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Saturday, 22 September, 2001, 01:37 GMT 02:37 UK
Will American resolve last a war?
US victims of Nairobi bombing return
US resolve may fade if troops start getting killed
By the BBC's William Horsley in Washington

From America's soldiers and political leaders and the widows of 11 September, and from housewives and office workers, the message is much the same: "We are ready for war."

The Stars and Stripes flies at half-mast on public buildings across the nation.

Our men are ready for whatever lies ahead. Their training will take over

Commander of USS Theodore Roosevelt
And it flutters on the television screens watched by millions of viewers who are desperate for reassurance or revenge.

One American woman who lost her husband in the hijacking disasters last week appeared on television to declare her approval of President Bush's call to arms.

"Now we know what the war will look like. It will be long with many battles," she said.

Public support

The US admiral commanding the aircraft-carrier Theodore Roosevelt heading out from its home port in Virginia towards the likely "war zone" told American TV viewers: "Our men are ready for whatever lies ahead. Their training will take over."

President Bush has assured the nation "our military is the finest in the world."

And opinion polls suggest up to around 90% of Americans now approve of the US embarking on a real military conflict.

Most say they would still approve even if it involved the loss of a large number of American lives.

Past failures

But would that resolve last if young American soldiers or sailors were seen coming home in coffins?

Some hard-headed experts have spelled out the risks that the expected war might not go entirely America's way.

US troops in Kosovo
In the Balkans US troops were restricted

They recall the fiasco of the abortive 1980 rescue mission in the desert of Iran.

That was intended to free the American hostages from captivity in the US Embassy in Teheran, but ended with a helicopter crash and the humiliating retreat of the US special forces.

In Somalia in 1993 the US suffered another humiliation, when 18 American peace-keepers died, caught up in an inter-tribal conflict that was badly understood at home.

Anger and resolve

The perception took root abroad that the US was not ready to risk the lives of its young men in minor conflicts where American interests were not directly at stake.

It was confirmed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, as America stood on the sidelines, or contributed peacekeeping troops on strict conditions to minimise the risks.

Yet the much greater trauma of the Vietnam war, in which over 50,000 Americans died, has lost much of its power to worry Americans, with the passage of years.

The outrage and shock of the attacks on New York and Washington have roused the Americans' anger and their resolve to strike back at a new, dangerous enemy.

Mood change

The key to the mood change seems to be that Americans are being killed - in the first World Trade Centre bombing in 1993, in the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and in other attacks on US military bases in the Middle East.

And the death toll in the World Trade Centre disaster has risen to well over 6000.

A New York woman looks at pictures of the missing
The mood has changed now Americans are being killed

The kamikaze hijackings have provoked comparisons with the Japanese "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbour in 1941.

Then, the response was similar.

The approval rate for the then US President, Franklin D Roosevelt, shot up to 84%, and America at once discarded its former reluctance to enter the Second World War.

New mission

And like the Pearl Harbour attack, the outrages in New York and Washington appear to have snapped the United States out of a period of self-centredness, or even some say of isolationism.

Two weeks ago, many people abroad were accusing the US of abdicating its responsibilities for world leadership, by ducking out of international agreements on global trade, global warming and global arms control.

Now, in the words of President George W Bush, "we have found our mission and our moment."

America is again determined to lead the world - even if the destination, in pursuit of the "war against global terrorism" is not yet clear, and the risks may be very great.

See also:

21 Sep 01 | Americas
Text: Bush address to Congress
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
21 Sep 01 | Americas
Q&A: Military options
16 Sep 01 | Americas
US prepares for war
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