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Two Very Different Hearts
by Michael R. Bowen, M.D.
06 May 2004

The contrast between political cartoonist Ted Rall and war hero Pat Tillman is striking.

Some folks just never learn.  Building on his triumphant slander of the 9/11 widows, cartoonist Ted Rall has portrayed Pat Tillman as a bloodthirsty ("Will I get to kill Arabs?") dupe of the neocons, who got his comeuppance from the "Afghan resistance" (by which he means the people who murdered 3000 innocent Americans).  Fools, he tells us, will call Tillman a hero, but the real word for him is "sap."  In defense of Rall's view, some have asked whether it is really possible to be a hero while fighting an immoral war.  The answer must hinge on the man's motives: did he volunteer to fight for freedom, or for oil? But in the end such a question is foolish, because human motives are almost always mixed.

A man may join the service to escape debt or bad love affair.
He may join with belief in the cause, but also be lusting for glory.
He may disagree with the policies that have led to the war, yet, like General Lee, feel it his duty to defend his homeland from the consequences of those policies. He may disagree with both the policies and the claims that his nation is in danger, yet join out of fear of being called a coward.

One or all of these motives have driven men who have gone on to do heroic things in the service.  We cannot read hearts, and have no way to parse the motives of the men we label heroes.  But, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that, as the judge famously said about pornography, we may not be able to define heroism but we know it when we see it.

Whatever we think of the Bush administration, and whatever Pat Tillman thought of it, there can be no doubt that he believed he was defending America.  It is preposterous to think that a man would surrender a lucrative career just to help a wealthy Corporation enrich itself further.  It's ludicrous to suggest that Pat Tillman was fighting for Empire or for oil, neither of which he would receive whatever the outcome. Only the most rabid partisan would deny that a man of goodwill could reasonably conclude that today America is threatened, and that he has a duty to help defend her.

One of the reasons I believe in Jesus is that He alone sees all the way into our hearts.  He knows exactly what our real motives are.  Beneath the holy robes of the Sanhedrin He saw the cold hearts, and in the eyes of sinners He saw a genuine love for fellow man.  I'm guessing that underneath that Ranger uniform He saw an unselfish heart trying to do what is right.  Looking into the heart of Ted Rall, I'll bet He sees something altogether different.

Which kind of heart would you rather have?

Michael R. Bowen practices Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine, and has a weekly column on America's Voices

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