Saturday, June 04, 2005

Be Mournful, America

The article below is by Gerald S. Rellick, Ph.D., who worked in the defense sector of the aerospace industry for 22 years, and now teaches in the California Community College system.

By Gerald S. Rellick

Be mournful, America. We have lost yet another courageous, noble countryman to a senseless, corrupt cause. John McCain eulogized Pat Tillman at his funeral, but now that the world knows the Army lied about the details of Tillman’s death, he remains silent. Where is our Vietnam War hero when we need a champion to challenge the venality and deceit of the Bush administration?

In the summer of 2002, I wrote a long letter to John McCain, a politician and leader that I admired and respected. I asked him to seriously consider opposing George Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. I felt that McCain was the best chance to put an end to what was clearly developing into the worst presidency in American history. I stressed to him that if Bush was allowed to continue for four more years, it would not only devastate the country, but also ravage the Republican Party for many years to come. Only John McCain had the stature to challenge an incumbent—either as a Republican, or as independent, like McCain’s hero, Teddy Roosevelt. I cited a passage to him from an essay by Alan Wolfe from the July 8, 2002, issue of The New Republic. Eight months before the invasion of Iraq and long before Bush’s lies had become common in the American media. Wolfe’s words were prescient:

“As Lord Bryce noted in 1888, the American way of choosing presidents rarely produces politicians of quality. Subsequent events vindicated his point: in the half-century since his book appeared, Americans elected…as mediocre a political leadership as we have had in our history…Will [the Bush] administration take its place among the worst presidencies of modern times? [I believe] George W. Bush will be lucky if his presidency ever rises to the level of Taft’s or Harding’s.

“During the 2000 election, Bush’s advisers discovered something that no one before had ever quite known: there are simply no limits to how much you can lie in American politics and get away with it. And it is the transposition of that approach to politics into policy that constitutes the disgrace of the Bush method.

“[This situation]…opens the political territory for a challenge from a Roosevelt-style Republican such as John McCain…There is every reason to believe that there exists a hunger for leadership in America.”

Hunger for real leadership, indeed! Then came the summer of 2004 and rumors of a possible Kerry-McCain ticket. Polls showed the public loved the idea—two real men versus two weenies: Batman and Robin against Barney Fife and the Penguin. It was a winner -- a movie ending with America saved from the brink of disaster.

But it was not to be. For reasons known only to McCain, he made the decision to support George Bush for reelection. Admittedly, he wasn’t the most enthusiastic campaigner, but he made enough appearances that it probably made a difference in what turned out to be an extremely close election. And now the country is stuck—stuck for four more years of what is now most certainly the worst presidency in American history.

So John McCain joins Colin Powell in the ranks of those Americans who served their country bravely and honorably, in Vietnam and elsewhere. Despite their valor on the battlefield, these Americans have failed the test of moral courage in the political arena. McCain is another fallen hero, having traded his integrity for political gain.

These festering sores were exacerbated for me recently when I read of the circumstances surrounding the tragic death a year ago of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. Tillman, as we all know, was the star NFL player who, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, turned down a $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals in order to be an Army Ranger. The Army initially reported that Tillman died in a heroic defense of his position. They awarded him the Silver Star for bravery posthumously. However, we have since learned that Tillman was accidentally killed by his own troops. Moreover, it is now evident that the Army hid the truth from the public, and even from Tillman’s family.

As the Washington Post reported, "A new Army report on the death shows that top Army officials, including the theater commander, Gen. John P. Abizaid, were told that Tillman's death was fratricide days before the [funeral] service." But it wasn’t until weeks later that Tillman’s family was informed. “And even then,” writes Robert Scheer in the Los Angeles Times, “They provided no details and answered no questions, saying only that friendly fire ‘probably’ killed Tillman.”

Continuing a consistent practice in the Bush administration, the Army lied about Tillman’s death to prevent the loss of their “patriotic poster boy”. How would potential recruits react if they discovered that a true American hero had died at the hands of his own men? The Neo-cons needed a steady supply of soldiers to carry out their imperialistic wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Tillman, they had a propagandist’s dream. They were not about to let a nagging detail like truth destroy their false image of Tillman dying a hero’s death.

Tillman’s father, Patrick, had this to say:

"After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this…They purposely interfered with the investigation …. I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a hand basket if the truth about his death got out."

Tillman's mother, Mary, told the Post, "The fact that he was the ultimate team player and he watched his own men kill him is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. The fact that they lied about it afterward is disgusting."

So where does John McCain fit into this? McCain was clearly moved by Pat Tillman’s patriotism, self-sacrifice and courage—as we all were. McCain delivered a eulogy at Tillman’s funeral and spoke publicly about his admiration for this fine young man. The newly revealed circumstances of Tillman’s death don’t change any of that. However as one who spoke so eloquently of Tillman and his sacrifice, as one of the most prominent members of the Senate, and as a man who was going to “talk tough” to Don Rumsfeld after the election, why is John McCain now silent? Why isn’t he asking for accountability in this matter? Patrick Tillman may have answered this question when he said, "Maybe lying's not a big deal anymore."

Make no mistake, John McCain wants to be president – and he wants it badly. But for those of us who would have supported him enthusiastically in 2004, it’s too late. Ironically, George Bush has paved the way for him by demonstrating that honor and integrity are worth nothing in the Republican Party of today.

I would suggest that there was a time not long ago that the Army would have lived up to a higher standard and told the truth about Pat Tillman. But as Norman Mailer remarked in a recent essay, “The motives that lead to a nation's major historical acts can probably rise no higher than the spiritual understanding of its leadership.”

Or put another way, sewage flows down hill.


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