I Saw Heroism on the Outskirts of Baghdad during the first Provincial Elections in January 2009. As an official observer of the elections on behalf of the US Army, I had toured through many of the polling stations to see how smoothly the elections went. We wanted to know if Iraqis understood the process, and if they thought the process was fair. If they felt like their vote would be denied, they would probably start shooting at each other again, and at us. I’ll get back to this act of valor in a moment.
Mel Gibson Played Numerous Heroes, Including Braveheart (William Wallace) and Lieutenant Colonel Harold Moore at the Battle of Ia Drang. The courage represented in both stories was epic against the odds the real characters faced, but they were driven by a common factor that also seemed to drive the woman who showed equal courage on that election day in Iraq.
Ronald Reagan Used to Say that America is the Idea that free, virtuous people live by tenacity, and act responsibly. That idea built America’s greatness. As Americans, for most of our history, we valued wisdom, daring, thrift, courage, compassion, decisive action, and a host of traits that produced heroes. When adversity exposed its face, these heroes showed up to take care of business. Occasionally they might appear in the swagger of a John Wayne, but more often were of the quiet friendly type like Audie Murphy, the most decorated warrior of World War II.
As Americans, We Love Our Heroes And Heroines, both real and of the actor variety. We honor the selflessness that too frequently brought an early end to life. Thus, despite that many heroes rise in other countries as well as our own, we know their stories well, including those of Joan of Arc and Braveheart, actual people who rose to historic prominence not because they sought attention, but because events demanded that ordinary people reach into their guts and take hold of that last ounce of tenacity in often-tragic attempts to throw off tyrants. They were motivated by love and devotion to the freedoms of family and friends.
The World Witnessed One Such Act of Lone Courage against the mighty armored force of a nation of a billion people. In Tiananmen Square in Beijing, one single man stood in front of a tank bearing down on him before the world’s cameras.
The Act I Witnessed by the Woman South of Baghdad, though less spectacular, was just as death defying. It occurred in a polling booth. There, her husband tried to force her to vote the way he dictated. She refused, telling him loudly that democracy meant that she could vote her own choice. She probably took a beating later that day in her house – maybe worse –something she would have anticipated. A year later, I watched millions of Iraqis demonstrate similar courage by trekking to polling stations while bombs exploded all around them. They emerged from voting to show-off proudly to the world that their fingers had been dipped in purple ink – a statement that neither tyrants nor terrorists will stop forever their rights to self-governance. They too, possessed the courage of a Braveheart.
Ninety Miles South of Florida’s Tip Lies Cuba, a beautiful island with once free, still proud people. A demagogue and ambitious tyrant lied his way into the hearts and minds of masses who believed his promises to deliver equality, prosperity, and peace to all. They have since lived a holocaust. Brave men and women risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in pursuit of Freedom, just as did: the solitary woman in the voting booth in a village south of Baghdad; the lone man in Tiananmen Square; Audie Murphy in World War II; and, LTC Hal Moore and his soldiers at the Battle of Ia Drang. Most such acts don’t ever see the silver screen, but all are profound.
The Story of Cuba Under Castro is Largely Untold. My father-in-law, Atcho, was a Cuban patriot who selflessly fought Castro. The price he and his fellow Cuban patriots paid was unimaginable pain, and often-tortuous death. But their fighting tenacity was thrilling, their exploits daring, and their dedication to Freedom a quality that Free American Patriots still emulate, and love to experience. The heroism of Cuban patriots and their deeds are represented in the fictional Atcho in my just published novel, “Curse The Moon.” The passion of both Atchos is a story not easily put down.
Final Note: I care deeply about our country, and about our people. Americans are by-and-large a good and noble people who have demonstrated their generosity and goodwill countless times. We are also freedom lovers who will not go quietly into the night.