The Truth, Mainly - 08/01/2005

A WWII lesson to learn
by Leon Satterfield

I wouldn't want those who don't read this column to find out, but I've got a little confession to make concerning my military service in 1954-56. Here it is:

There were parts of it I found tolerable. No, not just tolerable—there were parts of it I even enjoyed.

That's it. That's my confession. Don't tell anyone.

Notice my years of service: '54-'56. It was after the 1953 cease-fire in Korea and before we even knew where Vietnam was.

And after some no-fun basic infantry training at a place diabolically called Fort Bliss, I got sent to Ulm, Germany, where Germans were still trying to forget WWII, in part because being nice to American GIs could help them earn a living.

The central feature of Ulm was—and I assume still is—a magnificent cathedral they started building in 1377 and didn't finish until 1890. It had—and I assume it still has—the tallest church spire in the world.

Or as it was described by a sly scholar in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, "the loftiest ecclesiastical erection in the world."

Hey, I was 21 years old. How could I not have been taken by that?

One of my fondest (if a bit fuzzy) memories is of getting tipsy on Christmas Eve, 1955, with some fellow draftees and wandering into the cathedral in time to hear an angelic singing of "Ave Maria" by a pre-pubescent boy still a soprano.

It was ethereal and lovely—so much so it almost sobered us up.

But the thing I remember most about the cathedral was a '44 or '45 photo of it standing untouched in the middle of the carnage of an otherwise destroyed section of Ulm—the work of our Air Force. Not one stone atop another—except for all those that came together so wonderfully as part of the cathedral.

Some, I suppose, would attribute that to Divine Intervention, but my information was that it was the result of American bombers being equipped with those amazingly precise new bombsights. We simply chose not to destroy a work of religious art as imposing as the Ulm cathedral.

Seemed to me, even then, that it was a wonderfully nice decision to have made. Still does.

And I was reminded of all that last week when I read about what a U.S. Congressman from Colorado—Rep. Tom Tancredo—said to radio talk-show host Pat Campbell in Orlando, Fla.

Rep. Tancredo reportedly aspires to being the 2008 Republican presidential candidate so he says things he hopes will appeal to Republican voters.

What, Campbell asked, should we tell our Islamic enemies around the world to keep them from attacking us with nuclear weapons? The following is from a transcript:

"Um, you know," Rep. Tancredo said, "there are things you could threaten to do before something like that happens and you may have to do afterwards…."

"Such as?" Campbell asked.

"Well," Rep.Tancredo said, "what if you said something like, 'If this happens in the United States and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims'? You could take out their holy sites."

"You're talking about bombing Mecca?" Campbell asked.

"Yeah," Rep.Tancredo said. "What if you said, 'We recognize this is the ultimate threat to the United States, so this is the ultimate response.' I'm just throwing out some ideas because you would be talking about taking the most draconian measures you could possibly imagine."

Get that? We'd deter Muslims by threatening to destroy their holy places like Mecca. You know, sort of like trying to deter Christians by threatening to destroy the Vatican. Or Bethlehem. Imagine the reaction to that.

Diane Carman, a Denver Post columnist, printed the printable excerpts from several letters she received from Tancredo supporters who thought his idea was just fine. The letters came in response to her lack of enthusiasm for the idea.

One wrote that "the problem is with the religion of Islam….These people are EVIL!"

And another: "I think Mr. Tancredo is right….These people are barbarians and it's bed-wetting cowards such as yourself who somehow think they can be reasoned with."

One more: "Tancredo hit a nerve. Good for him. I'd prefer a first strike. Why wait?"

In other words, Rep. Tancredo wants to do today what we were too civilized to do when we were bombing Ulm 60 years ago. And do it to an Islamic regime less bloody than the Christian regime led by Adolf Hitler.

Remember the six million murdered Jews.

The question: Why does Rep. Tancredo think that saying such things will help him become a Presidential nominee in 2008? Who does he think we are? Does he think the majority of us are represented by the three letters above?

Are we?


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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