- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

Ah, we've lost dear Mister Rogers just when we need him most.Fred McFeely Rogers was a cheerful puppeteer, Presbyterian minister and public television superstar who captivated the toddler set for 30 years on his PBS show, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." He died Thursday at age 74 in his Pittsburgh home.

With his departure, I fear, so goes the last sigh of quiet and calming television.

With the nation perched on the verge of war, our children could use Mr. Rogers. He never shied away from tragedies like wars, assassinations or September 11 terrorism. He talked to us parents about how to talk to our children and his puppets talked directly to them. There's a lot of evil in the world, they would say, but that only makes the good that much more precious.

He is gone, but we Americans should not forget him, especially now, when we are most likely to be tempted to slip from our status as a great nation and behave like a baby nation.

Could Mr. Rogers bring peace to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's neighborhood?

Sure, French President Jacques Chirac's recent criticisms of our Eastern European allies were childish and self-defeating. But so was Mr. Rumsfeld's dismissal of France and Germany as "Old Europe," as if they were a couple of old used cars ready for the junk heap.

Then there was the weird anti-French backlash here at home, like the Las Vegas radio DJs who drove an armored vehicle over the French flag and some other French imports. Or the restaurant owner in Beaufort, N.C., who replaced french fries on his menu with "freedom fries." Or the 18 members of the House of Representatives who called for a boycott of this year's Paris Air Show.

Other boycotters want us to avoid Grey Poupon mustard, Michelin tires and anything else made in France.

What's next? French kissing? Mais, non.

But, that's how silly some people can get while they give patriotism a bad name.

We Americans have a great nation, and when we're great, we're really great. But when we don't get our way, oh, some of us can whine and moan and kick a chair and threaten to pick up our ball and bat and go home, even some of us who happen to live in the White House.

Actually, the French have just been doing what the Democrats who are running for president these days are only beginning to do, which is to stand up to the Bush administration when they think they're getting rolled.

Sometimes France's leaders behave like they're unsure of their country's place in the world. But, as mother used to say when breaking up childhood quarrels in our neighborhood, that does not mean that U.S. leaders should stoop to their level.

Instead, we Americans need to look in the international mirror and see how others see us. Then we might see why Europeans who otherwise love America and admire what we stand for gaze warily, disdainfully or fearfully at some of the words that have been roaring out of our White House.

Polls show most Europeans, even in our "coalition of the willing," are questioning the link between Iraq's Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda that the Bush administration has tried without much success to establish. So do a lot of Americans like me.

But, whether you believe in the link or not, the complicated task of rolling back Islamic terrorism cannot be accomplished with an oversimplified us-vs.-them view of the world that equates any criticism of White House policy with aid and comfort to the terrorists.

Lately, I've heard people of otherwise sound intelligence (in other words, not wackos) beginning to ask why we need the United Nations if it does not do what we Americans want it to do? Good question. Perhaps we, the mighty United States, do not need the United Nations. But allies like Tony Blair need the United Nations, if only to help him justify his support for President Bush's war against Saddam to a British populace that is strongly opposed to it without U.N. support.

No, we the mighty United States only need what the United Nations can help bring us, which is peace and a sense of long-term political, economic and social stability in this world.

Before we make war with our enemies, we need to figure out how to make peace with our friends.

I'm not sure if Mr. Rogers said that, but it makes sense in my neighborhood.

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