Recently, after I’d given back examinations in one of my classes, one student who received a failing grade laughed, showed the exam to students on each side, and laughed again.
Former Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant said, “I hate to lose worse than anyone … but if you lose with humility you can come back” a winner.
I recalled how I felt when I got my only “F” as an undergraduate at the University of Alabama. The first time I took botany, I failed. Admittedly, the reproductive life of moss was way down on my interests list (and still is) so I invariably studied everything else before turning to botany, and then I usually fell asleep.
Back then, professors posted final grades by your student number. Accordingly, I went to the set of Dorian columns on the porch of the science building, found my student number and then stared incomprehensibly at the big “F” by mine. Although I knew my average was 44 going into the final, I thought surely the professor would curve the grades. I was wrong, and I also was ashamed. The next semester I hired a tutor, recopied my notes after each class, and garnered an unspectacular, hard-earned “C+.”
A few years later, on April 30, 1975, after serving in Vietnam and as a nuclear targeting officer with the Strategic Air Command, I was in northern Virginia waiting for a bus to take me to the Pentagon where I had just been assigned to the Air Staff. In those days military personnel posted to Washington had the option of wearing civilian clothes, since people in uniform often found themselves the targets of verbal and, occasionally, physical abuse. As I waited for the bus, I overheard a conversation by two young men with stylishly long hair who waited with me.
“Did you see the news? Looks like Saigon’s done for.”
“Yeah,” laughed his companion, “it was a great war to lose.”
His joke … South Vietnam’s country.
It took our fathers’ generation three years and four months to defeat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. From December 7, 1941 until August 15, 1945, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, along with the American people, focused on total victory and forcing our enemies’ unconditional surrender.
Two days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt, in a broadcast to the American people stated, “I repeat, the American people can accept no result save victory, final and complete.” Three years and eight months later, Allied and Red Army divisions occupied Germany, Italy was liberated and Japan’s cities smoldered after relentless and merciless fire bombing raids and two atomic strikes.
Six short years later, in April 1951, with American forces stalemated in Korea, General Douglas MacArthur, in a letter to Congressman Joseph Martin, wrote, “In war there can be no substitute for victory.”
President Harry Truman deemed insubordinate this statement of the obvious and relieved MacArthur of command. Fifty-six years later, 30,000 American troops remain on alert along a tense border between North and South Korea while diplomats attempt to bribe one of the world’s last communist dictators into not producing nuclear weapons.
During the Vietnam War, many of the sons and daughters of what Tom Brokaw dubbed “the Greatest Generation” responded to John F. Kennedy’s call to “bear any burden, meet any hardship … to assure the survival and the success of liberty” with “Hell no! We won’t go!” Is it any wonder that their children and grandchildren laugh at failure?
America’s enemies in this total, global religious war are determined to destroy the West. Instead of responding with steely-eyed determination focused clearly on annihilating a foe intent on annihilating us, too many Americans dither about the treatment of illegal enemy combatants detained at Guantanamo Bay while Congressional leaders declare ad nauseam that “the war is lost” and an outfit like Moveon.org accuses the commanding general in Iraq of betraying the nation.
A nation is a conglomerate of its citizenry. Any nation consisting of citizens who embrace defeat will be a nation of losers. Al Qaeda, Hizbullah, and their sponsors in Damascus and Tehran intend to take the world back to a medieval Islamist caliphate. Whether it is Sunni or Shi’ite does not matter because Christians and Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and atheists will either be converted, enslaved or dead.