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Heroes and Wusses
by Hans Zeiger
03 May 2004

Rene Gonzalez was not alone in celebrating the death of Pat Tillman.


There are two kinds of Americans in this generation. Former NFL player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman was one kind; he fully earned the title of American with his life and earned the distinction of hero with his death. Tillman spilt his blood after a gun battle with terrorist fighters along a distant road in Afghanistan. 

We need only read the vitriol of Pat Tillman's enemies at home to understand that this generation is deeply, intensively divided. In college newspapers and youthful Left-wing internet sites, Pat Tillman is no hero, but a "dumb jock," "Rambo," "baby killer," and an "idiot" who "got what he deserved."

If Pat Tillman was one kind of American in this generation, the notorious Rene Gonzalez, a graduate student at University of Massachusetts at Amherst is another kind. Gonzalez had the audacity to write a column in the April 28 issue of the University of Massachusetts Daily Collegian accusing Tillman of "acting out his macho, patriotic crap, and I guess someone with a bigger gun did him in." His sacrifice, wrote Mr. Gonzalez, "was not heroism, it was prophetic idiocy."

This so-called "idiot" died so that Mr. Gonzalez and his fellow Left-wing radicals could call him names in the free press. Tillman rejected a $3.6 million NFL contract to take up service in the U.S. Army following September 11. When Tillman left his promising career in professional football to defend America in the war on terror, the Department of Defense wanted to market him as their poster-boy, but he refused the glory by turning down thousands of invitations for interviews and photo ops. He sacrificed his life and his fortune, but he did not give up his sacred honor.

Honor is a rare thing in this generation. But Pat Tillman had it. He had it when he went quietly into the Armed Services, for he knew that there is no place for self-adulation among the fellowship of patriots. He had it on the field of battle, for he was convinced that the cause of liberty is just. He had it in his final breaths, for Pat Tillman understood that the fight is eternal. And his dead patriot body may be homebound, but still, in the courts of America's God, his soul has honor.

Yet there is a despicable brand of person that thinks nothing of a hero. Mr. Gonzalez stands for the wusses of American, as do the folks at Indymedia.org, a nationwide media network for the dissemination of radically Left-wing alternative news. "Indymedia.org has 50 local chapters in the United States," writes Ben Shapiro in his column this week. "Forty-four of them made no mention of Pat Tillman's death. The other six celebrated it."

"Pat Tillman is gone good riddance," read the banner above an article at the Urbana-Champaigne, Illinois Indymedia site. The Washington, D.C. Indymedia site proposed this headline to sum up Pat Tillman's death: "Dumb Jock Dies for Pipeline in Afghanistan." Portland, Oregon Indymedia pitched in with, "Privileged Millionaire, Blinded by Nationalist Mythology, Pisses Away the Good Life," "Cottled Sports Star Allows Nationalism to Foster Jingoistic Irresponsibility Resulting in His Death," and "Capitalist Chooses to Kill Innocents Instead of Cashing Check."

In the ongoing experiment called America, the war on terrorism is this generation's war. But there is another battle between ideas about honor and courage and virtue and faith that must be fought in the minds and souls of young Americans. This great spiritual battle was more pronounced in the days of Vietnam, but neither side has yet won. Whether character and honor shall win out in the minds of young Americans will forever determine whether we as a nation can continue to champion liberty and justice in the world.

Ultimately, it is a question of our responsibility. Someone once told me that if someone violates your freedom, you will fight to defend it. But if someone takes away your responsibility, you will be indifferent to the coming seizure of freedom.

I worry more about the loss of responsibility in my generation than I do about the loss of freedom itself. Rene Gonzalez and Indymedia stand for an America without duty, honor, and heroism. But as long as there are Pat Tillmans in America, we can survive.

Hans Zeiger is a Seattle Times columnist and conservative activist. He is president of the Scout Honor Coalition and a student at Hillsdale College in Michigan
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