- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 11, 2003

A steady gray drizzle fell as hundreds of mourners gathered at Bald Knob, Ark., for the hilltop funeral. The coffin, carried by seven soldiers from the 5th Special Forces in their green berets, was draped with an American flag.

Three rifle volleys were fired in a final salute, the sound punctuating the mournful echo of the bagpipes. The service was solemn and dignified. And proud. As befits a soldier.

Master Sgt. Kevin Morehead was two days shy of his 34th birthday when he was killed Sept. 12 some 70 miles west of Baghdad, having already served with distinction in Afghanistan. Over 14 years of active duty, Sergeant Morehead had earned the Bronze Star, Silver Star and Purple Heart.

The sergeant was being buried next to his grandfather, with whom he had hunted in these hills. They had tramped the roads and explored the woods together. There is a special bond between grandfather and grandson, a special freedom and attachment. Now they were united again. Forever.

Two days later and a thousand miles away — a world away in spirit — the General Assembly of the United Nations opened its annual session in that great, faceless slab overlooking the East River.

The U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was speaking not far from where, only two years before, on another date that will live in infamy, this nation was attacked in an act of long planned, coldblooded treachery. Three thousand innocent victims would perish in smoke and fire. The last of the funerals are only now being conducted as traces of remains are identified.

The secretary-general felt no need to go into any of that. There has always been something distant, even otherworldly, in Mr. Annan’s manner. It allows him to ignore the evidence of horror all around him while he speaks in abstractions. Mr. Annan remains calm and remote whatever massacre he is presiding over at the time — in Rwanda or at Srebrenica — or in the presence of one just a few dozen blocks downtown.

Now, once again, he was addressing the General Assembly, and once again he was waiting for the blood to settle before advocating anything rash — or anything at all. His Excellency Kofi Annan chose to use this occasion to lecture the United States on the dangers of acting “pre-emptively” in Iraq, that is, enforcing U.N. resolutions the U.N. itself would rather not.

The secretary-general, who never looked more distinguished, was explaining that the United Nations had preserved world peace over the past half-century, if “imperfectly.”

Imperfectly. That has to be the understatement of the half-century. Yet no one laughed, not out loud. More impressive, remembering Bosnia and Kosovo and Rwanda and Liberia and the Congo, no one screamed.

There are many qualities present at an opening session of the General Assembly of the United Nations: politesse, ego, high-flown oratory and low calculation… but shame is not one of them.

This is the outfit that’s going to protect the peace of the world? On balance, the old League of Nations had more dignity; it knew when it had become an empty shell.

Compared to the sophisticated tours of the diplomatic horizon out of our age’s lofty Tower of Babel, the view from Bald Knob, Ark., is simpler, even stark, but it affords a certain perspective. From that hilltop cemetery, you can see the approaching winter of our discontent. For all of us know Kevin Morehead’s will not be the last such funeral.

Once again these are times that try men’s souls, and the summer soldier and sunshine patriot will soon shrink away. In that sense it could be 1776 again, for on the outcome of this conflict will depend not just America’s future but the world’s.

The world is engaged in a struggle whose full dimensions only now come into view. Over the years ahead, perhaps for the next half-century, that struggle will color all else, much as the Cold War did. It will determine whether man will live in greater freedom and growing security, or be held hostage to fear and violence, reduced to waiting for the next attack.

Many things have gone right in this war, and many dire predictions of defeat averted. But it is not our victories that must concern us now, but the dangers that remain — and how to best them. To quote a general named Eisenhower, every war will surprise you. So can a postwar.

History suggests the quality that will be most needed most in the long, cruel struggle that looms ahead, and not just in Iraq. That quality is constancy of purpose. With it, freedom will prevail. Without it, nothing will avail.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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