- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Atheists in foxholes

I was truly disgusted with Wesley Pruden's July 30 column ("Old-time religion at bottom of the mine," Nation). A headline and introduction are supposed to captivate the reader's attention, but not with blatant lies. The lie I am referring to is that there are no atheists in foxholes.

What gives me the authority to call this a lie? How about being an infantry officer in the Army with more than seven years of service and also being a lifelong atheist.

If Mr. Pruden questions or denies my existence, I'd be more than happy to make a personal appearance and give him a quick demonstration of hand-to-hand combat. I'll be in the District on Nov. 2 for the Godless Americans March on Washington

I suggest that Mr. Pruden refrain from using fictitious propaganda and defaming thousands of soldier-atheists who safeguard Americans' freedom.


East Brunswick, N.J.

A 'sect' by any other name

;It is more accurate to use such terms as "meditation practice" or "spiritual group" to describe Falun Gong, rather than the shorthand "sect" ("Sect sees Hong Kong trials as test of 'two systems' rule," Nation, Monday). Falun Gong does not fit into the dictionary definitions of "sect," nor do the negative connotations of the word help the reader understand it.

The connotations of the word "sect" often serve to put psychological distance between the reader and a group so designated. The word marginalizes or trivializes a group. If a sect is not outright odd or weird, it's at least on the fringes of society, not quite respectable or to be taken seriously.

When asked to define Falun Gong, Ian Johnson of the Wall Street Journal, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Falun Gong in China, said, "I think a sect is usually considered a splinter group of an existing religion. But Falun Gong is not that."

Falun Gong is, indeed, not an offshoot or subdivision of any religion. It is a practice that was taught in private for thousands of years before being made public in 1992. It does spring from traditional Chinese culture, but it is distinct and separate from Chinese religions such as Buddhism and Taoism. Some terminology is shared with these religions, but Falun Gong developed independently of them.

Falun Gong is practiced by millions in more than 50 countries. A Chinese government survey estimated that more than 70 million people practiced Falun Gong in early 1999, a number larger than the Communist Party membership. Falun Gong was not a fringe movement in China then, nor is it a fringe movement i.e., sect now in the international arena.



Justify war against Iraq with reasoned arguments, not sloganeering

The only thing about Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of which the editorial "A Scoop Jackson Democrat" convinced me yesterday is that he echoes the administration's hawkish foreign policy.

The reasons Mr. Lieberman gives, and The Washington Times applauds, for blasting our way into Iraq that it has weapons of mass destruction and used them in the past; that Iraq hates us and once tried to kill a former U.S. president also could make the case for any number of countries to blast their way into the United States. From any objective standpoint, we could be deemed guilty of the same charges: We have a nuclear, biological and chemical weapons stockpile extraordinaire; we dropped the TNT equivalent of seven nuclear bombs in our war against Iraq; we're hated by a good deal of the world; and we have tried to assassinate foreign heads of state.

What we need is a reasoned debate that rejects sloganeering (avoiding such vague abstractions as "radical states," "rogue nations" and even "weapons of mass destruction") and offers intelligent arguments for why we should oust Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, both the editorial and Mr. Lieberman have failed to embrace this course.


New York, N.Y.

Beat the boob-tube habit

The American people hold the reins to the forced conversion to HDTV decried in Sunday's editorial "The inherent costs of HDTV." All you need to do is write a letter to the broadcasters, the satellite people and your local cable company saying that when the mandated conversion date arrives, you are switching off your set forever. If enough people do so, the mad scramble of these outfits to get the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to amend or rescind this mandate will be swift and sure.

Then again, this increased federal intrusion might remind us that we do not "need" television. My local cable company went digital a couple of years ago. My cable-ready set was no longer cable-ready; I was told I would have to rent a converter box for my set at an extra $6 a month. The price for basic services almost doubled. I grant that the cable company added channels, but so what? My set sits in storage, and I am giving serious consideration to selling it.

Actually, getting rid of your TV opens opportunities to make a richer life: rediscovering one's spouse and children, taking up a musical instrument, rediscovering your neighborhood. How about reading? You already pay for libraries with your tax dollars; get a library card. There are night classes, online courses, evening bike rides, volunteer work. As most of history has taught, you don't need television and probably are better off without it.


Concord, Calif.

Not so fast, Transportation Secretary Mineta

Writing for the Department of Transportation, Chet Lunner unleashed 500 outraged words ("Piano-playing columnist strikes a wrong chord," Letters, Sunday) about my column on airport "security" ("Airport security fiascoes," Commentary, Aug. 6). As letters to the editor go, that is quite a length. Yet in all that verbiage, Mr. Lunner did not find room to assure the American people that the real outrages reported by me and countless others are deplored and will be investigated speedily.

Thus, unwittingly, Mr. Lunner validates my brief explanation for not addressing the matter to Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta. Under his leadership, the Department of Transportation has rendered itself irrelevant to the discussion.

My personal view of Mr. Mineta is equally irrelevant. True, I am troubled by the trend of placing persons who have a score to settle with America in positions of authority. But in that scenario, Mr. Mineta is simply one of many. On the other hand, a six-month-old interview for CBS-TV's "60 Minutes," rebroadcast Sunday night, reveals his obtuseness as unique. The following one-liners ought to be reproduced in every American newspaper.

Steve Kroft: "Are you saying that a 70-year-old white woman from Vero Beach, Florida, would receive the same scrutiny as a Muslim young man from Jersey City?"

Norman Mineta: "Basically, I would hope so."

Kroft: "If you saw three young Arab men kneeling, praying before boarding a flight, talking in Arabic, no reason to stop and ask them questions?"

Mineta: "No reason."

Contrary to popular belief, people of all kinds suffer adversity during their lives. My generation growing up in Central Europe could write the book about it. Fortunately, many derive positive lessons from the experience; apparently, Mr. Mineta has been blinded for life.

The "security" assault on Americans every minute of every hour of every day is a matter between the American people and their president. It has nothing whatever to do with a "period of transition," as Mr. Lunner puts it, and requires expeditious reorientation through presidential action. Clearly incapable of a positive contribution, the Department of Transportation had better stay out of it.



Center for the American Founding


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