Pacifist Hatfield supports Iraq war

Posted: Sep 30, 2004 12:00 AM

Yesterday's headlines: "No Free Ride in Crawford" (New York Times), "Local Paper Snubs Favorite Son" (Los Angeles Times), "Not Very Neighborly" (Chicago Tribune). The big news: The Lone Star Iconoclast, a weekly newspaper in Crawford, Texas, where President Bush has his ranch, endorsed John Kerry.

 Woop-de-do. The four-year-old newspaper with a circulation of 425 (most sources) or 1,000 (says The New York Times) has as its editor and publisher W. Leon Smith, a Democrat who is the mayor of a nearby Texas town, Clifton. So Smith went to press with the snub heard round the world (Agence France Press delighted in it). So what?

 Compare the attention given that item with a story that truly is surprising: Last week, former Oregon governor and senator Mark Hatfield, now 82, announced his strong support for the American effort in Iraq. He said, "Our world changed on Sept. 11, 2001. ... We have paid dearly with American and Iraqi lives for our commitment, but we cannot afford the alternative."

 So what? Is he one more bloviating politician? No, this is Mark Hatfield, the most prominent evangelical in politics during the 1960s, and one who led opposition to the Vietnam War and every American military effort since.

 At one point, Hatfield was the only governor in the nation who refused to sign a statement supporting President Johnson's Vietnam War policy. As a senator, he joined George McGovern in antiwar efforts.

 Later, Hatfield was the only senator who voted against both the Democrat and Republican resolutions authorizing the use of force in the 1991 Gulf War. During his 30 years in the Senate, he never voted in favor of a military appropriations bill. He opposed President Clinton's decision to send American troops to Bosnia.

 Talk about a man-bites-dog story! The pacifist turned militant at a time when many big talkers demand appeasement and call brave Iraqis who defy terrorists "puppets" of the U.S. government! If the Crawford teacup tempest plays big in the press, Hatfield's statement -- "It was crucial to the cause of world peace that (Saddam) be removed from power" -- must be huge, right?

 Nope. The Oregonian (Portland) and The Washington Times reported it. That's all. What's going through editors' minds? That Hatfield is a Republican, so his support for President Bush is unsurprising? But Hatfield was a very liberal GOP senator.

 Maybe editors without evangelical contacts don't know how important Hatfield was for Christians interested in politics. Or maybe they fear his sense that Sept. 11 should make advocates of peace the strongest opponents of terror-backing regimes. What if the evangelical left starts thinking that way?

 Hatfield has been lionized by the left as, to use the words of a publicist at White Cloud Press (which in 2000 published the senator's autobiography,"Against the Grain"), "the most progressive politician in the Republican Party since Abraham Lincoln." According to the publicist, "For five consecutive Senate terms, Hatfield made his mark, sometimes softly, sometimes stridently ... opposing the military-industrial complex and the violence of the arms race" and fighting for "basic human dignity."

 What if the Iraq War stopped being a right vs. left issue, as it has largely become? What if more people realized that support for basic human dignity means support of efforts to remove from power, when possible, those who deprive their own people of human dignity and threaten ours as well?

 Bob Dole once said, "No matter whether you agree with him or not, everyone who has had the pleasure of serving with him knows that Mark Hatfield is a man of integrity." But it seems that leading newspapers quote men of integrity only when politically useful. Sure, a Kerry endorsement by the tiny Crawford weekly can be Democratic campaign fodder and maybe even produce a chuckle. Why not report a surprising statement that might make us think?