During the Cold War, American Navy ships were forced into humiliating positions. When Soviet ships would come up and push them out of the way, the American ships just ran away. We would all like to forget the incident when a Romanian jumped off his ship to an American vessel, asked for asylum, and was sent back to Romania to go to prison.

We found out after the incident of the USS Cole that wimpishness is still the policy of the Navy brass.

As one of the USS Cole crewmen told the New York Times, "If we had shot those people we'd have gotten into trouble for it. That's what's frustrating about it. We would have gotten into more trouble for shooting two foreigners than losing 17 American sailors."

All the guns on the USS Cole were unloaded. Two sailors patrolled the deck with 9mm pistols, but they too were unloaded. Like Barney Fife, those two were allowed to have two bullets each, but they couldn't load their guns with them.

Said another crew member, "In the military, it's like we're trained to hesitate now." When someone is attacking you, hesitation is routinely fatal.

The report on the terrorist attack on the USS Cole had Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen upset, because he wanted to fix blame on the captain of the ship.

The man who informed me of all this is an old navy man, and he points out what all of us who have been in the government know: this sort of general policy is not invented by a ship's captain.

But Cohen is a moderate Republican, and he follows the rules.

The rule is that you never blame the brass. You sacrifice somebody outside the Pentagon each time something like this happens. Back when the Romanian jumped on an American ship and was sent back, they blamed the captain. This was absurd. During the hours that man was on the ship, you may be assured that the captain asked the Pentagon for orders and was told what to do.

But nobody in the brass is going to stand up for the captain.

Today, you do not get a star on your collar unless you are a bureaucrat first and a soldier way down the list. Do you remember during the campaign, when Pentagon generals lined up to say the Clinton military policies were fine and Bush was wrong? Those same generals are now shouting that they need emergency appropriations to keep the military from collapse. They now say that there's a crisis in the military. We all expected that.

This will all be Evil Heresy to regular conservatives, who worship anything in a uniform. They worship Colin Powell because he had on a uniform.

The simple fact is that wearing a star may have meant something honorable in the days of Douglas MacArthur, but those days are long, long gone.