Friday.. January 18, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 129

Deadly Force Authorized
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        FORT HARRISON, Montana--The sign at the entrance of Fort Harrison barked out the message of extreme vigilance--"Deadly Force Authorized!"
        As we entered the main gate I looked around for what might be worth killing visitors over.  Fort Harrison is a National Guard Reserve Center just outside Helena, the capital of Montana.  We were on our way to visit the innards of a new military museum being built, housing artifacts from America's different wars and honoring the veterans of the state of Montana.
        "Deadly Force Authorized!"
        I shuddered a little as we passed through the gate.  There were two guards--young sentinels appearing very boyish.  One checked our I.D. and the other stood with his M-15 at the ready.  I glanced at the magazine of the automatic rifle--it was empty.   "Deadly Force" without bullets, I thought--perhaps they were planning on using bayonets if we looked suspicious enough.   I also noticed they didn't check our shoes, or look in the trunk of the car.   If we were "bad guys," our "deadly force" had the advantage. 
        I don't want to make light of security on any military installation, but just a few days earlier we had driven to Great Falls to Maelstrom Air Force Base, a missile defense base.   There was no "Deadly Force Authorized" sign as you entered.  Instead, there was an a priori knowledge that if you tried anything you would be shot period.    Signs weren't needed.  You just knew it.   Guys and gals wearing guns always imply deadly force.

In a world full of political correctness, I thought about the idea of "Deadly Force Correctness."   To what lengths did we need to go to justify shooting or killing another in a combat or security situation?
        Vietnam taught me to "shoot first and ask questions later."  There were signs authorizing a "free fire zone."  Anything that appeared threatening was a target.  We gave no warnings.  The negotiating tongue of war was bullets from one side to the other, lashing out until the blood of one side ran deeper than another.
         I thought of the scene in Band Of Brothers where the commander of the troops, a soft personality but a firm leader, was running down an embankment and saw a young German soldier who was pleading with his eyes to not be shot.   The commander shot him reflexively--"shoot first, ask questions later."   It haunted him later, but it was a fact of war.   Just as "Deadly Force" is today--existing without necessity of signage unless the signs are to remind the sentinels to not hesitate to shoot.   But, without a magazine of bullets, one would have to think before slamming them into the rifle and chambering a round.   Thinking is always dangerous in war.
        As I followed my father-in-law and his close friend into the museum--both veterans of World War II--I was swept back to another time. 
        I held a German infantry helmet in my hands, the side shattered by a sharp chunk of shrapnel which had killed the wearer in a battle.  The souvenir found its way to the museum archives.
       An Army nurse who won the Bronze Star for her bravery, had her uniforms and history prominently on display.   There was a dogsled used by cold weather infantry troops, and rooms full of medals, uniforms, old weapons used when the enemy was a clear and visible face rather than a mysterious shadow.
       "Deadly Force!"
       It seemed absurd that in the 21st Century of combat, we had evolved to the point where we needed to put up a sign to signal our intent.   In the midst of military history from World War I through Korea, deadly force was the underscoring factor of all wars--it didn't need to be boosted on a sign.
      I knew our Terrorist enemies would never put up a sign before they bombed or murdered or attacked.   Their breath alone reeked of deadly force--their mere presence on earth hummed the mortality of some target.   

      Back in the days of World War II, there seemed to be a sense of glory, of pride, of unity that no other war since could rival.   Walking through the museum, I felt the glow from the Sentinels of Vigilance of those times.   Like the ones from September 11, these Sentinels of Vigilance had taken the shape of old uniforms, medals, pictures of long-since departed Medal Of Honor Winners, nurses, sailors, marines, airmen.
        My father-in-law was an Army engineer, helping plan the Normandy Invasion.  He had donated to the museum his maps of the Invasion.   His friend, Roy Wahl, had been a bombardier/navigator flying B-25's.  His job was to find the enemy target and drop 1,000-pound bombs on it.
        I envied the glory of those times--if nothing more than the power of the unity it brought to all Americans and allies who formed one force and fought the "evil ones."  Ever since the liberation of Europe, no war has broken out.    It was a salute to the Sentinels of Vigilance of those times.
        I hoped that one day a museum would be erected for the memories of our current war, and that the feeling of glory would reek from its archives.
        The one thing I hoped wouldn't be in it, was that sign out in front of Fort Harrison, the one that was redundant--"Deadly Force Authorized."

Go to January 17 "The Politics of a Urinal"

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