They are the prototypical Reagan stories.
Everyone of any approved sensibility believes X. Ex-presidents. Cabinet members and ex-Cabinet members. The Staff. The Friends. The Media, Religiondom and all of Academia. All or most of The People Who Count.
Yet…yet.… Ronald Reagan believes something else. He believes, in fact, Not X. Why? He keeps looking at what he is seeing. He reads. He questions what he ses. He has also, not coincidentally, lived an experienced life at almost 70 years of age.
And so… he does precisely what all of the above advise him not to do. He cuts taxes. He pushes hard on missile defense. He refuses to negotiate with Soviet leaders when all of his predecessors have, and he walks out of a summit… something that none of his predecessors would ever think of doing. And he flatly refuses to take four simple words out of his speech in Berlin. The words are now etched in human history: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
For a superb recounting of this episode, here's a link to a great piece from my former down-the-hall colleague Tony Dolan over at the Wall Street Journal. Tony was President Reagan's chief speechwriter, and he tells the tale of the behind-the-scenes obstacles to Reagan in simply uttering what he believed heart and soul.
As the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is celebrated, the events surrounding the anniversary stand in the shadow of the terrible news out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Those events -- the mass murder committed by a U.S. Army soldier who was also a Muslim -- beg the question: Where are the independent thinkers in the Army, the Pentagon, the White House and elsewhere in government?
Where are the Reagans? By which is meant not those Reaganites of a conservative bent (although heaven knows we need more of those!). Rather to think like Reagan is also to have the power to understand the correct answer to the question: What am I really seeing here? Or, as George Orwell put it, the ability to understand that "to see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle" -- and then be willing to act. To do something.
And all the while, most importantly, not being afraid to speak the answer to what you are seeing. To speak that answer out loud. Even -- especially -- if you are alone in doing so.
There is a colloquialism for this. To wit: "If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck -- chances are it's a duck."
Ronald Reagan was very, very good at understanding this.
This, of course, is the moral in the behind the scenes tale of Reagan and his now famous speech at the Berlin Wall. Excepting speechwriters Dolan and Peter Robinson -- and most importantly Ronald Reagan himself -- there were others aplenty, all of significant stature, who counseled against putting the "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" line in the speech.
Reagan refused to remove the line. Why? Because he had spent a considerable portion of his career coming to entirely different assessments than others based on his ability to understand what in fact he was looking at. He saw the practical effects of a 90 percent tax rate when he was making movies. He saw what Communism was all about in part because his life was threatened by Communist thugs trying to take over Hollywood when he was the Screen Actors Guild president. He knew the effect of violence on college campuses was damaging the university system when he was governor of California, and determined to do something about it. So too did he understand the ultimate failure that was the Berlin Wall from the moment it was going up -- and the importance to human freedom everywhere in the world in getting it destroyed.
Which brings us to Ft. Hood.
The news accounts out there abound, and they should concern. The United States military, like any other organization, is only as good as the capability of those inside the organization to understand what they are seeing. And not be afraid to say what they think they are seeing. To be, like Reagan, the man or woman in the room who doesn't hesitate to say that the approaching creature that walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck -- is in fact a duck. Not something else.
The disturbing reports coming with increasing frequency in the media are that many inside the military looked straight into the literal face and record of a man devoted to Islamic fundamentalism -- the proverbial duck -- and chose to think him a Thanksgiving turkey with an exotic feather or two. Perhaps even something else entirely -- a vanilla ice cream soda. The reincarnation of Freud. An iPod. Anything.
Anything other than what in fact Major Nidal Malik Hasan actually seems to have been: a devoted Islamic fundamentalist who believed that the men and women with whom he served every single day were in fact The Infidels. And as Infidels, they needed to meet the end that Allah had long ago determined they must meet. Major Hasan, with a trail of statements and actions practically littering the life already behind him, inevitably saw to it that the job was done.
Nidal Malik Hasan was a duck. He looked like a duck. He walked like a duck. He talked like a duck.
This unwillingness to confront the reality of the duck that is Islamic fundamentalism is not just showing up in the military.
Just this weekend, the New York Times interviewed Hollywood director Roland Emmerich. Mr. Emmerich is the mind behind such cinematic blockbusters as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. Apparently your standard brand liberal, German-issue, Emmerich is in the news because his newest film, 2012, is about to explode in a theater near you.
Now picture this. Here you have a man, a very talented filmmaker, who has created these highly successful commercial blockbusters, all of which have some version of massive and spectacular destruction being visited on poor old Planet Earth. In Independence Day the danger was from aliens, and the destruction was spectacular. The White House was zapped, as the Times notes, with a "blue death ray." One earthly architectural icon after another meets with a larger than life and always explosive fate. In the Day After Tomorrow, a movie Al Gore surely loved, all sorts of natural disasters took place, with earth's physical geography getting hammered because of those stupid, greedy global warmers.
So in 2012 apparently even more of these luscious special-effects disasters ensue. Rio de Janeiro? Poof. California? Into the sea. Washington, D.C.? This time the White House gets smashed to smithereens by the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. (I know, I know, the JFK is now tightly mothballed, but hey -- this is Hollywood.) And so on and on, all across the globe.
Rome? Yes, yes. You don't think religion is safe in Mr. Emmerich's writing and directing extravaganzas, do you? The Vatican gets a death blow, with the dome of St. Peter's Basilica -- the legendary visual symbol of the seat of Catholicism and the founding of Christianity -- toppling over on people's heads like a dead whale dropped from the sky. Tibet? Home to the Dalai Lama? "Razed" as the Times puts it.
But wait. Every famous faith doesn't get whacked in 2012. What escapes -- by virtue not of a movie plot line but just simply not being in the movie, period?
You guessed it. Mecca. The Vatican of Islam. Safe. Not even in the film. Untouched, and unscathed, without so much as a computerized rain drop ruining its day. Why? Let's let the brave and bold artist Mr. Emmerich speak for himself, as quoted by the Times:
"My co-writer, Harald (Kloser) said, 'I'm not writing this to get a fatwa on my head. We have Jesus falling apart in all kinds of forms. The Vatican falls on people's heads, and we can do that because we're a free, Western society, but if there would be, like, Mecca destroyed, there would be an outrage. And so you don't do it. At the end of the thing it's entertainment."
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the New York Times, is a stout defense (shockingly enough) of the Times decision to reject an op-ed defending the faith from the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. The good Archbishop, it seems, was deeply offended by what he saw as Catholic-bashing in the Times, with several incidents mentioned including a column by Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
Refused space in the Times to answer Catholic critics, the infuriated Archbishop Dolan took to his blog, saying, in part, this:
It is not hyperbole to call prejudice against the Catholic Church a national pastime. Scholars such as Arthur Schlesinger Sr. referred to it as "the deepest bias in the history of the American people," while John Higham described it as "the most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history." "The anti-Semitism of the left," is how Paul Viereck reads it, and Professor Philip Jenkins sub-titles his book on the topic "the last acceptable prejudice."
He concludes by saying this of columnist Maureen Dowd:
Finally, the most combustible example of all came Sunday with an intemperate and scurrilous piece by Maureen Dowd on the opinion pages of the Times. In a diatribe that rightly never would have passed muster with the editors had it so criticized an Islamic, Jewish, or African-American religious issue, she digs deep into the nativist handbook to use every anti-Catholic caricature possible, from the Inquisition to the Holocaust, condoms, obsession with sex, pedophile priests, and oppression of women, all the while slashing Pope Benedict XVI for his shoes, his forced conscription -- along with every other German teenage boy -- into the German army, his outreach to former Catholics, and his recent welcome to Anglicans.
This in turn created a kerfuffle in the Times and the paper's "Public Editor" took his column to respond, letting Ms. Dowd defend herself. Her defense consisted of grousings about nuns and modernity, of what she, a Catholic herself, called "the moral crisis" in the Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, on the front page of the editorial section containing the Times Public Editor's column, is the lead story on the Fort Hood shooting, headlined "When Minds Snap." That's right. What happened with Major Hasan was not about being an Islamic fundamentalist. Nooooooo siree. His mind just snapped.
Surely, blaming what happened as a mind snapping rather than an act of Islamic terror is just a coincidence, right?
Well, no. Remember those Danish cartoons of Mohammed that launched riots in the Muslim world back there in 2006? News, right? Well, not in the New York Times, which refused to publish the cartoons to let its readers know what the fuss was about. Instead, the Times said that its decision not to publish the cartoons "seems a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols."
Catch that? The Times respectfully wanted to avoid "gratuitous assaults" on Islam. But the Catholics? What's the big deal??? You go, Mo! Mo, by the way, seems to have a Roland Emmerich-style courage when it comes to criticizing Islam. Like, the girl isn't going there. The last thing she needs is a Georgetown Jihad. Talk about ruining a good party! Severed heads, suicide bombers upsetting the martini tray. Oh man.
So what do we have here?
The American military is looking straight into the face and record of a man who, duck-like, appears to be a duck. An Islamic fundamentalist duck. But it appears the military, in a haze of political correctness, flinched. They did nothing. Why?
Because even the fearless American military appears to suffer from a fear of political correctness. And political correctness is a cousin to the reason Mecca will not be suffering the same cinematic fate as the Vatican in Roland Emmerich's 2012. Which in turn is a cousin to the same journalistic reason those Danish cartoons did not end up on the front page of the New York Times. Which in its turn is the same reason Mo Dowd and the Times will endlessly assault the Catholic Church in a "gratuitous" fashion -- but wouldn't dare breathe a Georgetown-cocktail party breath about the, ahhhhhhhh, interesting internals that seem to trouble Islam.
Again, go back to those words of Archbishop Dolan on columnist Dowd:
In a diatribe that rightly never would have passed muster with the editors had it so criticized an Islamic.....religious issue..
The Archbishop is right, perhaps more so than even he realizes.
Not only would there be an "outrage" towards the Times as Mr. Emmerich feared for his movie. It seems clear Ms. Dowd and the Times are, like Mr. Emmerich's co-writer, scared witless they will be at the mercy of something a bit more definitive than the outrage of an Archbishop's blog.
Which brings us back to Ronald Reagan and the Berlin Wall.
The reason Reagan is revered today as a great American president, is in fact a hero in places like Poland, is that he was totally unafraid to say exactly what he thought about exactly what he saw. Where others prattled on about containment and accepting the reality of Communism, Reagan saw victory -- as he once said: "we win, they lose."
This is called moral clarity. The policies that ended the Cold War in Reagan's case, and then brought down the Berlin Wall. But moral clarity is not exclusive to Ronald Reagan. It is not an artifact of the Cold War. It ended slavery in the United States. It defeated the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II. It is always available to be had -- if one has the moral courage that comes along with it, as Reagan most assuredly did.
It is an indispensable part of human knowledge. It is a necessity of life. When it's forgotten, when anyone -- the American military, a Hollywood director, the New York Times or Maureen Dowd -- believes they can run from it, ignore it or cater to its opposite -- trouble lies ahead. Big trouble.
The problem here is that the American military is infinitely more important to both America and the world than a Hollywood movie or the New York Times or a Dowd column.
Our physical safety depends on it.
There is no room for this kind of political correctness in the American military.
Too many brave men and women have their lives on the line for the rest of us every single hour of every single day, and their lives, as has just been terribly illustrated, depend on the clear-sighted judgment of their colleagues and superiors.
Is it hard to stand up for this kind of moral clarity, to be unpopular for saying the politically incorrect or what the so-called smart set believes is unfashionable?
It wasn't always easy for Reagan, who was continually mocked as a simpleton for saying such things. He was a sitting President of the United States and wanted to say four little words, as Tony Dolan recalls. And all hell broke loose in the American governmental bureaucracy to try and keep him from saying those words. But he persevered. He was determined to say those words -- and he did. (And, by the way, in the insider history of White House intramurals Peter Robinson and Tony Dolan get a special gold medal.)
The Reagan lesson for the rest of us is that we can't afford to let this kind of thing intimidate -- whether we're making movies or publishing papers or writing columns or anything else.
Particularly if we are running the United States military.
There are ducks out there. They look like ducks, walk like ducks, they quack like ducks. Nidal Malik Hasan -- whether he was alone or hanging out with a flock of other ducks -- was still a duck.
Ronald Reagan knew a duck when he saw one. The Berlin Wall was a duck.
And now it isn't.
The rest of us can learn from that.
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