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Teenage war burden

09/25/02 12:00AM By Bill Seamans
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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans has been thinking about today's teenagers and what a war with Iraq might mean for them.

(Seamans) From every perspective, pro or con, liberal or conservative, the consensus indicates that President Bush's preemptive war will not be a quick rollup of Iraqi forces like the Gulf War. This one threatens to be more of a ground battle than an air operation because Saddam Hussein's stronghold is in Baghdad, surrounded by millions of civilians. It would be impossible to bomb Saddam's urban control centers without killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Iraqi citizens.

Therefore, to minimize civilian casualties the burden of the battle is expected to fall on our ground troops fighting in the ancient warrens of Baghdad where enemy snipers can easily cover every twisting alleyway. Any combat veteran will tell you that this kind of city fighting is the deadliest infantry combat - especially if Saddam tries to turn Baghdad into a Middle East Stalingrad.

General Tommy Franks recently said our troops will be needed in Afghanistan for many years to prevent terrorists from returning. And Chief of Staff General Richard Meyers said our global war on terrorism also could go on for years. No one dares estimate how long a war against Iraq will last.

Therefore, it doesn't take the proverbial rocket scientist to figure that warfare expected to last years will extend our armed forces beyond their present limits. More personnel will be needed for replacement and rotation. The big question is, will voluntary enlistment continue to fill the need? And another question the politicians are avoiding like the West Nile mosquito, will it be necessary to resume the draft?

Either way, volunteer or draftee, the burden of the ground war is going to fall on our eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds because, as in the past, they are the most physically fit for grueling ground combat. This is a real situation about which President Bush is not talking and one about which there is a national sense of denial. Nobody wants to talk about the possibility of resuming the draft.

With an election coming up, our draft-age teenagers possess the privilege of the secret ballot made sacred by the sacrifices of thousands of other teenagers who lie in the World War II cemetery above Omaha Beach in Normandy and elsewhere. They fell before they were eligible to vote at the age of 21. Regretfully, the turnout of our young people has dropped steadily since 18-year-olds were given the right to vote in 1971.

So now our teenagers can cast a vote and express their opinion on a great national issue that will affect their immediate future. Young people should go to political rallies and ask the politicians where they stand on resuming the draft and don t let them waffle the answer. And above all, vote!

Also, I would like our youth to tell the politicians to stop calling them "kids". Call them what they really are - terrific young men and women. Our future "Greatest Generation."

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.



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