Just what is it about John McCain, the Arizona maverick, that he is not satisfied just being the nation's best known and most admired U.S. senator? McCain, along with his alter-ego Mark Salter, has written a second book, "Worth the Fighting For: A Memoir," which is earning enormous critical praise and healthy sales. Here, McCain writes about his personal heroes, the first of whom was Robert Jordan from Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
At the top of my own list of personal heroes is the late Paul H. Douglas, who served three terms in the U.S. Senate from Illinois and, if anything, was more of a maverick than McCain, infuriating his own Democratic Party leadership and his home state's most powerful interests as he tirelessly championed civil rights, tax reform, conservation and economic justice.
But what makes Douglas interesting was that after Pearl Harbor -- when he was already a professor at the University of Chicago and an elected Chicago alderman -- he, a Quaker, enlisted as a private in the U.S. Marine Corps. After Parris Island boot camp, Douglas was assigned to the First Marine Division, which meant for him heavy combat against the Japanese in Pacific landings at Peleliu and Okinawa, where Douglas for "heroic achievement in action" won the Bronze Star. He was wounded twice, so severely that he permanently lost the use of his left arm.
What makes Douglas my hero is that when he enlisted in the Marines, he was 50 years old, which means that when he was wounded in combat on Okinawa, he was 52.
Listening to the recent Washington debate on going to war against Iraq, I thought of the heroic example of Douglas. Immediately, President Bush ought to create by executive order the Paul Douglas Brigade, which would seek and welcome the enlistment into today's active military of middle-aged leaders of Congress, middle-aged leaders of his administration and middle-aged leaders of the vaunted private sector, whose own youthful commitments to their careers, graduate school or personal safety had kept them from answering the draft call that the U.S. government sent individually to everyone in their generation.
Nobody has been more enthusiastic about armed combat with, and "regime change" in, Iraq than the House majority whip, Bush's fellow Texan Republican, Rep. Tom Delay. Delay reminds those of us who might have forgotten that, "Every generation will be called to defend freedom, and every generation must summon the courage to disregard the timid counsel of those who would mortgage our security to the false promises of wishful thinking and appeasement." Not only that, but he personally endorses "the hard path of action over the hollow comfort of complacency." And what about Iraq? "The question we face today is not whether to go to war. . . . Our only choice is between victory and defeat," he answers.
For reasons not clear, Delay -- like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, President Bush, Defense appointee Richard Perle and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joseph Lieberman -- missed his own generation's call to "defend freedom" in Southeast Asia.
Because we know the "liberal" definition of executive power favored by the attorney general, Bush could without constitutional qualms create the Paul Douglas Brigade to allow contemporary middle-aged Republicans to join the enlisted ranks of the Army, Navy or Marine Corps to prove that they are as selflessly patriotic as that great liberal Democratic senator from Illinois. And to make this new unit absolutely bipartisan, the White House could call it the Henry Cabot Lodge-Paul Douglas Brigade, to give appropriate recognition to the late Republican from Massachusetts, who actually resigned from the U.S. Senate to fight Hitler's armies in North Africa as a tank commander. How's that for an example for 2002 on Capitol Hill?
Mark Shields is a commentator on PBS' "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer."
Copyright 2002 by Creators Syndicate