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As a Marine rifle-company commander during the Vietnam War,
AP Photo/Courtesy of Sen. Jim Webb
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WASHINGTON--War is hellish and hateful. But even more hateful is the "chicken-hawk" who cheerleads and champions war while ducking any personal risk of engagement for himself, his blood relatives, or his social peers.
These are the tough-talking think-tank commandos in and out of Washington, including the press corps, who love to expropriate the language of the combat they have done everything to personally escape.
Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf silenced the flatterers who tried to lionize him after his successful leadership in the Persian Gulf War: "It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle."
Nobody understands that hard truth better than Sen. Jim Webb, who has chosen to leave the U.S. Senate after serving a single six-year term from Virginia. Long before he would become the first graduate of the Naval Academy to serve as Secretary of the Navy, under President Ronald Reagan, the 23-year-old Webb was a Marine company commander in Vietnam combat who received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts.
Proud of his service in that war, Webb has never hesitated to challenge directly those who, so often as a first resort, urge sending American Marines and soldiers once more into harm's way. Rebuking those national-security types who are able to reduce flesh and bone to policy abstractions, Webb has been emphatic: "You don't use 'force.' You send young people who have dreams, who want a future."
By 32, Webb had written "Fields of Fire," which Tom Wolfe called "the finest of the Vietnam novels." In the book, a Marine sergeant returns to Vietnam for a second tour after visiting his hometown in the States and says: "Lieutenant, you'd hardly know there was a war going on. It's in the papers but that's it. Airplane drivers still drive their airplanes. Businessmen still run their businesses. College kids go to college. It's like nothing really happened except to other people. It isn't touching anybody except us."