- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, faults his party’s leadership in time of war in the last of three exclusive excerpts from his new book, “A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat” (Stroud & Hall, Atlanta).

British statesman Winston Churchill warned against the dangers of appeasement as German dictator Adolf Hitler’s clouds of war threatened to rain down on England. He pleaded that this evildoer must be stopped and destroyed.

Finally, in desperation, Great Britain turned to Churchill as prime minister. With stirring oratory and unflinching courage, he led his nation out from under the heel of Hitler.

I came to believe that unless America found its own version of Churchill, the same spirit of appeasement, the same kind of softness and self-indulgence, would turn my country into a land cowering before the world’s mad bullies.

I thought the signs evident in the American people and our leaders. I thought our will as a country was vanishing.

I was disgusted when we did nothing in 1993 after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, killing six and injuring more than 1,000. I was amazed in 1996 when 16 U.S. servicemen were killed in the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and we still did nothing.

When our embassies in Tanzania and Nairobi were bombed in 1998, killing 263, our only response was to fire a few missiles on an empty terrorist camp. It was a wimpy response so totally inadequate that, as an American, I was ashamed.

Then came September 11, 2001, “the worst day in our history,” as historian David McCullough has called it. The next day, after a sleepless night, I went to the floor of the Senate and said:

“The victims and their loved ones of this horrible act of war should be in our prayers. The perpetrators and those who give them safe haven should be in our bombsights.

“After Pearl Harbor, a Japanese remarked that the ‘sleeping giant has been awakened.’ I pray that the sleeping giant has again been awakened. … For too long, when terrorist attacks have happened it seems America’s first interest has been to please our friends, and then, if permitted, punish our enemies.

“We must strike the viper’s nest,” I concluded, “even if he’s not there. We know that the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan nurtured Osama bin Laden for years. This diabolical plot was probably hatched there. Certainly similar plots have been — and it’s time for us to respond.

“I say, bomb the hell out of them. If there’s collateral damage, so be it. They certainly found our civilians to be expendable.”

I got a lot of criticism for that statement, especially from some liberal press folks. But months afterward, that’s exactly what our military did in Afghanistan and, two years later, in Iraq.

Fortunately, President Bush moved ahead with plans for a regime change in Iraq. I immediately gave him my full support and told a true story to my colleagues on the Senate floor:

“A few weeks ago,” I said, “we were doing some work on my back porch back home, tearing out a section of old stacked rocks, when all of a sudden I uncovered a nest of copperhead snakes.

“I know the difference between those snakes that are harmless and those that will kill you. A copperhead will kill you. It could kill one of my dogs. It could kill one of my grandchildren. It could kill any one of my four great-grandchildren.

“And you know, when I discovered these copperheads, I didn’t call my wife Shirley for advice, like I do on most things. I didn’t go before the city council. I didn’t yell for help from my neighbors. I just took a hoe and knocked them in the head and killed them — dead as a doorknob.

“I guess you could call it a unilateral action,” I said. “Or pre-emptive. Perhaps if you had been watching me, you could have even called it bellicose and reactive. I took their poisonous heads off because they were a threat to me. And they were a threat to my home and my family. They were a threat to all I hold dear. And isn’t that what this is all about?”

Of all the speeches I’ve made over the years, I think I received more positive reaction from this one. I think it was because I expressed the frustration caused by the time-consuming debate in the United Nations and how France and Germany, after all we had done for them, turned their backs on us.

What war means

Few of freedom’s soldiers have understood the lessons of history as well as Winston Churchill. He not only was a brave and daring soldier and a great political leader, but also a Nobel Prize-winning historian.

Perhaps, then, in these times we should remember the question Churchill framed to the world when he made his famous Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri, at Westminster College in 1946.

Churchill reminded his audience that war and tyranny remain the great enemies of mankind. Then he asked: “Do we not understand what war means to the ordinary person? Can you not grasp its horror?”

The bluntness with which Churchill spoke about the looming threat of the Soviet Union did not go over well in many quarters. The American media did not want to hear that kind of talk. They called him a “war monger.” Even the usually gutsy President Truman denied knowing in advance what was in the speech and suggested Churchill should not have given it.

But Abraham Lincoln had been just as realistic as Churchill. “You don’t fight war by blowing rose water through corn stalks,” he said.

These two men, each the greatest of his century, knew the horrors of war. But they also knew wars are sometimes necessary, that there is more to civilization than just comfortable self-preservation.

Soft-belly peaceniks believe war is politically pointless and foreign policy like so much fuzzy-feeling social work. I reject that. Sometimes a short war must be fought to prevent a longer war. Sometimes hundreds may die to save thousands. Sometimes the long view of history must be taken.

In my Senate office in the Dirksen Building, I have a 3-foot-by-5-foot painting of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. I had it behind my desk at the State Capitol in Atlanta when I was governor of Georgia.

To me, that image of six men raising an American flag on Mount Suribachi in one of the bloodiest battles ever fought is one of the world’s most vivid symbols of the price of freedom. The photograph from which it was painted is the most reproduced in the history of photography.

Those flag raisers were young men, just boys really, six of America’s best from all corners of our country. A coal miner’s son from Pennsylvania, a farmer’s son from Kentucky, a mill worker’s son from New England. Another farmer’s son from Wisconsin. One came out of the oil fields of Texas, and one was a Pima Indian from the Gila Reservation in Arizona.

Three of those boys would never leave the island and would be buried in that black volcanic ash. One would leave on a stretcher. The other two would come home to live miserable lives of drunkenness and despair.

Only one would somehow be able to overcome that island and the event with any degree of peace of mind. He was the one who left on a stretcher, a Navy corpsman assigned to the Marines to help with their wounded and dying.

His name was John Bradley. In 2000, his son, James Bradley, wrote a memorable book, “Flags of Our Fathers.” The great historian Stephen Ambrose called it the best battle book he ever read. I recommend it highly.

Not just a word

It is easy to miss one of the most important things about this image of courage and sacrifice at Iwo Jima six decades ago.

James Bradley points this out: There are six in the group, but unless you look closely you see only five. Only the helping hand of one is visible. Most significantly, they are virtually faceless. Only a somewhat vague profile of one can be seen.

Isn’t that the way it has always been with most of freedom’s soldiers — unknown and, all too often, unappreciated? They are those faceless, nameless “grunts” who fight our wars to keep us free.

One does not have to wear a uniform or hold a public office to be one of freedom’s soldiers. One does not have to carry a gun or brandish a sword. One only has to be armed with courage and love of liberty.

Rosa Parks was a soldier of freedom when she refused to move to the back of the bus in Birmingham. That young minister named King up at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church took up the cause and, with words sharper than any bayonet and deadlier than any bullet, slayed the evil of segregation and brought freedom to millions. Young John Lewis risked his life at Edmund Pettis Bridge as he marched for liberty, just the same as those farmers had at Concord Bridge.

Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cody Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Mary Wollstonecraft were all freedom’s soldiers, fighting for women’s liberty.

Some of freedom’s soldiers used the pen instead of the sword. John Stuart Mill with his essay “On Liberty” and Thomas Paine in “Common Sense” provided inspiration to freedom lovers who read their words.

But there are times when the only solution is war, when, as that great hymn goes, we must “rise up and put our armor on.”

I admire the songwriter Kris Kristofferson. His words and music elevated country music to a new, inspiring level. But that line in “Me and Bobby McGee” about “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” has always disturbed me.

I do not believe it. I reject it. It is not true. Kristofferson wrote it in the late 1960s, about the same time I recall seeing a news photograph of a protesting student in the days of the Vietnam War. He was carrying a sign with the words “Nothing is worth dying for.”

I remember thinking then, as I do today, that if there is nothing worth dying for in our America, then there is truly nothing here worth living for, either.

Outrageous arrogance

I watched the war with Iraq with pride, but could not help marveling: “Where do we keep getting these young men and women?”

Consider how many young people on our college campuses and in our workplaces do not have this love of country and willingness to die for it. Either amnesia has set in or there is total apathy about our history and the huge price paid for freedom.

Hubris is best defined as “outrageous arrogance.” And if you study the lessons of history, which we don’t anymore, you would find that hubris has time and time again brought down powerful civilizations.

We are in grave danger of that happening today. There is no greater example of outrageous arrogance than in Hollywood, from those who live in a make-believe world and think they carry more influence than they do.

I am fed up with Hollywood weenies like Martin Sheen and Sean Penn making millions of dollars playing soldiers in films like “Apocalypse Now” and “Casualties of War” and then, in real life, giving the finger to those who really wear the uniform. To me, they are lower than a snake’s belly, hypocrites at best, all gurgle and no guts.

Rapper Ice-T is just as bad. This hypocrite got rich with “Cop Killer,” his hit in the early 1990s, and its refrain “Die, die, die, pig, die! [Expletive] the police.” And then he portrays a pony-tailed detective on the popular TV show, “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”

That’s hubris. That’s hypocrisy. That’s a disgrace.

It’s time these so-called public figures wake up.

It’s also time for a wake-up call in the House of Representatives. A few elected members there, sworn to preserve and protect, visited the enemy in Iraq and became unwitting toadies and tools for dictators and wanna-be Hitlers through their reluctance to make tough decisions.

I also saw hubris in the Senate where, almost casually, a few union jobs were put above the security of a nation in wrangling over homeland security.

But where you would not see it was in the Bush White House and at 10 Downing Street in London. For President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, like Lincoln and Churchill before them, understood there is always the ongoing struggle between good and evil — and one must have steel in one’s spine to take a stand.

History will be especially kind to these two 21st-century soldiers of freedom.

Overheated rhetoric

I fear that some of the Democratic presidential candidates are treading on very dangerous ground for the party and, more importantly, for the country.

I do not question their patriotism; I question their judgment. They are doing what politicians often do, playing to the loudest, most active and most emotional group of supporters, feeding off frustration while clawing to find some advantage. I’ve done it myself and lived to regret it. My concern is that, without meaning to, they are exacerbating the difficulties of a nation at war.

Some of the liberal media excuse these actions by calling them “populism.” Populism, my butt. It’s demagogy, pure and simple. They should stop this, or at least modify it into a more civil discourse.

Howard Dean, while not alone, is the worst offender, and it says a lot about the current Democratic base that he has emerged as front-runner for the nomination. Angry and red-faced, these doom-and-gloomers need to take some “calm-me-down” pills. They should realize their overheated rhetoric is dividing the country when they should be helping unite it.

Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie didn’t stoop to this demagogy in 1940 when he ran against President Roosevelt during those dangerous times on the eve of World War II. And Neville Chamberlain didn’t do it to Winston Churchill, who had replaced him as British prime minister. They understood there are some things more important than making political points when a nation is in peril.

Frankly, I cannot understand the candidates’ shrill, manufactured opposition. We’ve freed a nation from a cruel and oppressive dictator. A free Iraq, most everyone agrees, can transform the Middle East.

Isn’t that what presidents have wanted to do for many years? Give it time. Of course, it’s going to be difficult. Of course, it’s going to be costly. Regrettably, more of our American sons and daughters will die.

There will be times when it looks like it’s not worth it. But in the long stretch of history, it will be worth it.

Copyright Zell Miller, 2003. All rights reserved. For information, visit zellmillerbook.com.

Part I: How Democrats lost the South

Part II: ‘Able Democrats, but left-wing all the way’

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