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Jewish World Review July 10, 2002 / 1 Menachem-Av, 5762

Seth Gitell

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Warrior spirit | The newsworthy thing about Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman hanging up his cleats to join the US Army Rangers in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks is that it is so rare. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, American men enlisted in huge numbers. (Interestingly, Red Sox slugger Ted Williams was not among them. He engaged in a legal quest to finish the 1942 season before becoming a pilot in World War II.)

Some of this, of course, is due to the tremendous social change that has taken place since World War II. Back then it was expected that draftable men would enlist voluntarily. It was partly a matter of patriotism, but it was also a matter of pragmatism: because young men knew they would be drafted anyway, there was little to lose in signing up a few weeks in advance. The difference can also be laid at the feet of President George Bush, who, despite his "Axis of Evil" rhetoric, has been reluctant to place the country on a war footing. After September 11, Bush made no effort to channel the wave of patriotism sweeping the country. He made no call for volunteers. He offered no appeals to purchase war bonds --- both staples of wartime America.

The same thing that gave Bush cold feet then accounts for the hot water he's in now over his stock profits: his corporate ties. Bush's corporate-airlines pals, for example, wanted no major upheaval in the national airport-security system. (Before the July 4 shooting spree at El Al ticket counter in Los Angeles, airline heads had been whining that there was too much security. Note that the shooter, Hesham Hadayet, was stopped by El Al's private security - not by agents of any of the law-enforcement authorities that tried to reassure the public that day.)

As for Tillman, news reports paint him as a brave, somewhat quirky person who routinely competes in marathons and triathlons just for the fun of it. Tillman's act is rightfully drawing praise nationally. A Journal News story headlined "ATHLETES, FANS SHOULD SALUTE CARDS' TILLMAN" was typical. All that seems right. Tillman sounds like a bit of a throwback, the kind of guy already looking for outlets for his warrior spirit --- a difficult task in this world of laptops and litigation.

But what happens when our national defense requires more than a few thousand old-school oddballs? Will the rest of modern America truly be prepared to wage war? When that day comes, Bush's rhetoric will face a harsh reality test.

JWR contributor Seth Gitell is the political writer of the Boston Phoenix Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Seth Gitell