Paul Greenberg

My dear Wormwood,

Our work is never done, but now and then your activities up there come to my attention down here in the depths. This time heartiest congratulations are in order. I'm proud of you, nephew. You've been mentioned in dispatches, and I fully intend to put you in for promotion the next time your efficiency report is due.

The killing of that Salvation Army major in little North Little Rock, Ark., by a couple of thugs apparently bent on robbing him would have advanced our cause even if it hadn't so disheartened our enemies. For he was the kind of cheery soul who is always helping others and generally undermining our cause in the best -- or, from our perspective, worst -- way.

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"He was a big guy," as one of his friends described him. "A big, old teddy-bear kind of guy." That's the worst combination we can come up against, as you well know. We covered it in Deviltry 101 -- an early lecture on the dangers of a happy spirit. I trust you were paying attention, dear nephew. If not, there'll be hell to pay.

It's one thing to show up some old sourpuss who's always doing good in the most solemn, pompous, grudging way, complete with a long sermon on the faults of the undeserving poor. That's no trick; that type is our best advertisement, for nothing makes evil more attractive than those who do good self-righteously, squeezing every nickel of self-promotion out of their meager gifts to charity.

It's the jolly Santa types that really undermine us. Like this Philip Wise of the Salvation Army. Somebody who goes into tough neighborhoods, ministers to the needy, plays the tuba, loves sports and kids, and generally brings the Good News. That sort is a walking, talking, smiling threat to our satanic Master.

Major Wise never stopped doing the Enemy's work, and when he was gunned down in the presence of his three children, what a testament to the real, inescapable existence of Evil in the world.

The major was just returning to the Army's community center after dropping off a couple of bell-ringers at their homes on the last day of its annual kettle drive. That'll show the skeptics that no good deed goes unpunished. Major Wise had done so many of them over his 15 years with the Salvation Army that we hated to see him coming with his beaming countenance. We knew he was up to good.

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.