Michael Kelly, the newspaperman who was the first reporter to die in Iraq, was among the best and the most thoughtful. He knew the danger that Saddam Hussein posed for his own people and the rest of us. He saw the last Gulf War up close and recalled the tortured bodies of corpses he had seen in Kuwait City where skins were left black and blue from beatings, where men had been burnt alive, where eyes were ripped from their sockets.
"After that," he writes, " I never could stand the arguments of those who sat in the luxury of safety - 'advocating nonresistance behind the guns of the American Fleet' as George Orwell wrote of World War II pacifists."
Orwell taught him about tyranny, too. "Tyranny truly is a horror: an immense, endlessly bloody, endlessly painful, endlessly varied, endless crime against not humanity in the abstract but a lot of humans in the flesh. It is, as Orwell wrote, a jackboot forever stomping on a human face."
Courage requires a deep appreciation of life and that appreciation was incandescent in Michael Kelly's columns. He was known as a reporter who had a brilliant eye for the specific detail that illuminates, but his words brought intellectual order and poetry to the clouds of chaotic fire and death around him.
The Germans and the French depict President Bush as an out-of-control cowboy riding a bucking bronco with only a dim perception of where he will land. They ought to read Michael Kelly's columns. They might find something to contemplate in this reflection, written six weeks ago:
"I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?"