Paul Greenberg

Sometimes they form on their own, the sentences do. Like rain from clouds. I don't so much write as record them. Like a secretary taking dictation. The sentences are just there in the morning, waiting for me. A psychiatrist could probably explain it, or rather diagnose it. Writing Behavior, I think it's called.

Oh, I may have to do a bit of editing here and there, like a gardener trimming back an overactive philodendron, but nothing more than that. But until they're written down, expressed, exorcised, the thoughts won't go away. For example:

People tend to get wrought up over politics, even overwrought in election years. Especially in presidential election years. Especially in an age when, religion having dried up for so many as a source of their deepest emotions, politics has become the new dogmatic belief. And, just as before, the unbeliever must be ostracized, the heretic shunned, the witch burned. Common civility may be too much to expect. (You should see some of my e-mails. Then again, maybe you shouldn't.) But all this will pass. Specifically on November 5, 2008. The morning after the long political binge, passions will ebb. We who disagree will be forgiven and accepted again. At least by the best. The rest we will have to forgive. As a point of honor. As an example to ourselves. As a matter of common civility. No civility, no civilization.

"Civilization and Its Discontents" - that's what Sigmund Freud called his book. He was our own Joseph, interpreter of dreams. Few of civilization's discontents can have been as civilized, even stodgy, as Dr. Freud. He was as old-school in his personal demeanor and habits as his ideas were new and daring for their time. It's not easy for the civilized to act like discontents. So the more adventurous among us seek them out - and soon have reason to wish we hadn't.

Who could be more civilized than Ingrid Betancourt, dual citizen of Colombia and France, woman of the world, presidential candidate from Bogota and toast of Paris? She was going to go into the jungle and show the world how to make peace with the terrorists, who were really just misunderstood freedom fighters.

Six years later - six years of unceasing fear and danger, intermittent sickness and desperation - she was rescued. Along with three American military contractors and 11 Colombian soldiers, including a Colombian army captain, Juan Carlos Bermeo, who had been held for nearly 10 years. "I burst out crying when I heard the news," his father told Colombian television.

As for Ingrid Betancourt, in her first statements she thanked God and the Colombian soldiers who had pulled off the rescue. How appropriate, for God and the soldier are the first called upon in times of danger, the first forgotten when all seems safe and secure.

The soldiers, trained and prepared for their mission, had come disguised as fellow revolutionaries decked out in Che Guevarra T-shirts. (At last, a constructive use for that oh-so-fashionable image!) American intelligence had been working with the Colombians for years to lay the groundwork for this moment, playing games with the kidnappers' communications, winning their trust by posing as suppliers who could meet their requests for everything from weapons to cosmetics. Until the time came to convince them that other comrades were coming to take charge of the hostages.

The captives, their hands and feet bound, were taken aboard the unmarked helicopters as if they were being transferred to another guerrilla base. Only after they were airborne were they told the good news: "We're the national army. You're free."

Jubilation erupted. The captives were liberated, their chief captor now captive. He was at their feet - bound, naked, blindfolded and en route to justice.

Ingrid Betancourt's dream, which had turned into a nightmare, was over. She had emerged into the light, to be reunited with family, friends, both of her countries, and the free of the world. Awake again, what compelling sentences, spilling over from her terrible dream, will she now have to share with those of us who still sleep, believing that we and ours will always be safe and secure?


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.