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Lt. Gen. Russel L. HonorĂ© âworriesâ about what he calls the next Vietnam, he said Wednesday after being welcomed to the Mississippi State University campus.
Speaking to a crowd of future workers enrolled at the university, HonorĂ© described a battle that Americans would fight over human capital on the homeland without weapons.
âIâm not worried about you,â he told the students.
âIâm worried about the 50 percent of people that didnât graduate high school. Theyâre going to be takers, not givers. Theyâre going to be loaners, not donors,â HonorĂ© said.
HonorĂ© bemoaned the disproportionate spending of public dollars toward prisons over that of schools and the fact that elementary school reading levels determine estimations of prisons needed.
âWe should be figuring out how many colleges we need instead.... And the politicians havenât done it,â he said. âI didnât spend 37 years, three months and three days in the Army to watch us go backwards.â
HonorĂ© received widespread recognition in 2005 when he provided military aid for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was there, he said, he had to put his rule of breaking rules during an emergency into practice.
When security forces hesitated, for instance, to board hurricane victims onto planes because they had not been screened, HonorĂ© ordered them to skip that step.
âThese people are not terrorists,â he remembers telling the Transportation Security Administration. âTheyâre not refugees. Theyâre poor.â
The governmentâs response to BPâs oil spill off the Gulf Coast, however, showed not enough rules were broken, he said, explaining that federal officials used a checklist based on the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
âIt wasnât the right checklist,â HonorĂ© said. âIt did not meet the enormity of the situation.â
When HonorĂ© isnât responding to disasters such as Haitiâs recent earthquake, he is traveling across the U.S. preaching the importance of changing the publicâs culture of preparedness that he says diminished after the Cold War.
The general brought with him data from the 2003 census showing that 42 percent of the U.S. population lives within 20 miles of ocean coastline, the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, making them vulnerable to floods.
The countryâs infrastructure, he said, needs a lot of improvement, and engineers should be the go-to-guys â not CFOâs.
The overnight hero portrayed in the news as a restorer of hope and order said that the countryâs challenges â fighting terrorism, meeting the needs of a growing population, restoring the economy and closing the rich-poor gap â can be solved with the technology and innovation that come from perceiving challenges as opportunities â not problems, HonorĂ© said.
âOur founding fathers left us a big check,â HonorĂ© said. âAnd itâs up to each generation to cash it.â