- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

Memorial Day 2005 was one of the most significant ever. It fell amid disputes, in the military and civilian sectors, about the meaning of sacrifice and the value of life itself.

We are at war, a conflict as serious as any we’ve ever fought. Even contemplating its loss reduces this historian’s spine to jelly. Burdening the issue of victory or defeat is the relatively new intellectual Trojan Horse: political pacifism.

No one can take issue with a pacifism based on religious principles. But those who sincerely hold this ancient precept play little role policymaking today. Political pacifism, the new kid on the block, is grounded in expediency and calculation.

The antiwar movement in the Vietnam era reeked of political pacifism. Most people who espoused it saw no need to serve their country, especially if it might cost them their lives. Some even gave open aid and comfort to the enemy by political actions against fellow Americans in the field.

One such target was Col. Joe Conmy, a highly decorated combat soldier who fought in three wars. Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, lashed out at him by name from the floor of the U.S. Senate. Upon hearing of the senator’s criticism, Joe gave him the rhetorical back of his hand, and Mr. Kennedy later apologized to him by letter.

Shortly before Joe died of cancer in 1994, I called him to discuss his career, which was rich with significance and perspective. I asked him to name the most important military honor he ever received. Without hesitating he said that, after he and the 82nd Airborne had crushed an elite unit at Hamburger Hill, the North Vietnamese commander committed the remnants of his force to a suicide attack against Joe’s troops specifically to kill him. He was wounded in the face. He said that, if his victory hadn’t been significant, the enemy wouldn’t have wasted its forces to try to kill one man.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on America, another patriot stepped forward, out of different circumstances but with the same ethos. Pat Tillman was a stand-out athlete who walked away from a life of safety and wealth in exchange for a ranger’s danger and pay.

Tillman gave the ultimate sacrifice. Now some people, even within his own family, besmirch his dedication, selflessness and patriotism because he was killed by “friendly” and not hostile fire. They let themselves to be exploited by political pacifists who ridiculed Pat’s decision to join up in the first place.

Some members of Pat’s family accuse the military of knowingly misrepresenting the circumstances of his death to hype support for the war against terrorism. If the highest levels of the Army knowingly misled his parents about how he died, they did serious wrong. If, however, as appears likely, the senior command’s initial conclusion was consistent with what they were been told at the time, they need make no apology.

Even many who oppose the war in Iraq recognize invading Afghanistan was necessary. This justifies the Army’s actions and validates both Tillman’s decision to serve and his death.

Both Joe Conmy and Pat Tillman made the same commitment unto death and comported themselves honorably. The events of their careers are happenstance.

Soldiers don’t distinguish between which Americans they fight for. They fight for the animated shouters and for the voiceless. Unfortunately, for the last 30 years American civilian society has begun to distinguish between those groups.

Hearsay evidence was sufficient to decree that Terri Schiavo die prematurely, sanctioned by the judiciary all the way to the Supreme Court, by being denied food and water, because she couldn’t speak or otherwise make her current wishes known. The judiciary’s conduct in this case was an affront to justice.

On the other end of the spectrum of life, since 1973 more than 40 million mute Americans have been murdered because of the Supreme Court’s actions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Some members of Congress now seek to put the federal government’s imprimatur on embryonic stem cell research, which will result in sacrificing embryonic human life.

It isn’t clear this research has value for the future. But even if it does, the moral consequences weigh too heavily and a debasing of moral standards can make all life a matter of convenience, not intrinsic worth.

If the political and legal cadres of this country can say human life at certain stages has primarily utilitarian value, the essence of Adolf Hitler’s ideas have gained a legitimacy he failed to achieve on the battlefield, and humans will have begun to walk toward extinction, propelled by their own arrogance. When man believes that, because he can read God’s book of creation, he has the right to rewrite it, he has embraced a folly from which he won’t escape.


Diplomatic historian and former intelligence analyst.


Nancy is William’s wife and a former analyst and editor.

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