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'Crusader' - New US Weapon - 2002-02-28

Muslims cringed when President Bush used the word 'crusade' to describe the U.S.-led anti-terrorist campaign. So how will the Islamic world react to a piece of U.S. military equipment called the 'Crusader'?

Last September, just after the suicide terrorist attacks on the United States, President Bush vowed to strike back against those responsible. In making the pledge, he used the word 'crusade.'

"This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while and the American people must be patien," Bush said.

His reference to a crusade stirred an almost immediate controversy because it suggested to some critics a Christian-versus-Muslim struggle like that waged in the Middle Ages.

One Islamic leader has been quoted as calling Mr. Bush's use of the word "unfortunate." An analyst said the term might unite Americans but could also split an international coalition. An editorial in France warned any war on terror dubbed a 'crusade' could affront moderate Arabs.

Top Bush administration officials have largely avoided the word 'crusade' since then in an attempt to avoid deepening public mistrust and resentment towards the United States in Islamic countries.

But critics in the Middle East and elsewhere may soon have a fresh target of cultural concern.

It is a new multi-million dollar field artillery piece under development for the U.S. Army. Its name: 'Crusader.'

Army Colonel Russell Hrdy is the project manager for 'Crusader', which has been under development since 1994, well before the events of last September 11.

Colonel Hrdy acknowledges the name for the new self-propelled 155-millimeter cannon originates with the Crusades of the Middle Ages.

But he says what is most important for the Army is its motivational value. "The name 'Crusader' harks back to the knights of the Middle Ages. It points to honor, to duty, to commitment, to dependability. These are all attributes that we want of our field artillerymen," Mr. Hrdy said.

Colonel Hrdy says the Army is very sensitive to the religious and ethnic views of people around the world. But he says the naming of the new artillery piece has nothing to do with anyone's beliefs. "We have soldiers that are throughout the world defending the freedoms of all people and I think the Army has a demonstrated history of showing tolerance towards a variety of different beliefs," he said.

Pentagon officials can only recall one case in which public protests led to the re-naming of a piece of military equipment. In that case, the submarine set to be called Corpus Christi, after a city in Texas, was renamed because it also means body of Christ in Latin. Critics called it an inappropriate name for a weapon of war. In the case of 'Crusader,' the Army makes clear no one has approached it so far to complain or to offer alternatives.