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Ben Franklin's bifocals January 15, 2005

Old Soldiers Never Die

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as we reflect on the life and tragic end of the most important African American of another era, we cannot help but be drawn to the plight of the most important African American of our time, Colin Powell. In the run up to the presidential elections of 2000, when it seemed for a time that General Powell would seek the presidency as an independent candidate, William was surely not alone when he changed his voter registration to Independent, just so he might vote for him in the primary. Powell was at that point the best known and most popular public figure in the good old USA, based on the lasting impression he had made as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the First Gulf War.

What a disappointment when he not only passed on the presidency but threw in his lot with George W. and Co. At least, when he was named as Secretary of State, one could hope that he would be a voice of reason in the Bush Administration, and perhaps provide the conscience that was so evidently lacking in its other principals. How sad to watch this proud man die the death of a thousand cuts over the next four years as he was progressively marginalized, used, and finally discarded. In his last few public appearances he seemed uncharacteristically tentative, unsure of himself, and defensive. In his eyes one saw the same sadness that tragedy is made of, as if he struggled to come to grips with the likely reality of his legacy.

The incomparable Adlai Stevenson, who was one of the best governors the State of Illinois ever had, an orator second only to Winston Churchill in his time, and a two time Democratic nominee for the presidency, will probably be most remembered for his performance in the U.N. as the US Ambassador during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war, Stevenson calmly but resolutely called out the Soviet Representative on worldwide TV with proof in hand (U-2 surveillance photos of Russian Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile Sites in Cuba). Colin Powell, by contrast, will likely be remembered, in spite of his brilliant military career, admirable personal qualities, and lifetime of public service, as the man who in the same U.N. building made his President's case for the invasion of Iraq based on junk intelligence that he knew or should have known was spurious (his own State Department intelligence unit was at odds with Dick Cheney's, and George Tenet's "slam dunk" fantasies, and surely had told him so).

Perhaps, like another famous general who made a wrong turn half a century ago, Colin Powell will just fade away into the shadows of history, certainly not the last in a line of tragic figures.

President Truman with General MacArthur

General Powell with Bush the Elder

General Powell with Bush the Lesser

William's Whimsical Words:

It is better to die with your boots on than to be booted out.

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