John Schmidt: ‘New war is like a chronic disease’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Features Editor

America unleashed

air strikes against the Taliban government in Afghanistan and accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden Sunday and Monday, causing Americans to revisit the fear factor that has gripped the nation since Sept. 11.

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The attacks came at a time when Americans were just beginning to return to some measure of normalcy after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

News of the attacks was met with cheers of "USA, USA" at crowded venues such as

the NFL game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta while others quietly exhibited white-knuckle responses.

Col. John Schmidt (Ret. USMC) watched the unfolding of the "New War" on television, along with millions around the world. His military experience in two vastly different kinds of war, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, gives him insight into the vastly different foes in the fight – the cowardly legions of the terrorists and the technological warfare of the coalition.

"Operation Enduring Freedom" has been well planned and well executed, according to Schmidt.

"What we’ve done militarily is take advantage of our strengths, carrier-based air strikes and long-range bombing," he said. "That is what we needed to do with a shaky coalition. What we achieved in the Gulf War is comparable to what we are doing in Afghanistan – striking and destroying the control structure of the Taliban. By hitting the command and control sites, destroying their limited air force and

taking out the terrorist camps, we are crippling their capabilities to organize and to fight back.

"Defense Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld implied that we probably have special forces operations ready that will provide us with intelligence regarding the damage done by the strikes."

Schmidt said the New War will not be won next week, next month or even next year.

He compared the New War to the Cold War that lasted 50 years.

"What happened on Sept. 11 changed the world," he said. "It’s now a different world for all of us. Unfortunately, our children and grandchildren, will have to live with the threat of terrorism like we had to live with the Cold War. This war will be like a chronic disease. We can apply medication to arrest the growth and development, but we won’t be able to find a cure."

As Americans learn to live with the threat of terrorism, Schmidt said it is natural that fear is a factor in this country.

"We have seen what terrorists are able to do," he said. "The attacks on America showed us the range and depth of their capabilities worldwide and everyone is more apprehensive. It is going to take time for us to get all the necessary security in place. Once the confidence-building measures are in place, we will feel more secure."

Many Americans are expressing concern about flying during these troubled times, but security measures at airports are helping travelers to relieve some of those fears, Schmidt said.

However, the question everyone is asking is where will the terrorists attack next.

Schmidt said the high-value targets such as nuclear plants, military installations and major dams will have highly tightened security. However, it would be difficult to prepare for the use of

biological agents by terrorists.

"In Tokyo in 1995, a very small amount of Sarin nerve agent killed a dozen or more people," he said. "We just all have to be more aware of our surroundings and be alert to deviations in daily activities. And, we’ll probably all stay closer to home for a while.

"The key objective of the terrorist attacks was the ultimate shock value and they accomplished that. We must, now, try our best to overcome the fear the attacks brought."

Schmidt has traveled the world over and has been in countries where armed soldiers were at every turn.

"I never envisioned that here in America," he said. "It hurts me these strains of terrorism are here in our country. The picture of our world changed on Sept. 11, 2001."

However, some good has surfaced from the devastation of the attacks on America.

"We are paying a lot more attention to the things that are really important – our families and loved ones – and our faith is stronger. We have renewed faith in God and country, so something good has come out of tragedy."