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Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 2001 / 22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Marc Berley

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Our courage is real -- TRUTH, one keeps reading, is the first casualty of war. That's a lie. It doesn't take war. Truth is the first casualty of the human condition. Even those who are always truthful don't always know what the whole truth is. After all, human knowledge is limited. We all have but two eyes, two ears, and only so much time to find out all the facts.

You don't need war to realize that truth is evasive. But the uncertainty of war should help us understand the nature of truth, and our limitations in apprehending it. Truth unfolds in time. It doesn't come to us all at once. That's why we cannot predict the future. It's also why President Bush has bluntly and repeatedly asked Americans to be patient.

President Bush has led with candor. He has told us that the U.S. government is doing all that it possibly can. And he has warned us that America is at risk for more terrorism. This war could take a long time, he said, a month, a year, ten years. What better way to convey the uncertainty with which we're all going to have to live? We will not see things unfold until they do, and we must, through patience, demonstrate the resolve to move ahead to meet what is to come.

Providing uncertainty of his own, Bush hasn't yet proven the truth of some of his own distinctions. He early declared, "either you're with us or you're with the terrorists." He said it was clear, simple. But he has been slow to exclude all terror-sponsoring countries from our "coalition" against terror.

But Bush could still prove that he meant what he said - in a month, a year, or five years. Once we've accomplished our goals in Afghanistan, he could turn, one by one, to the terror-sponsoring countries that are now, owing to military necessities, "with us." There are signs he will. "A coalition partner must do more than express sympathy. A coalition partner must perform," Bush said Tuesday. It's hard to be patient, but if things come to be, patience will turn out to be wisdom.

Bush likely has a prudent long-term plan. Hard as it is not to criticize every troop movement, or panic daily with each new fear, until this plan unfolds fully, we must live with uncertainty. The Secret Service could not have liked it, but the President's slow solitary walk to the pitching mound of Yankee Stadium showed us what leadership is. Like no president in recent memory, Bush braved what he asks us to brave.

President Bush has been exemplary in one aspect of his leadership: He has not sought to give us false hopes of instant safety. Rather, he has tried to instill courage. In an uncertain world, patience is a form of courage.

Are Americans capable of demonstrating the courage of patience? The latest New York Times / CBS News poll suggests we are. The 1,024 American polled gave President Bush an 87 percent approval rating. But whether the press will be patient, or accurately report the courage of the American people, remains a question.

The Times October 30th front-page article on the findings of its poll had the following lead: "Americans for the first time are raising doubts about whether the nation can accomplish its objectives in fighting terrorism at home and abroad." In suggesting that people have experienced doubts "for the first time," the Times shows itself to be out of touch, or to be stretching facts to create some news. Most people have had doubts since September 11th. How could they not? But they have mainly shown courage.

The Times article prefers to focus on "nagging concerns," with its headline drawing the following conclusion: "Survey Shows Doubts Stirring on Terror War." The Times' bases for such a conclusion are chiefly these: only 28 percent said they are "very confident that the United States will capture or kill Mr. Bin Laden," and only 29 percent said "they were very confident in the ability of the United States government to maintain the international alliance of countries that support the military campaign."

Unlike the American people, the Times misunderstands the nature of patience: sticking to one's course despite concerns that quick accomplishment of all objectives is not very likely. Indeed, neither quickly killing bin Laden nor maintaining our coalition is necessary to our long-term goal: eradicating the sources of terrorism.

Bush has told us much of this war would be covert. He has told us this war would be long. He told us, repeatedly, to be patient. The fact that 9 out of 10 Americans approve of Bush's leadership suggests that they are patient and courageous. The Time's analysis of its poll, however, demonstrates its willingness to portray the American people as cowards. The Times forced interpretation does a disservice to President Bush's prudent call for patience. It does an even greater disservice to the American people in refusing to reflect their courage.

Often in life we don't know the truth until it's too late. This is something we have to accept about the human condition even in times of peace - more so in times of war, and most off all in this war against terrorism. It doesn't mean our government isn't trying to find out everything immediately and protect us before anything happens. But our government is a government of the people by the people, not a government of Greek gods and oracles.

Tom Cale, a poll respondent, told the Times: "It's not that we don't have competent people in positions of authority. They just haven't written the book yet about the potential dangers that are out there." Mr. Cale should have been credited with an insightful observation: even the most competent leaders cannot predict the future, they can only do their human best to meet it. Instead, the Times described Cale as having, like so many other Americans, "nagging concerns."

War is a testing ground, not only for our troops, but also for our principles and our courage. As President Bush made clear, very clear, we remain at risk, but we are determined to be free. That is a basic truth the American people appear to have embraced with courage.

JWR contributor Marc Berley, president of the Foundation for Academic Standards & Tradition, is author of After the Heavenly Tune and co-editor of The Diversity Hoax. Comment by clicking here.


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09/25/01: Why Can't Israel Be "With Us"?
09/20/01: Because We're America

© 2001, Marc Berley