THE ROBERT W. WHITAKER ARCHIVE

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MORAL COURAGE | 2004-05-22

The group that calls itself "The Greatest Generation" has completely screwed up what was once the American world view. If you weren't in the War, they said, you had no right to talk about anything. Only combat, real combat in the Real War, made a man's life worthwhile. Physical courage, the kind only the Greatest Generation had, is all that matters.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth and in real history, a hundred Medal Honor winners are small potatoes compared to the person who has the MORAL courage to say the right thing at the right time.

Any decent human being visiting Arlington National cemetery is supposed to feel sadness, inspiration, and above Gratitude, Gratitude, and more Gratitude. He is then supposed to ask himself, "How about some Gratitude for a change?"

So much for a decent human being. When I worked in Washington and visited the Arlington National Cemetery, my attitude was entirely different.

The veteran's lobby wants us all to feel Gratitude, Gratitude, Gratitude because their job is to get money out of us. "If you're Grateful, they say, show it by spending more money on veterans."

Meanwhile, the last thing those guys who died in combat need is my Gratitude.

My feeling is this: Most religious people feel that the dead are in Heaven or Hell or Nirvana or have been reborn into another life on this earth with no memory of the old one. Most non-religious people are convinced that the dead are just plain dead.

But one thing NOBODY believes is that the guys under those crosses at Arlington are worrying about how much Gratitude you are feeling. But . . . .

I thought, "Every combat veteran who is lying here is here because people who worked exactly where I work today screwed up. They had to face bullets and high explosive because somebody in my position didn't have the courage to face being embarrassed, to be all alone doing what needed to be done while everybody else squawked about the Great Issue of the Day."

I am right at home today, hitting on what counts while everybody else is frantically e-mailing each other about how Bush lies about Iraq. That's the story of my career.

The Iraq War is a policy that was determined while all the frantic e-mails were squawking about Clinton's sex scandals and a balanced budget. The job of a reasonably intelligent, decent person is to prevent the NEXT war.

They didn't prevent this one because they were too busy sending each other frantic e-mails about the Clinton scandals. They are doing the same thing now. Meanwhile, I have an real, serious obligation to those who died.

We've all heard the term "The Silent Majority." That term was coined by Mark Twain in 1868 when he was describing the giant cemeteries in, around, and under the City of Paris. At that time the living population of Paris was in the hundreds of thousands, but those cemeteries held at least a million. So in one line Twain referred to those million dead as "Paris's silent majority."

At the end of World War II, the veterans' lobbies represented twelve million people, at least a fifth of the entire voting population if you ignore their families. They were young and active, and all anybody talked about was the debt we owed them.

While everybody is showering gratitude on the veterans' who vote and their families, there should be one person who represents a silent population out there across the Potomac River. I do that by taking a cold, hard look at the real world and trying to prevent more heroes from lying under those crosses.