Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias The messages are everywhere. They've sprung up on convenience store and gas station signs, on animated billboard messages, even on the flashing traffic warning lights near construction zones on Interstate 29 ?

"God Bless America"

"Pray for our Country"

"Bless the Home of the Free"

"Let Freedom Ring"

I lost count of these different written expressions as I drove through Sioux Falls last weekend after the USD football game at Howard Wood Field.

I'm sure the various business people were operating on an ideal, positive premise when, instead of advertising the specials in their stores, they decided last weekend to express a sincere message of patriotism.

It was touching, too, to realize that a majority of these messages had a religious tone. If ever there was a time for a nation to call on help from a greater power, this is it.

At the same time, however, I can't help but feel a bit uncomfortable. It's unsettling to pull up to your favorite gas station and see a portend of something that could actually be much worse than the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

No matter how you slice it, war, as the old saying goes, is hell. That became glaringly apparent to South Dakotans this weekend as they watched the televised dedication of the new World War II memorial in Pierre.

The coverage included several pre-recorded interviews with South Dakota veterans who experienced some of the worst carnage imaginable, but remarkably lived to tell of it.

The lines etched in their faces were not caused solely by age. Carrying around hideous memories for over five decades leaves an indelible impression.

Our nation apparently is preparing to wage a war on terrorism in response to the Sept. 11 attack on the East Coast.

It will be a war against an enemy with no front line, no large infantry or air power. � �

It will be a fight against a foe that is well entrenched in a land of which it is well familiar � a land so difficult for an enemy to encounter that the Soviet Union, after years of trying, decided to give up its somewhat recent attempt to conquer the country with military forces.

Ironically, when we are calling for our creator to bless our country and give us strength in these trying times, the Taliban, the ruling party of Afghanistan, announced this week that it said they would unleash a holy war against the United States if it attacks.

"If America attacks our homes, it is necessary for all Muslims, especially for Afghans, to wage a holy war," said Mullah Mohammed Hasan Akhund, the deputy Taliban leader.

The U.S. hasn't fired a single shot in retaliation to the Sept. 11 attack, but already, it appears, we're at war, a holy one at that.

A war that we've been told could take years. A war that could be very costly, both in terms of our nation's budget, and in terms of U.S. military casualties.

It's easy to believe our government can eradicate the terrorist threat.

It's easy to endorse the idea that our government should invade Afghanistan, or occupy the Middle East, or conduct "surgical strikes" against terrorist sanctuaries.

But all of that is easier said than done. History has taught us that lesson. The end of World War II was perhaps the last great victory of our nation's military.

Since then, we have gone to Korea, to Vietnam, to the Middle East and discovered that despite being a world power, we can't always defeat our foes.

In Desert Storm, we unleashed nearly our total arsenal of sophisticated weapons and defeated a mighty military in a very short time. But its leader, Saddam Hussein, is still in power.

Our upcoming fight against terrorism may not be frought with the failures our military has experienced in the past. But the battle we're proposing may not have the outcome we expect.

Let's pray that we somehow will not encounter the unexpected in the months and years ahead.

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