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Thursday, February 05, 2004

ADMIRAL MOORER'S LAST WARNING


Adm. Moorer's Last Warning

By Christopher Ruddy

It is a sad day for America when a national giant passes.

Adm. Thomas Moorer, of Eufaula, Ala., was such a giant.

His passing this week is especially sad for me. Adm. Moorer was a friend, adviser and member of the board of directors of NewsMax.com's parent company, NewsMax Media, Inc.

Adm. Moorer was a man "in the arena," as Theodore Roosevelt would have described him. Even at the age of 91, the admiral had kept quite active in public affairs.

This dynamo of a man made his first landing on an aircraft carrier in 1935. I don't think I need to detail the dangers of such landings without the instrumentation of today's planes.

It was one of his hallmarks that he did not know fear. Thankfully, America produces such people.

During his life, Moorer had numerous brushes with death. He was there on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

As a combat pilot during the war, his plane was shot down over the South Pacific. Fortunately, he was rescued by a cargo supply ship.

This episode would have been a great story in itself. But it gets more interesting. The supply ship that rescued him was carrying ordnance and explosives. When Japanese planes began bombing the supply ship, Moorer and a handful of others realized it would be better to abandon the ship early.

Most of the crew didn't see it the same way as Moorer and stayed. Moorer entered the lifeboat while most stayed aboard. The ship exploded and almost the entire crew was lost.

Once again, for the second time in a matter of days, Moorer was adrift in the great Pacific in a tiny lifeboat. Miraculously, he and the survivors made it to a deserted island where he was discovered by an Australian airplane. For his heroism, Moorer was awarded both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

I tell this story about Moorer in the South Pacific and his decision to evacuate the supply ship when most others would not because it illustrates a great deal about the man.

Moorer had a certain clarity of thinking, a thinking that saw things as they are and how they might be. He could see things over the horizon. He also had the courage to go against perceived wisdom, make decisions and act on them.

That was what struck me about Adm. Moorer: Even at the advanced age of 91, he still possessed this certain clarity of vision.

His Plan Ended Vietnam

I remember speaking to him in the hours after the events of Sept. 11. He told me that the American people would soon forget about the tragedy and would not learn from it. He said he had seen this time and again. We don't learn from these things, he told me. I was flabbergasted, but he was right: The complacency is here today.

Adm. Moorer was full of anecdotes about his years in military service, his dealings with presidents, and his service as the nation's highest-ranking military official, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Adm. Moorer was chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the divisive days of the Vietnam War. The war was vexing for him, as it was for many Americans. He was even more anxious because he believed the conflict could have been ended quickly, with fewer casualties and more favorably to U.S. interests.

But the politicians were not letting the military do their job. The days of FDR deferring to Gen. Marshall and the military were over.

Adm. Moorer's advice to President Richard Nixon was simple: Bomb North Vietnam's infrastructure in and around Hanoi and mine North Vietnam's key ports. This would effectively cut them off and force them to end the war.

Despite all of Lyndon Johnson's carpet-bombing, the Pentagon had always been limited to secondary targets that had little effect in undermining North Vietnam's war effort.

Nixon told Adm. Moorer that he would not agree. Nixon was worried that if the U.S. were too bold, the Chinese would join the war and perhaps ignite a global conflagration.

Also, Nixon was concerned about the American POWs held by the North. The State Department warned that if the U.S. stepped up the war, the POWs would suffer more.

Adm. Moorer told Nixon that China would not enter the war and that once the North Vietnamese understood our new resolve, the treatment of the POWs would actually improve.

By 1972, however, the war had been in progress for seven years and American policies had failed. Hanoi had agreed to peace talks in Paris, but the communists were intransigent.

As Adm. Moorer recounted to me, a frustrated Nixon suddenly summoned Moorer. At the time, the admiral was on a military jet heading to Europe for a NATO meeting. The plane made an immediate U-turn over the Atlantic and returned to Washington.

Moorer told me that Nixon was at Camp David, in one of the retreat's rooms, with a longtime friend. Nixon asked what Moorer thought they should do.

He told them bluntly: Bomb North Vietnam as they had never done before.

Nixon, nervously, gave Moorer the OK.

Beginning on Dec. 18, 1972, the U.S. unleashed the largest, most concentrated bombing campaign in its history -- the campaign was dubbed "the Christmas bombings." For nearly two weeks U.S. pilots flew almost 4,000 sorties. B-52s were brought in and flew more than 700 bombing runs over key North Vietnam targets.

Within days the Vietnamese were suing for peace. And as Moorer recalled, the POWs later reported that their Vietnam captors, frightened by American power, began treating them more benignly.

Adm. Moorer's plan, heeded belatedly, brought an end to the nightmare of Vietnam.

Last Warning: China

When I saw Adm. Moorer in Washington at a luncheon just a few months ago, I introduced him by saying, "Admiral Moorer may have retired from the military, but he never retired from America."

After leaving the Joint Chiefs, Moorer began an active business and political life.

During the late '70s, he was the one of President Carter's strongest critics for having forsaken the shah of Iran and allowing the Soviet Union to go unchallenged after invading Afghanistan.

Notably, Adm. Moorer was also a sharp critic of Carter's treaty to transfer the Panama Canal to the Panamanian government.

In recent years, the admiral recalled to me his testimony to the U.S. Senate opposing the Panama giveaway. He told the Senate that if the U.S. left Panama, the Soviet Union or another communist power would fill the vacuum created by America's departure.

As a military and navy man, Adm. Moorer understood the strategic importance of shipping. As one who understood the Pacific theater, he knew a war in Korea or elsewhere in Asia required the U.S. to have unimpeded access through the canal. In a serious conflict, days could be crucial. Only an American military presence near the canal could guarantee such access.

The U.S. Senate did not agree and gave President Carter the OK to sign the Panama Canal Treaty.

But the clear-thinking Moorer turned out to be right. A communist power filled the gap when the Panamanians gave Hutchison Whampoa, a Chinese company, operational control over the canal.

Adm. Moorer said that when he warned the Senate that some communist power would fill the vacuum in Panama he never, in his wildest dreams, thought that country would be China.

In his closing years, Moorer's singular worry was China. He believed that Red China was using front companies like Hutchison to set up strategic bases near key "choke points" for control over shipping lanes. He was also quite disturbed that China's Hutchison had taken control of the port in Freeport, the Bahamas – just 60 miles from Florida.

Moorer saw China's demand for Taiwan as just one reason the Chinese may go to war sometime in the future with the U.S. There was also a struggle for hegemony over Asia. And he never bought the notion that Beijing's ideological Maoists had any intention of remaking China into a democracy.

Inevitably, he argued, China would be in a conflict with the United States.

China's enormous population made this likely and worrisome. Adm. Moorer's concern was that Chinese leaders might some day believe they could absorb a nuclear attack, lose 200 million people and still have 800 million left. The U.S. could not withstand such a loss. China's population made naught the concept of mutually assured destruction – which had helped maintain lukewarm peace with Russia for decades.

So, when we honor and remember this great warrior, we should remember his last warning: Beware of China. To the very end, this heroic American was looking out for his country with his certain clarity of thinking.

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