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It Will Never Fly – by Steve Russell

The most talkative bird in the world is the parrot.  But he is a poor flyer.
    -Wilbur Wright

America is a nation 300 million strong.  Our capacity, resources, and ingenuity are based in the great heritage and tradition of those who sacrificed to make us great.  Each generation of Americans inherits a responsibility to protect this legacy from those that would see it falter and fade.  Do we then really suppose that a mere 10,000 insurgents  equipped with little more than man-dresses and flip-flops can hold America and its heritage hostage while terrorizing us into submission?

The cynic and the critic certainly think so.  Their response to latest strategy in Iraq is a good example.  Platoons of angry-faced pundits refused to even listen to the proposals laid out in President Bush’s speech on the new strategy.  When they learned it had no plan for ‘withdrawal,’ they tuned it out.  Their opinions on the outcome in were obviously formulated long before the speech was made and, it may be argued, long before personally doing anything to help our soldiers achieve victory in the field. 

What makes Americans so negative about this war?  With few exceptions, the most vocal objectors are the ones who have contributed the least.  These protestors predict that the new strategy is doomed to failure.  Few of them have ever worn a uniform and fewer still have served in Iraq.  Yet they are clearly disgruntled about this war and the direction the country is moving.

Several months ago I went on another unfortunate trip to Arlington National Cemetery to pay my respects to a friend.  After the burial, I wandered around the capitol, trying to mentally process a great number of concerns.  Everywhere I turned, the air was heavy with hopelessness and melancholy prophecy.  I decided to visit the National Air and Space Museum for distraction.  Drawn to the central exhibit, I studied a tangle of canvas, wood and wires that was the world’s first airplane—the Wright Flyer.  I began to hear the naysayer whisper, “It will never fly.”  On examination, it was difficult indeed to imagine how the fragile contraption ever left the ground and how someone was willing to risk life and limb making it struggle into the air.

Hanging above me as I entered the gallery, I saw a sturdier looking craft boasting the name, ‘The Spirit of St. Louis.’  It had no forward-looking window—just a forward-looking pilot.  “You’re going to die just like the others, you fool!” mocked the naysayer.  “You will never get off the ground with the weight of all that gasoline.  You will never stay awake.  You can’t do it alone.”

Rounding the corner to examine spacecraft, I pondered the physics of what looked like aluminum foil and questioned how human life could be protected in space by a substance so thin.  The Apollo Lunar Module was even smaller in real life.  How we found Americans foolish enough to believe that men could be strapped into a rocket containing 2,000 metric tons of fuel that would break apart in stages, exposing a frail and cramped craft of dubious appearance, land on the moon, take off again and dock with a cone-shaped capsule that would bring them back to earth by shielding them from a fiery re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere and then crashing into the ocean is truly amazing.  “We’re wasting billions of dollars,” condemned the naysayer.  “What about the poor?  What about the things that really matter in this country?  How much more national treasure must we squander and how many more astronauts have to die in this frivolous attempt to outdo the Russians?”  Yet how different our world would be today without Orville Wright, Charles Lindberg, and Neil Armstrong.  As I reentered the gloomy mood outside in the nation’s capitol, I left the museum inspired.  America wasn’t built on the advice, counsel, or the expertise of the cynic and the critic. 

What should we learn from these Americans with the extraordinary ability to foresee what others could not?  They learned from their mistakes.  When their ideas didn’t work, they redesigned them.  They kept striving because the objective demanded it and because they were driven to settle for nothing less.   They understood that the success of their endeavors would lend meaning to the lives lost by other visionaries in their field.  They glimpsed a future in which even the disbelieving and ungrateful could complain about airfare and delayed flights as the world grew smaller and people drew closer. 

The President’s new strategy will work as long as Americans still believe in and honor her welfare above personal self-promotion and unhappiness.  Providing sufficient troops to hold ground long enough to secure it is sound tactical doctrine.  Allowing soldiers to kill cornered insurgents rather than being pulled back while the rebels escape is a good thing.  Urging and assisting Iraqis side-by-side to disarm or destroy militias that heed no government is a good thing.  Having the State Department perform nation-building tasks vice the Defense Department is a good thing.  Strengthening Iraq’s economy as it builds even more global economic clout is a good thing that will benefit the entire world.   A responsible Iraq, as a member in the world community of nations, is a good thing.  And the naysayer drones, “It will never fly.”  SDR

Steve Russell is a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. He commanded a battalion that was central to the hunt and capture of Saddam Hussein. He now serves as chairman and founder of Vets4Victory.

Used with permission of Center for a Just Society, Copyright © 2007 All rights reserved.

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