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Bush's Moral Courage By: Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, September 06, 2004


A young military officer learns that courage comes in many forms. For example, airborne training requires that one develop the bravery needed to step out of an open aircraft door, often at night, sometimes with people shooting at you. Rangers, SEALs and Special Forces are required to develop another form of physical courage--the courage of endurance under prolonged physical and mental stress. Candidates are ground down by the discomfort of short rations, lack of sleep, intense physical challenges and demands on their leadership abilities. This is the courage of continuing to rise to do one's duty in the face of getting knocked down time and time again.

There is yet another form of courage that is more difficult to define and less frequently acknowledged, yet considerably more important than the two forms described above. This would be moral courage. In some ways the standards of the types of physical courage--bravery and endurance--are far easier to meet than those of moral courage. Moral courage requires a leader to do the right thing at the right time. He must test himself against standards that daunt others. Moral courage is requires considerable risk. It can hurt career advancement, damage relationships, or cost financially. Yet the payoff for moral courage is profound as it is intangible. That payoff is the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you have done the right thing.

Moral courage is severely tested, for example, when a leader's staff advises him or her to take an easier course, to listen to public opinion, to bow to the weight of the press, to heed critics, and to duck responsibility. These are seductive voices, the Scylla and Charybdis waiting to lure a leader into a catastrophe that sinks him and all who depend upon his judgment. Because moral courage is so rare, it is all the more to be valued when discovered in a leader. But many in our country and abroad have a differing opinion. Because they lack this courage they denigrate and even despise those who possess it.

A leader with moral courage is vilified as stupid, a "cowboy"(if American), a madman, irrational, a loose cannon, divisive, unilateral, obstinate, and--paradoxically--a tool of a cabal of corrupt advisors. These are some of the printable things said about a morally courageous leader. Embodying moral courage, leaders who have it typically ignore criticism, further enraging their critics. Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair are examples of morally courageous British leaders, while Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are examples of morally courageous American leaders.

Being morally courageous does not mean that one is always correct. As with any human being, morally courageous people make mistakes too, at times tragic ones. But they share common virtues. They are leaders who stand firm against vacillating counsel or pressure to appease an enemy. They steer their country and the free world through dangerous times. In times of acute stress their compass is a well-understood, focused moral code. They are willing to seek divine guidance. They recognize that the values they are responsible for promoting and protecting are greater than themselves. In fighting to safeguard those values they achieve greatness.

If the quality of a person is evaluated in part by contrast to his enemies then George W. Bush scores well. Those who attack him clearly lack moral courage. They cringe fearfully before America's enemies. They urge appeasement. They howl hysterically about "unnecessary" war, drowning themselves in waves of emotional, irrational accusation. When unable to find substantive fault they fabricate. If challenged on facts they counter with feelings. They hide their falsehoods in endless, mindless repetition. Compared to these people George W. Bush stands tall indeed.

Bush is no saint. Like many of us in younger days, he had wild moments. But he overcame them and found his compass. He earned an MBA from Harvard. As an Air Force pilot he flew the hottest interceptor jet of the period, the F-102. (A higher percentage of Air Force F-102 pilots died in crashes than did Navy Swift Boats officers in combat in Vietnam. Flying the F-102 challenged physical courage at all levels.) Bush became a solid leader. But the 9-11 attack raised the bar very high indeed. His moral courage was developed in the flames of terrorism and war and emerged stronger than ever. Bush has confidence in himself and his values. He distinguishes the important from the frivolous.

Bush's refusal to take his enemies' criticism seriously drives them nuts. When they call him stupid  he responds by cracking a self-effacing joke, referring to himself as "misunderestimated." He rises above the critics because he is the real thing. He visits troops in combat, faces down dictators, and deals firmly with phony allies. He confidently surrounds himself with tough advisors, people who are also guided by a strong moral compass and who care less about polling data and focus groups than they do on accomplishing critical missions. He privately comforts the relatives of those lost in combat, respecting their grief and sharing in it. At every opportunity Bush praises the sacrifices of the servicemen and women that he has ordered into harm's way. He enjoys a mutual respect with America's military that cannot be faked or contrived.

America is being tested by forces bent on destroying us. We must bring all possible strength to the fight, most importantly leadership shaped by moral courage. George W. Bush defines moral courage in a time when our country and the free world desperately need that quality. He is the right leader for a dangerous time.

Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu has been an Army Green Beret lieutenant colonel, as well as a writer, popular speaker, business executive and farmer. His most recent book is Separated at Birth, about North and South Korea. He returned recently from an embed with soldiers in Iraq and has launched a web site called Support American Soldiers to assist traveling soldiers.


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