If terrorists die, others will follow
Sunday, September 23, 2001
After 27 years in the military, Capt. Lin Hutton is as
blunt and straightforward as a smack to the head.
"To kill the terrorists is to just continue the violence,"
Hutton is talking by phone from her rented duplex in
Sewanee, Tenn. She left her job at the Pentagon in
August to enter an Episcopal seminary at the
University of the South. Her retirement from the
Navy is official Oct. 1.
I called her because she offers an unusual
perspective: A military officer's analytical sensibility
infused with a theologian's spirituality.
"I will put my life between my country and the
enemy, but we need to know: Who is it we're
fighting? How do we define military objectives and
targets? What are the enemy's objectives? Why are
they fighting us?"
It is this last question that Hutton sees as central.
"We have to understand why there's so much hate. If
we never understand the reasons they hate us, the
terrorism will continue. That's why it's so important
we capture these people. Because we can go kill all
the terrorist cells we can find, but if one person gets
away, that's the seed for another cell."
Hutton is not exactly a touchy-feely liberal. Her
father was a captain in the Navy, and she grew up to
be one, too. She flew EP3s
(reconnaissance/electronic warfare aircraft) in the
Mediterranean. She commanded an aircraft-carrier
aviation squadron, then became commanding officer
of a Naval Air Station, the first woman to hold either
post. The past three years, she worked at the
Pentagon and, had she not retired, likely would have
been the first female warfare admiral.
So no one was more surprised than she at her
reaction to the terrorist attacks.
"I felt incredible horror and dismay and deep
sadness," Hutton said. "But I didn't feel anger. I
would have thought I'd want to do something back,
and I'm amazed I didn't."
What alarmed her was the anger she saw on the
floors of Congress. Without debate, Congress passed
a near-unanimous resolution waiving the presidential
constraints of the War Powers Act. The resolution
gives the president power to "use all necessary and
appropriate force against those nations, organizations
or persons" who were behind the attacks.
"I understand they're hurting and angry," she said of
members of Congress, "but they're our leaders. We
need more from them. They don't have the luxury of
being upset. They should not have had a vote right
away. They needed some time to think and have
"So I have great respect for that lone dissenting vote
(by Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland)."
Hutton fully supported the Gulf War because the
objectives were clear. But she worries, as many do,
that the U.S. now will launch itself into a retaliatory
attack without defined goals or sufficient regard for
How would we measure success in this kind of war?
How will we know when we are finished? She said
she believes Secretary of State Colin Powell, a
former general with experience in the Middle East,
will be the voice of calm and patience.
"Military people are very aware of the cost of war,"
Hutton said. "There's a certain pacifism among the
military. You want to capture them. Isolate them.
Use every method possible before turning to
warfare. War has to be the tool of last resort,
because once you go to war, and it fails, you have
nothing left in your toolbox."
She can't see at the moment how war will wipe out
terrorism. The terrorism is the behavior; the hate is
the cause of the behavior. Maybe the hate is an
outgrowth of evil. Most likely it's something more
complicated and human. We need to know. Only
then do we have a chance at stopping terrorism.
If the U.S. goes to war, Hutton, like most Americans,
will support the efforts of government leaders.
"All I ask of them is to think through this very
carefully," she said, "because they're not the ones
who are going to die."