Chuck Colson
It was one of the darkest days of World War II. The Japanese were advancing to the Pacific; Hitler seemed to have an iron grip on Europe. Americans, that day, were involved in a particularly bloody battle. Jimmy Roosevelt, then a Marine officer and later a congressman, visited his father, Franklin Roosevelt, in his bedroom in the White House. He was looking for reassurance about the war. But to his surprise, he found his father playing solitaire.

When he voiced his concern about the war, the president turned to him and said, "Son, I’ve given all the orders I know how to give. Now it’s up to the generals. They’re the ones who know how to fight wars, not me."

That might be an interesting insight into why Franklin Roosevelt was a great wartime president in World War II. But it also offers wisdom that some of us need to take to heart in America today as Army and Marine divisions press toward Baghdad. Our men fight amidst a rising tide of chattering from talking heads telling us doom is at hand because we haven’t been able to dispense with Saddam Hussein in two weeks.

Operation Iraqi Freedom is a very strange way to fight a war. Reporters are "embedded" in the military, as they like to say. That makes, I confess, riveting television. I watched my friend David Bloom riding in a tank, showing tanks, dust, and distant smoke through his videophone. This is the ultimate reality TV. We are now able to actually watch a war in real time through cameras planted all over the battlefield.

The trouble, however, is that television is above all else an entertainment medium. As Neil Postman wrote in his classic book Amusing Ourselves to Death [buy book], "Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television."

After two weeks, the war is not over, and a great restlessness seizes the American people. The initial entertainment value of the war has worn thin. So reporters and columnists have to start speculating on our military’s shortcomings to boost the entertainment value and keep viewers watching.

And the country does seem to be gripped. When it appeared the war would have a quick end, the stock market rose one thousand points. Then when it appeared the war would be tough going, the market plunged—and so forth, as the national mood bounces around, depending on the latest battlefield reports and commentator speculation. This, more than Saddam Hussein’s unexpectedly stubborn defenders, may cause us to fail.

Chuck Colson

Chuck Colson was the Chief Counsel for Richard Nixon and served time in prison for Watergate-related charges. In 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, which, in collaboration with churches of all confessions and denominations, has become the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families.
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