Battle Ready

Posted: Apr 15, 2008 10:01 AM

We had to laugh at the remarks Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain prepared for delivery yesterday to the Associated Press' annual meeting in Washington: "Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here. I want to keep my remarks brief, so that I can quickly get to your questions, comments or insults."

Rest of the story

Anybody who has been around Washington long enough realizes that it's not so much the presidents who shape the country, rather it's the people they surround themselves with.

Tomorrow at noon, Robert Schlesinger, son of famed historian and John F. Kennedy speechwriter Arthur Schlesinger Jr., will be in the Jefferson Room of the National Archives to discuss his book "White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters," the first book of its kind to offer comparative portraits of modern presidents and the men and women who helped shape their public record.

That said, Inside the Beltway will recall that while his is not a household name, Peter Robinson, who served for almost five years as a speechwriter to President Reagan, was assigned the task of writing the Gipper's historic 1987 speech at the Berlin Wall, when in no uncertain terms he ordered Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!"

Last summer, with little fanfare, Mr. Robinson wrote in the National Archives publication Prologue that before he wrote the famous speech he had broken from the White House advance team and joined a dozen Berliners of different walks of life for dinner — businessmen, academics, students and homemakers.

One man spoke up that each morning on his way to work, he walked past a guard tower, and the same soldier would gaze down at him through binoculars: "That soldier and I speak the same language. We share the same history. But one of us is a zookeeper, and the other is an animal, and I am never certain which is which."

At which point the gracious dinner hostess, he continued, grew angry, her face red, pounding her fist: "If this man Gorbachev is serious ... he can get rid of this wall."

The rest, as they say, is history.

Let them ring

Will the Bells of Balangiga be ringing again in the Philippines?

Sonny Sampayan-Sampayan, U.S. special envoy of the Diocese of Borongan in the Philippines, told Inside the Beltway yesterday that this week is the "perfect opportunity" — coinciding with the U.S. visit of Pope Benedict XVI — for President Bush "to return the bells to the Catholic Church."

During the previous Congress, Rep. Bob Filner, California Democrat, had introduced legislation urging Mr. Bush to authorize the return of the two bells — on display at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming — to church parishioners of Balangiga.

How did the pair of bells wind up in Wyoming?

"It was a result of a conflict, between Filipino and American soldiers in 1901 in the town of Balangiga on the island of Samar, Philippines, that the bells in the Balangiga church were taken to the United States as war trophies," Mr. Filner explained.

However, he pointed out that Balangiga's residents later erected a memorial of Philippine and American war dead from the 1901 incident, all of whom are honored by the town every Sept. 28. "Filipino people have requested the return of the bells to the original setting in the Balangiga parish where they could ring again, after 106 years of muteness, as a symbol of this bond," Mr. Filner noted at the time.

In recent days, Mr. Sampayan-Sampayan, supported by the Holy See, suggested in a letter to the White House: "The return of our church bells will leave a lasting legacy for President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI and cement the friendship of America's oldest ally in the Pacific."

There are 80 million Roman Catholics in the Philippines.