It was not so much the words of commitment to duty and the words of anxiety that the soldiers expressed in last Sunday's story that hit me. It was this: Among the items they were hauling into the giant military cargo planes were coffins.

Should the bellicose words turn to war, this newspaper wouldbegin running next to the service notes, the names of Harford residents or relatives of county residents who were shipped home from the war in those coffins.

We'd do that not out of a maudlin or vulturine interest, but

out of respect and honor to the fallen, to let a widesegment of the public know the terrible price we were paying.

That is not to say we shouldn't have our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers poised once again on the brink of war.

But I do wish there were more of a national debate rising up fromthe community level about why exactly we have put ourselves on a warfooting in the Persian Gulf and how far should we as a country go torectify Saddam Hussein's bloody and rapacious campaign.

It seems to me the debate has been more or less sequestered to the highest levels of government and the military. And really, the decision to go towar, to me, should come from a consensus of the people after spirited debate by the people.

The Harford County community is well-suited for this debate. We have a large military base in Aberdeen Proving Ground where chemical weapons research, ordnance training and the testing of military materials from boots to tanks are what drives the day.

The many county residents who work or are stationed there know better than most what the legions of tanks and missiles and chemical weapons Hussein has arrayed could mean for our soldiers in the gulf and what our arsenal could mean for Iraq.

And then there are communities like Aberdeen and Havre de Grace where the thread of military servicein many families is long and proud.

It is these people who should stir the debate on whether a war is right. They know best the potential cost; not Congress, where it's been reported that only two representatives have family members stationed in Operation Desert Shield.

It's these Harford military families who this Sunday rise with worry and, yes, maybe dread for their loved ones just a tick away from war who know better than anyone that though the war drums beat thousands ofmiles away, its shattering consequences could very well come to reston their doorsteps.

I hope the nation hears their voices before thecoffins begin to return with friends and loved ones inside.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.