Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Are we winning?

For the past few weeks, there seems to have been little of substance to hold the attention of the masses -- or, at least, the news giants’ notion of the masses -- even when President Bush was asked about Iraq in light of the Iraq Study Group report. But his response made headlines, in bold capital letters, in all the press: “BUSH SAYS WE’RE NOT WINNING.” It’s true, before the elections, he had stated, “Absolutely, we’re winning,” and, now, it’s a little less absolute. But in context, he’d said that we had established a working elected government, we were rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure, and our military role was shifting in most provinces away from stopping terrorists and toward training Iraqis to control their own districts. And just to remind everybody, the more recent “We’re not winning” was followed closely by “and we’re not losing.”

For those who are unsure what this means, let me phrase this in seasonal terms.

As of the second week in December, when the President made his statement about the war on terrorism, the Bears were at the top of their division (as they still are as I write), but had not yet brought home the trophy and rings from Super Bowl LXI.

The Bears have made numerous mistakes -- not the least of which being having a quarterback with a brain apparently the size of a hangnail and a tendency to spend his evenings in low dives where his friends might get themselves shot (not unlike the opinion some have of a certain White House denizen). Sometimes, as we watch them stumble their way into the end zone time after time, we start thinking they don’t deserve to have the franchise, let alone be top seeded for the playoffs (and, when one looks at what they did to Soldier Field, turning in to the Mistake By the Lake, one almost wishes they had been sent to some other undeserving state long ago). The Bears have also been notoriously lucky, notoriously earnest, and notoriously Chicagoan.

Even when they lose, the Bears will always have the loyalty of their fans. Fair-weather fans of Chicago teams are few and far between, due to the naive hope that we and our teams can somehow keep the game alive through childlike spirit alone. We believe in the game, and we believe in our team. So, we believe each year until the very last minute that we will have that championship in every sport. It occasionally pays off.

Not to flippantly compare a war with football games, but it seems to me, our troops have a hugely loyal fan base, and a history of mostly winning, even when they’re statistical underdogs. And, Afghanistan and Iraq are campaigns to win something much bigger than a trophy and a bunch of tacky, oversized jewelry. If we want to call it a game, the loving cup handed to the winning team is choice: the winner chooses whether or not there will be freedom... freedom to live. If we win the long season’s championship, we make life safer for free people everywhere. If they win, it’s better lives for some mullahs and a few others, but the rest of the world will get less than nothing, as jihad spreads and sharia consumes more of the free world. If they win, what we have seen so far in the world -- New York, London, Madrid, the “cartoon riots,” Theo van Gogh, et al. -- will by comparison seem like pre-teen flag football.

It’s still midseason, not even at playoffs, yet. Of course we’re not winning, right now. But that doesn’t mean we won’t, as long as we don’t do something Chicago-sports-stupid, like giving up and coming home before the season is over.

Addendum on a great team member lost: Due to my callowness in youth, I knew too little about President Gerald R. Ford to have formed anything more than a superficial opinion of him. After he left office, he displayed the good grace to allow his successors to preside without his interference, and so has not been a media darling. That makes it hard for a person to form much of an understanding -- other than that he seemed, ultimately, to have been a fine example of a truly decent man. That’s probably why he didn’t get much press. Still, he will certainly be missed.

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