TCS Daily

Armor and the Man

By Russell Seitz - October 26, 2004 12:00 AM

The arsenals of democracy contain more than arms. Beneath the fortified peak of Graz, overlooking the Marches of Hungary, southeast of Vienna, you will see a vast hall filled with all that once stood between Europe and the mighty Ottoman Empire.

The castle vaults bristle with weapons, but more impressive as a visible deterrent to the onslaught of tyranny are the seeming endless rows of helmets and breastplates, byrnies and greaves, the hollow forms of men waiting to be filled. Whenever they were, the enemy was stopped, and Europe was saved, even at the very gates of Vienna.

Sometimes diplomacy must provide for those who extend it by other means, and on this occasion, some of the lives the State department can save may be its own

Sunday night, the State Department officer directing the Diplomatic Security Bureau in Iraq was killed by mortar fire striking an unarmored vehicle trailer at Fort Liberty outside of Baghdad. His untimely death reflects the armor shortage that places all too many American lives at risk in the war on terror.

It will be a year or more, before new plants producing Kevlar, Twaron, Spectra, Boron Carbide, Silicon Carbide and other body and vehicle armor materials can meet the vital need for protection under fire. Men are dying waiting for supply to catch up with demand.

Few of our erstwhile allies have sent troops to Iraq, but all of them have inventories of bulletproof vests, helmets, and armor panels. Some of it will be ugly, and some ill fitting, but it is not wanted for its looks. Turning tough raw materials into armor takes a long time. But if the armor that sits unused by their forces were sent to Iraq today, it could be protecting the lives of tens of thousands of Americans -- and Iraqi's serving in harm's way tomorrow.

Much of the production of these advanced materials by non-combatant nations is presently going into sporting goods-from biker's helmets to surfboards and skis. NATO and former SEATO nations represent most of this production, and offering to provide it on a priority basis to producers of military protective gear would be more than a welcome gesture, it would be a literal lifesaver. The abundance of less critical modern materials would assure that civilian goods manufacture would continue.

Whatever their political views, Europeans remain firmly committed to opposing tyranny, including the return of despotism to Iraq. If they won't stand up to the likes of Zarqawi themselves, they can, and should, at least reach into their armories and pass along what is need by those who will. They should not expect to get them back- they make a hell of a going away present when departing peacekeepers turn a nation's security over to its own government's forces.

If but one ten thousand of the men of Europe's armies who do not fight this day could send their armor to their brothers in arms, scores more will live to thank them than if they fail.


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