Mark Shields, nationally known columnist and commentator, is the moderator of CNN's "The Capital Gang."
What did you do in the not-so-great war?
WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- Bankrolled by a Texas Republican millionaire, a TV spot that features Vietnam vets accusing Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry of lying about his own war record provides conclusive proof that the 2004 campaign has officially entered the ugly "What Did You Do (or Not Do) in the Not-So-Great War?" stage.
It is moments like this when we owe a collective debt of gratitude to the voters of Arizona for sending Republican John McCain to the U.S. Senate.
McCain, who endured similar attacks upon his own patriotism in 2000 when he was also -- coincidentally, of course -- running against George W. Bush, told The Associated Press' Ron Fournier: "I deplore this kind of politics. I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable. ... None of these individuals (making the accusations) served on the same boat (John Kerry ) commanded. Many of (Kerry's) crew have testified to his courage under fire. I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam. I think George Bush served honorably in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. ... I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad."
Fat chance. When asked by reporters, George W. Bush's press secretary Scott McClellan refused to denounce the anti-Kerry attack ad.
At the top of my roster of American heroes who became great political leaders is the late Paul H. Douglas who served three terms in the U.S. Senate from Illinois and was even more independent than John McCain. Power and privilege were his foes. Courageously and tirelessly, Douglas fought for civil rights, tax reform, economic justice and the environment, and against big oil and big drug companies.
What made Paul Douglas an American original was that after Pearl Harbor -- when he was both an elected Chicago alderman and a professor at the University of Chicago -- Douglas, a Quaker, enlisted as a private in the Marine Corps. After boot camp at Parris Island, Douglas turned down stateside assignments and insisted on joining the First Marine Division. That meant heavy combat against the Japanese in Pacific landings at Peleliu and Okinawa, where "for heroic achievement in action," he won the Bronze Star. He was wounded twice so severely that he permanently lost the use of his left arm.
Why is Paul Douglas' story of courage under fire different from so many other brave Americans who answered their nation's call? Consider this: When he enlisted in the Marines as a private, Douglas was 50 years old! That means when he fought and was wounded at Okinawa, Douglas was 52.
President Bush has chosen to ignore my earlier request that he, by executive order, create the Paul Douglas Brigade, which would seek and welcome the enlistment into today's active military of middle-aged leaders of Congress, 50-something captains of the private sector, and tenured think-tank/academic commandos -- all of whom were "prevented" from answering the draft call sent to them in their youth by their nation by career, graduate school or concern for their own pleasure and safety.
As an alumnus of Parris Island (whom the Marine Corps brass has never asked to do a testimonial) and having earned no Bronze or Silver stars nor qualified for any Purple Hearts, I am still asked why former distinguished Marines like Douglas of Illinois, John Glenn of Ohio, Mike Mansfield of Montana and Dale Bumpers of Arkansas could go on to become distinguished, mostly liberal Democratic U.S. senators.
At their best, liberal values are in harmony with many Marine values. From the first day of boot camp, Marine recruits are taught that Marines never leave their own behind. The Marine ethic emphasizes responsibility to duty and to others before self. Unbridled individualism that elevates to high virtue profit and personal comfort above duty to your comrades is prohibited and condemned. The Marine officer -- the very opposite of the selfish, self-centered CEO -- never eats, himself, until the men under his command have been fed.
Liberals did lead the good fight for racial justice. But the greatest civil rights victories have been won by the Marines and the U.S. military. Why is the military the most successfully integrated sector of national life? No racial preference and no racial discrimination. The first time I ever slept in the same room with an African-American or took orders from an African-American was as a private in the Marines.
Liberals would be wise to understand -- which too many conservatives, drunk on individualism do not -- that Marine values are honorable and valuable American values.
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R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952 (Plt #437)--'72
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