Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré “worries” 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, Honoré described a battle that Americans would fight over human capital on the homeland without weapons.
“I’m not worried about you,” he told the students.
“I’m worried about the 50 percent of people that didn’t graduate high school. They’re going to be takers, not givers. They’re going to be loaners, not donors,” Honoré said.
Honoré 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.
“We should be figuring out how many colleges we need instead.... And the politicians haven’t done it,” he said. “I didn’t spend 37 years, three months and three days in the Army to watch us go backwards.”
Honoré 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, Honoré ordered them to skip that step.
“These people are not terrorists,” he remembers telling the Transportation Security Administration. “They’re not refugees. They’re poor.”
The government’s response to BP’s 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.
“It wasn’t the right checklist,” Honoré said. “It did not meet the enormity of the situation.”
When Honoré isn’t responding to disasters such as Haiti’s recent earthquake, he is traveling across the U.S. preaching the importance of changing the public’s 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 country’s infrastructure, he said, needs a lot of improvement, and engineers should be the go-to-guys — not CFO’s.
The overnight hero portrayed in the news as a restorer of hope and order said that the country’s challenges — fighting terrorism, meeting the needs of a growing population, restoring the economy and closing the rich-poor gap — can be solved with the technology and innovation that come from perceiving challenges as opportunities — not problems, Honoré said.
“Our founding fathers left us a big check,” Honoré said. “And it’s up to each generation to cash it.”