Saturday, May 01, 2004


(I'm proud to say I gave $140 bucks to this effort)

A Good Start On the Iraq Homefront
Spirit of America exceeds its fund-raising goals 15-fold.

Friday, April 30, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

The photograph below was taken at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base 38 miles north of San Diego. It shows Col. Robert Knapp and Spirit of America's Jim Hake in front of the television equipment that was bought with contributions from readers of this newspaper and others. It will be in the air tomorrow, bound for Al Anbar province in Iraq. There, Marines from the First Expeditionary Force will help Iraqis restore seven local TV stations.

This is a remarkable story of can-do. I think it is also the story of a nation willing to do more than it has been asked by the Bush administration. It is about the need for an Iraqi homefront.

The column describing Spirit of America's effort to raise $100,000 for the TV stations appeared in this space 14 days ago. Since then, the following has happened:

Jim Hake, Spirit of America's entrepreneur founder, says they have received $1.52 million. Some 7,000 donations have come from every state, and one from ... France.

Mr. Hake purchased all the needed equipment and had suppliers ship directly to Camp Pendleton. Federal Express donated domestic shipping costs.

Stanley Hubbard at Hubbard Broadcasting Inc. in Minnesota has offered several hundred thousand dollars in state of the art digital television equipment. That equipment would provide satellite uplink and downlink capability, allowing the Iraqis' TV stations to get program content from elsewhere in the world.

Mr. Hake has received five new requests from military in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, the live war that faded from view until Pat Tillman, the former NFL player, was killed there. A Special Forces soldier in Afghanistan requested soccer equipment for a village team: "They compete regionally but have no equipment save a couple of soccer balls." The team's equipment will soon be shipped.

Sounds like small potatoes. But in the relatively alien worlds the U.S. now finds itself, represented by its soldiers, this is what must be done if we hope to extinguish terrorism and restore self-government in lands taken over by terrorist networks.

Tellingly, Mr. Hake has also received a request from a Coalition Provisional Authority office in Iraq. The CPA of course is the U.S. government agency officially tasked with restoring Iraq, and funded by Congress (i.e., the American people). That the CPA itself would ask Jim Hake for help suggests that peacetime rules and red tape are smothering a wartime effort--whether by the CPA, private contractors or the military. This is a good subject for another time (horror stories of bureaucracy run wild welcome at the address below).

Let us downshift a moment from this tale of real people giving their own money to do real good in Iraq to survey how the war appears more familiarly in the life of America. Just in the past week, amid televised scenes of U.S. soldiers fighting to defeat their killers and the killers of Iraqi innocents in Fallujah and Najaf, the homefront consisted of:

John Kerry sitting down Monday with ABC's Charles Gibson to parse "medals" and "ribbons" in panicked syntax that recalled Ralph Cramden's famous "hummina-hummina-hummina" routine; a debate over televising covered coffins; an appearance before the all-partisan September 11 commission by the President and Vice President; and tonight's scheduled naming by Ted Koppel of every U.S. soldier killed in Iraq the past year. Mr. Koppel said, "We felt that the impact would actually be greater on a day when the entire nation is not focused on its war dead." Not focused on its war dead?

The war as it is presented in the U.S. and the war as it exists in Iraq seems to occupy separate spheres of reality. The political class and media treat the war as something whose "policy" details can somehow be revisited, even rethought. At home, the war is a political event, a normal partisan phenomenon. Its metaphors are borne out of Vietnam--quagmire, bogged down, body counts, Ted Kennedy.

Guess what? Vietnam isn't coming back. The people of this country tore the nation's fabric terribly over Vietnam. They are not going to do it again.

The grand response to the Spirit of America request says to me that the public understands that we are there in Iraq and the job now isn't to debate its value but to get the job done. Most Americans don't want to be one of the partisan bobbleheads on television. They want to be part of a genuine homefront, helping. One who responded to the Spirit of America appeal, Dick Kampa of Tucson, Ariz., put it this way:

"My sense is that there are many who would support civilian, home-front activity that would bolster troop morale and communicate to the Iraqi people that we really are their friends. Putting a political label on such activity would be counterproductive. I think Democrats and Republicans should, and many would, unite in these activities. Perhaps we need rallies or community meetings linked to constructive actions like funds for impactful projects in Iraq, adopt-a-communities, collection of goods, bandage rolling, etc., things that involve people across America."

You know for a fact that if Laura Bush undertook any such homefront effort, it would be dissected and mocked as hokey and irrelevant. Too bad. I don't think most Americans want to debate woulda, coulda, shoulda just now. They want to win. Spirit of America is a start, but someone high in the Bush administration ought to start thinking of ways to let more people pitch in.

Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Fridays in the Journal and on