It was with mixed feelings that I learned about the Tomahawk missile attack the U.S. conducted on a Syrian airfield recently in response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians in that part of the world.
I have no firsthand knowledge of the events. I read and listen to the same stories in the press that you do.
However, most veterans do have an intimate understanding of chemical weapons, their effects and even how to survive such an attack. We were trained to live and fight another day.
If you can believe reports, which I do, then a Syrian unit delivered a weaponized mixture of chlorine gas and sarin in an area that included civilian men, women and children.
Chlorine gas is a choking agent — something that irritates the lining of the lungs and makes them fill up with fluid until the person drowns from the inside.
Sarin is a nerve agent — similar to a very strong pesticide — that makes the muscles in the body contract uncontrollably until the victim reaches exhaustion and dies.
Think of bugs on the ground after the exterminator sprays and then imagine humans twitching, jerking and puking uncontrollably like a dying cockroach in what I’ve been told is a very painful death.
Much of this hasn’t been used since World War I — with the exception of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the Syrian leaders.
Chlorine is heavier than air and will fill up the low-lying areas like military fighting holes or bomb shelters.
Mixing in a nerve agent that can be absorbed through the skin is particularly nasty because it causes the victim to breathe more rapidly and the heart to beat quicker so more of both toxins are ingested into the body even faster.
Sometimes mixing one type of chemical weapon with the other can mask the effects; such as when a blister agent like mustard gas covers the victim with sores and makes it difficult to see other effects.
I don’t relish the fact that other humans have been exposed to this and I’m not happy with the idea of sending in missiles to destroy a Syrian airfield where these chemical weapons were deployed.
Although we prepare for it, nobody hates combat more than warriors who have firsthand knowledge of the human tragedy involved.
But these are tough times and we really can’t afford to stick our heads in the sand. If left unchecked, the Syrian leaders are the types of people who also wouldn’t hesitate to do the same thing to us — or at least give these things to others who are actively seeking to do us harm.
How would you feel if your family and friends who are relying on you for protection were hit with these chemical weapons and you had to watch them die before your eyes?
This action was necessarily quick and it was decisive.
From detection to decision to military action — this was a very brief period of time for planning purposes and by any account a rapid response.
Some of the best military planners take 12 hours in their mission preparation and execution.
But why not include the rest of the world outraged at the use of chemical weapons?
The U.N. security council members like China and Russia would veto any attempt by the world body to intervene.
The U.S. response was action in the face of inaction.
Of course you hear the Syrians and Russians both complaining.
The Syrians say it was a terrible action on their sovereign land, not mentioning their use of chemical weapons, of course. They claim it must have come from a rebel stockpile that was released.
I remember when I was a child and told my parents that the slingshot they found in my room didn’t belong to me — it belonged to a “friend.”
The Russians paint a picture of the U.S. trespassing on Syrian territory like colonialists, not mentioning their own recent invasion and takeover of the Ukraine and Crimean Peninsula.
Sometimes you just want people to look into a mirror.
But the best part of the entire salvo is this:
The Syria leaders know they’re no longer safe and Bashar al-Assad thinks he might be next if he doesn’t mind his manners.
The Russian leaders and Vladimir Putin know we don’t care what they say, we’re going to do the right thing when they continue to expand their influence abroad.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani think they might be next if they continue to expand their attempts at developing nuclear weapons.
Leaders in China and Xi Jinping also know that we don’t care what they say and we’re going to do the right thing if they continue to expand their attempts to take over islands and other territory in the South China Sea.
Our allies — more of them today than yesterday — now believe that we will come to their assistance if and when it is needed, regardless of world opinion.
I don’t care about your politics. Where the rubber meets the road, I humbly believe that the world is a safer place today.
I’m sure retired Marine general and current Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis was intimately involved in the planning of this strategy.
As a former Marine myself, I can only repeat things generals such as he often said about us.
“No greater friend, no worse enemy.”
Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in our sister publication, The Altus Times (Oklahoma), where Steinkopff is the managing editor. Reach Eric Steinkopff at email@example.com or 580-482-1221, ext 2072.