Opposition to leaders less dangerous than blind faith

April 07, 2003|By TIM ROWLAND

Maybe it's because she is a fellow West Virginian, or perhaps it is because her photo is mindful of Goldie Hawn's lovable Private Benjamin, but the rescue of PFC Jessica Lynch for me has provided the war's most poignant moment to date.

I'd personally written her off for good, tried not to care too much for fear of the hurt it would cause when her demise was finally confirmed. But it was a losing battle, and thankfully so, for it made the joy I felt at the report that her probable death had been greatly exaggerated all the sweeter.

Compelling to me, is the contrast in what this petite blonde was able to endure when held up against our own leaders whose feelings are so badly hurt when someone dares criticize their plans for war.

Americans' physical softness has been well-documented, but it is the mental softness - the flabby egos and spongy thinking - that may eventually cause us more harm.


Thank heavens our soldiers in the field can take a punch, because, to name one, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sure can't. He simpers, whines and shifts blame every time someone dares second-guess one of his decisions.

You wonder how long members of this administration would have lasted in the Civil War, where War Secretary Edwin Stanton's Navy was called "as useless as the paps of man to a suckling child." And the person who criticized the Navy was Stanton's own president, Abraham Lincoln.

And of course Lincoln was murdered in the press well before he was murdered in the theater. A reviewer called his Gettysburg Address "silly, flat, dishwatery utterances."

Chicago Tribune editor Joseph Medill wrote, "(Secretary of State William) Seward is Lincoln's evil genius. He has been president de facto and has kept a sponge saturated with chloroform to Uncle Abe's nose all the while." Lincoln's own Republican Party so criticized him that he said, "They wish to get rid of me and I am sometimes half disposed to gratify them."

Yet he remained so much more stoic than our leaders of today: "I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice; and have received a great deal of kindness, not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it."

By comparison, the protests and criticism today are of such a mild variety, they would barely have been noticed by Lincoln's cabinet. The New York draft riots of 1863 were something worthy of concern, but such can hardly be said about nationwide anti-war protests.

And from whence does the notion arise that criticising the nation's leaders is tantamount to opposing the nation? It isn't. For a clear view of this, look no further than Iraq, where the American military's greatest initial mistake was to ignore Iraqi nationalism. Few Iraqis are willing to fight for Saddam, but many Iraqis are willing to fight for Iraq.

Think for a moment. Would the most vicious Bill Clinton hater not have picked up arms had our nation been invaded under the guise of freeing us from our tyrant?

I don't know anything first-hand about Saddam's regime and I don't know anything first-hand about war plans. But we elected President Bush to make these incredibly difficult decisions, and as my president I believe he and his administration have waged the war as well as they possibly could. And I have faith and trust that he has chosen the correct path.

But it is not a blind faith. And I do not forfeit my right to say so if I happen to change my mind.

It is not un-American to protest the war. What's un-American is not to think for yourself, to fail to challenge everything you see and hear through a perspective of rationality and decency.

The actions of the Bush administration have worried me somewhat less than its reactions. For when leaders cannot shrug off a few picket signs and an occasional unkind critique from a retired colonel, it sends the message that deep down they lack the confidence that comes with being right.

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