Why is Walter Cronkite a pessimist who believes war and peace will never give into the other?   At a seminar last night, 86-year-old Cronkite told over 300 people at the City College of New York he sees a dark cloud of gloom on the horizon of mankind.   Why didn't he imply, suggest or make a stand for Vigilance?  At the same time, Saddam Hussein was giving a speech in Baghdad calling upon his warlords to "restrain themselves," and let the U.N. weapons inspectors do their job.   Why did Hussein shift his attitude from being a bellicose despotic leader against weapons inspection, to a Vigilant one calling on restraint?   Compare these two vastly different people and see if there is a common or uncommon thread.


Friday--December 6, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 450
The Night The Beast Of Terror Swallowed Walter Cronkite
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, Dec. 6 --I took odds with 86-year-old Walter Cronkite's stand on Terror Hunting last nightMy opposition doesn't make me right, or the icon of American news wrong.   But, in my Book Of Vigilance, the Beast of Terror swallowed Walter Cronkite, digested him, and passed him.   

         Let me explain.
        Terror Hunting is all about standing up to the Bully of Terrorism at home and abroad. Terrorism is not a negotiable entity, for any compassion it suggests or implies in its nefarious nature, is a subterfuge, camouflage that lulls the gullible into a state of Complacency.   Once the Vigilant takes his or her eye off the Beast of Terror, the game is over.  The Beast wins.

      I think Walter Cronkite took his eye off the Beast of Terror and it ate him when he wasn’t looking.
       Last night at New York City College (CCNY), founded in 1847 and the alma matter of Secretary of State Colin Powell, octogenarian Cronkite spoke with reflective aplomb about his 60 years of journalism.  Over his six decades, Cronkite covered every U.S. President since Herbert Hoover.  Over half a century of reporting, he gained the reputation as the "most trusted newsman" in the world.
        Cronkite is no armchair newsman.   He's seen the face of the Beast of Terror many times during his war reporting.   He took part in the Normandy beachhead assaults in World War II, parachuted with the 101st Airborne Division, and was one of the first newsmen in B-17 raids over Germany.  He also covered the Nuremberg trials of Goring, Hess and other top Nazis.   He went to Vietnam to report the war first-hand.
      As the anchorman for CBS Evening News (1962-1981), Cronkite earned the respect of millions as a fair and unbiased reporter of facts and events.  He worked at CBS for 49 years.  His fame reaches worldwide.  Anchormen and women in Holland, for example, are called Cronkiters, and in Sweden, Kronkiters.

The Great Hall of Shepard Hall at CCNY

      During the question period led by CCNY President Gregory H. Williams,  Mr. Cronkite steered his answers over his six decades of news reporting as though his tongue were a historian's pen. He delighted the audience with various anecdotes of famous leaders and events such as Lyndon Johnson’s habit of grabbing anyone’s lapel who disagreed with him, pulling him into his face and holding what Cronkite called a “nose-to-nose summit.”
         On the issue of war itself, Cronkite confessed his dismay and pessimism to the three hundred audience members in attendance, including former New York City Mayor David Dinkins.  Cronkite lives in New York City with his wife Betsy.
     "When I started out as a reporter I was optimistic that war might lead to peace," he said solemnly.  "Over the years I've become a pacifist.  It's dumbfounding to me that as sensitive human beings, mothers, fathers, family members we spend so much money developing weapons that kill so many so fast and spend so little on the development of peace."
     The news icon noted that America spends the least of any nation in aiding other countries as a percentage of gross national product.   He said this represented a neglect on America’s part to build the world’s overall strength, and created disparity and resentments within other nations.
     In the hour and a half seminar in the Great Hall of the 11,000-strong college, Cronkite derided the lack of war coverage in the Middle East.  He was irritated the United States controlled the press from reporting on the facts of war.

Cronkite greeted by ex-NYC Mayor Dinkins

     "Government has restricted the press from covering the war in Afghanistan.  We don't get the facts.   The war is being conducted in secrecy.  We can’t compare our actions in this war to others."

      Regarding the threats the U.S. have issued to Saddam Hussein about invading Iraq, Cronkite firmly stated he was opposed to "government by ultimatum."   In response to a question about how he would handle the situation were he the President, he opted for negotiations, time to consider all alternatives and a greater show of support from the United Nations to find a diplomatic rather than militaristic solution to the Iraqi conundrum.
     The key to thwarting the impending war--which he said could lead to World War III-- was the suggestion that Secretary of State Powell resign in protest to the Administration’s "war policy."  He said Powell was against rapid military action, and that such an act would shift public opinion and stall the hawks eager to invade Iraq.   However, he added, the odds were slim that would happen since Mr. Powell is a former military man who follows orders.  “Unfortunately, it’s in his nature to go along with his Commander-In-Chief,” Cronkite said.

          Mr. Cronkite also chided America's "pious attitude" toward resolving problems around the world.   He cited  the low percent of U.S. GNP going to aid troubled countries and lashed out at defense spending and national aggression.  "I find it embarrassing as an American we have taken a position of telling other nations what to do," he said.   "It is better to show them by example of our own behavior at home than to dictate to the world.  Leadership by ultimatum won’t get us anywhere," he said.
      After the questioning period that included audience participation, Mr. Cronkite took a few moments to greet people.  I shook his hand and told him my experience.

An attempted Vigilance discussion  between
Cliff McKenzie and Walter Cronkite

     "I was a U.S. Marine Combat Correspondent in Vietnam.  I had a tough job--first to kill and then to write and glorify the killing.  It wasn't an easy task."
     Mr. Cronkite smiled.  He adjusted his hearing aid and smiled.  Looking into the man’s eyes, I sensed he was genuine in his beliefs, and thought perhaps he had grown sour on American peace policy from rubbing shoulders with the Beast of Terror for too many years.  Human ugliness can jade one’s view of life unless it is balanced with hope.
     Cronkite had been the lead news spokesman for the worst of human events such as John F. Kennedy's assassination (he cried on air during the announcement of JFK’s death), his first-hand view of the Vietnam War (he started out as a hawk and ended up announcing to America “we had lost the war"), the Korean War, and a host of blood-and-guts battles between nations and peoples that, unless guarded by some greater hope for humankind, would sour anyone who thought "good" will overpower "evil," or that "right" will eventually topple "wrong," or that human decency would one day outrace human indignation.

     His comments were not bitter; they were reflective.  He spoke as a disillusioned philosopher who, traveling into the future, found that the idealism he had scribed centuries before had not moved off dead center.   
     I had expected that Mr.Cronkite might offer a solution to the ills of humanity.  I had hoped he might call upon the audience to take action on some issue, to seek some flag on some high hill that would deafen the crunch of human decaying bones littering the path of those who trudge toward the peak of human idealism—the idealism that people can work together in unity if they have a common goal and common purpose bigger than their own selfish and personal agendas as peoples, states, and nations.  I was also surprised no one asked him a question regarding Nine Eleven, or the impact Terrorism has had on American unity or the need to readjust our thinking in terms of fighting Terrorism on all fronts—especially the Emotional as well as the Physical threats it creates.

The City College of New York Entrance

      I guess I wanted him to be the "Grandfather of Vigilance," hoisting up the children's children's children security as the goal worthy of all our attention.  I wanted him to suggest that we--individuals--must fight for the power of peace through employing Vigilance, and not abdicate individual, neighborhood, community, state or even national security to government.  I wanted him to tell us all not to wait for our leaders to negotiate our future destiny or those of our children.  I wanted him to point a finger at us and tell us to climb out of the quagmire of Complacency and stop waiting for Moses to bring us tablets we cannot read, from a God we cannot see, and not to accept anyone’s word as gospel except the cries of the children’s children’s children.
     But Mr. Cronkite didn't broach or even nudge any of those themes.
     His lack of enthusiasm to challenge the audience to evolve beyond the sinkhole of Complacency shocked me.
     A man of such power and prestige as Walter Cronkite seemed a perfect bullhorn to awaken the Spirit of Vigilance in Americans and the global community.   It seemed to me  that after years of reporting on the Beast of Terror, he might have grown angry at the constant kowtowing of the public to increased governmental power and policy that seeks to dictate the future of the children without asking the Parents of Vigilance if that’s the direction they want to go.  Accepting government policy without a justification as to its future impact on the children seems to be a flagrant violation of public trust.   That’s why I wanted Cronkite to call on mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts and loved ones to re-constitutionalize themselves—to become Sentinels of Vigilance, to become active cogs in the Wheel of Vigilance. He didn’t once use the “V” word—the “Vigilance” word.

    Instead of being electrified by his wisdom, I felt his yoke of Complacency bearing down on the room.  It seemed he had  resigned himself to the fact that people have no power except to accept their lot as followers of leaders, and not to Voice their concerns as leaders of the children’s children’s future.
     I find age not a deterrent to purpose, or an excuse for the lack of it.   It would be easy for me to write off Mr. Cronkite's comments as the sad commentary of an old, tired man who has given up hope that peace can overpower war, that security will one day reign over insecurity, that government will one day be commanded by Sentinels of Vigilance not lone, wild Terrorism warriors bent on seeking power at the world's expense.
     The older I grow, the more passionate my belief in the silver lining that surrounds the cloud of despair looming dangerously close to everyone on earth.    Instead of accepting the way the world is, I see the present as the launch pad for the a new time of self-discovery of human evolution, a time I call the Era Of Vigilance.  This era demands a retaking of power by the people from the government by forcing our leaders to tell us how decisions are in the best interest of our children’s children’s children.  If they aren’t, then such a decision is a Terroristic Decision, not a Vigilant one, and either needs to be revamped or rejected.

     The Era of Vigilance demands parents, grandparents, relatives and loved ones to starve the Beast of Terror’s desire to breed Fear, Intimidation and Complacency by inoculating themselves from the Beast’s hunger with Courage, Conviction and Right Actions aimed solely to the benefit of the children’s children children.
      President Bush’s adamant stance to uncover and discover Terrorism in Iraq under threat of military attack is a form of long-range Vigilance being viewed by many as short range strong arming—or as Cronkite put it, “government by ultimatum.”
       Terrorists are bullies.  They do not understand or respect diplomacy or negotiations.  But they do understand the power of the club.   And that club is creating knots on the Beast of Terror’s head.
      Saddam Hussein feels them.  He’s getting the bruising message.

Saddam Hussein & ruling party members  of Baath Party in Baghdad

      Yesterday, for example, Hussein speaking for 23 minutes on Iraqi television to nearly three dozen of his top military leaders, called upon Iraqi "hawks" to be patient and let the weapons inspectors do their jobs.   It was his first public commentary on the forced reentry of weapons inspectors into his country.  His response was timely, issued just a two days before the Dec. 8 deadline mandated by the American driven U.N. mandate for him to disclose all the locations of his "secret weapons."
       Taking a position contrary to his usual bellicose individualism, he said Iraq should let the inspectors do their work so as to "keep our people out of harm's way."
       Taha Yassin Ramadan, the number three man in the Baghdad hierarchy, said on Wednesday night that if American leaders continued to second guess the weapons inspectors and imply that they were likely to fail in their task of uncovering hidden weapons programs, "by the American logic, war is unavoidable."
       Mr. Hussein, who has ruled Iraq for 23 years with an iron-like despotic fist, appeared to be taking on a "Father of Vigilance" position, quite in contrast to his knee-jerk reactions to intrusions into his country by outside forces.   Known as a secularist, he even invoked the name of "God" numerous times, suggesting he was seeking the aid of a "higher power" in his decisions, a contrast to his prior positions where he alone stood against all intruders, including spiritual ones.

      I found it ironic that Hussein was seeking a "higher order" while Cronkite never once promoted that America should rise above its faults.   On the surface, Cronkite appeared more of a secularist and Mr. Hussein more of a spiritualist.  But then Walter Cronkite isn’t looking down the barrel of the U.S. six-shooter.
        I am not a hawk or a dove.   I don't think war or peace represent the yin and yang of the human condition.   Personally, I believe there is another force--Vigilance--that stands above the push and pull of human conflict, and can only be achieved when each individual and family becomes advocates of its benefits to the children in their daily lives.
        Vigilance can only exist when we are willing to think and act outside the circle of the present, only when we drive our decisions into the future impact they have on the children three generations ahead of us.   If the decisions we make today are to the benefit of all the children by at least one percent more than to their disadvantage, then such a decision is a Vigilant one.   With a gun to his head, Hussein appears to be reaching for a percent more Vigilance than Terrorism.   If evolution is a miniscule movement up the ladder from war to peace, from Terrorism’s bottom rung toward one marked with a “V” for Vigilance, then Hussein’s speech indicates he’s made at least one move in that direction, even if it may be motivated by threat.   The neighbor next door who beats his children and is warned by the police if he does it again he’ll be arrested and put in prison may not abuse his children any more, and in the interim, realize his actions in the future will be scrutinized.   He may elect to change his parenting techniques from Terrorism toward Vigilance.  There is little difference between the U.S. standing vigil over Hussein and the police at the door of a suspected abuser.  

Can we begin to trust Saddam Hussein, or.......???

         While I'm far from a Hussein supporter, I got the feeling that his speech was an indication he may be softening and accepting his “leader’s duty” to protect his children--the people of his nation and their children's children's children.    At the same time, I am not naïve.  In the same speech warning his “hawks” to retract their talons, Hussein reinforced the giving of $25,000 bounties to Palestinian suicide bombers--his way of rewarding the killing of innocent people in the name of jihad.  The leopard’s spots do not change easily.

      But the fact that Saddam Hussein called upon his hawks to hide their talons is a possible signal of change, a glimpse of “silver linings” in an otherwise dark and turbulent storm hanging over the world.   
        In a surprising contrast was the dulling of hope that evolution in our world is possible, issued by Walter Cronkite's comments last night that he held a fatalistic attitude about peace ever culminating into reality.  
       In my book, the Beast of Terror has swallowed Walter Cronkite.  Hopefully, he will spit him out
when he finds he doesn't like the taste of pessimism.

Dec. 5--The Terror Of Finding A Blind Man With A Pencil

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