Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Day

The seizure of 200 schoolchildren with their parents in Russia, for a total of perhaps 400, presumably by Chechen terrorists, caps a stemwinder of a newsday. The amazing thing is that the headlines were all of a piece: 12 Nepalis executed in Iraq; 2 French journalists held hostage in Iraq; 16 killed in twin bus bombing attacks in Israel; 10 dead in a bombing attack on a Moscow subway. So swiftly did they overtake yesterday's events, the two Russian jetliners downed by Chechen suicide bombers that they might have been one event. So it was no coincidence that the principal US domestic story was on the same subject matter too. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's declaration at the RNC convention should have been laughably trite: that the President understood that the these headlines were tied together by the common thread of terrorism.

He knows you don't reason with terrorists. You defeat them. He knows you can't reason with people blinded by hate. You see, they hate the power of the individual. They hate the progress of women. They hate the religious freedom of others. And they hate the liberating breeze of democracy.

But Schwarzenegger had to set out the Presidential proposition like an object of wonder, like an insight slow in coming, the way a man recovering from a stroke gradually remembers how to tie his shoelaces again, because until recently America could not think it; nor France to this day. You don't reason with terrorists. You defeat them. He said it well, slowly and loudly the way you address an audience in an unfamiliar language. But Arnold missed hitting the right note in one thing because his unquenchable optimism will never suit the irremediable sorrow of the price we have to pay. The Governor came near the mark when he related the story of a young wounded soldier.

Let me tell you about the sacrifice and the commitment that I have seen first-hand. In one of the military hospitals I visited, I met a young guy who was in bad shape. He'd lost a leg, he had a hole through his stomach, and his shoulder had been shot through. And the list goes on and on and on.

I could tell that there was no way he could ever return to combat. But when I asked him, "When do you think you'll get out of the hospital?" He said, "Sir, in three weeks." And do you know what he said to me then? He said he was going to get a new leg, and then he was going to get some therapy, and then he was going to go back to Iraq and fight alongside his buddies. And you know what he said to me then? You know what he said to me then?  He said, "Arnold, I'll be back."

But it was John McCain who found the phrase, knowing what freight the unsaid bore. "However just the cause, we should shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us." Those Russian parents are cradling the wages in their arms.