Tone of Powell’s letter: just the right tint

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

Last week, as the controversy about President Bush’s plan to rewrite the Geneva Convention played out in the Senate Judiciary Committee, I happened to read Colin Powell’s letter to Sen. John McCain opposing any such withdrawal.
Here’s an excerpt from Powell’s letter:
“I have read the powerful and eloquent letter sent to you by one [of] my distinguished predecessors as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jack Vessey. I fully endorse in tone and tint his powerful argument. The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism …”
“Tone and tint” — an interesting phrase, so unlike the stilted, cautious bureaucratese that has long characterized Powell’s public utterances.
I knew where Powell had seen those words. They are contained in the penultimate paragraph of one of the greatest speeches in American history, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s address to the Corps of Cadets at West Point on May 12, 1962.
Bidding farewell to the institution which he had entered 63 years before, MacArthur takes as his theme the motto on the West Point coat of arms, “Duty, Honor, Country.”
With an eloquence foreign to modern Americans, poetic, inspirational and deeply moving, MacArthur recalls the sacrifices of generations past, and calls upon his listeners to live by the noble principles for which so many had given their lives.
“Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory … Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men’s minds … Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government … But serene, calm and aloof, you stand as the nation’s war guardians …”
“The long gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: duty, honor, country.”
“This does not mean you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato: ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war.’
“The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished — tone and tints. They have gone glimmering through the dreams that were … In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: duty, honor, country.”
Did Powell include that extraordinarily evocative phrase “tone and tint” by happenstance, a fragment of memory, adrift from its origin?
I doubt it. I believe that every graduate of West Point since 1962 has read, and has been deeply moved by, MacArthur’s stirring words.
Powell’s letter may have been addressed to McCain (who surely understood the reference), but in a larger sense, it was addressed to his peers — to the long gray line, reminding them, and us, that the United States must adhere to higher standards and answer to a higher authority than do our present foes.
And Powell may see similarities between himself and MacArthur — distinguished soldiers who, at the end of their careers, were brought low by civilian politics. Like MacArthur, he may seek to salvage his reputation, and salve his conscience, by returning to the stern code that long guided his life — “Duty, Honor, Country.”
Meanwhile, last week’s extraordinary polls have the Democrats dancing in the streets and the Republicans dismayed and disbelieving.
Jay Fawcett up 13 points over Doug Lamborn in Congressional District 5? Bill Ritter up 17 points over Bob Beauprez in the race for governor? Say it ain’t so, Mr. Pollster, say it ain’t so!
I ran into my Denver friend, the Cautiously Liberal Young Democratic Elected Official (let’s call him Clyde for short) and asked him for his thoughts.
“The Fawcett people are just pulling the old Republican trick — push polling. You might say: Would you be more or less likely to vote for Jay if you knew he was a decorated veteran of the Gulf War? And then you ask ‘Would you be more or less likely to vote for Lamborn if you knew he cheated on his taxes/beat his kids/took bribes?’ I’m surprised Lamborn got 28 percent! But the Ritter poll’s legit. For a while, all the Dems were cackling that Beauprez might withdraw — now they’re afraid that he might actually do it. Suppose the Republicans could persuade Hank Brown or Scott McGinnis to take his place — Ritter would be in trouble.
“But you tell me — you live in the Springs, not me. Could Fawcett actually win?”
Now that’s an interesting question. Fawcett has a shot — which no Democrat has had since the 5th Congressional District was created in 1972.
So let’s imagine what might happen, business-wise, in the event of a Fawcett victory, or the more-likely event of a Lamborn win.
If Lamborn prevails, his first task will be to secure his base — to shore up his support in the district, particularly by reaching out to the folks who didn’t support him in the primary. That means the business community, whose most visible leaders were solidly behind Jeff Crank.
Lamborn knows that he has to build solid relationships with them, or he’ll face a credible primary challenge in 2008. He’ll try to play up his generally pro-business views, and play down his often-strident social agenda.
But he’ll make common cause with Tom Tancredo and Marilyn Musgrave, and get himself typecast as another right-wing extremist.
In short: Crank in 2008.
If Fawcett wins, in one of the most conservative congressional districts in the country, you can assume that the Dems will take control of both houses of Congress. If logic prevails, they’ll use their new majorities to shore up their freshman members, helping them to get re-elected two years hence.
That would mean lots of bennies for the Pikes Peak region — maybe money for a new summit house on Pikes Peak, more troops at Fort Carson, more transportation dollars. Or would it?
Probably not, because logic won’t prevail.
The Dems would use their new majorities to distribute goodies to safe Democratic districts, and spend the rest of the time trying to embarrass the Bush Administration. Expect multiple investigations (not a day will pass without a Halliburton executive being grilled by a congressional committee) and relentless politicking, much of it offensive to conservative Republicans.
Fawcett will do his best to protect us from the more flamboyant excesses of the new Democratic majorities (Close Fort Carson! Shut down NORAD, and store surplus cheese in Cheyenne Mountain!). Nevertheless, he’ll face a credible, determined, and well-financed GOP opponent in 2008, one without Lamborn’s negatives.
In short: Crank in 2008.
On the other hand, maybe Beauprez might consider moving to the Springs …
John Hazlehurst can be reached at or 634-3223, ext. 241.