When my husband and I lived in Charlottesville during the tumultuous late 60s, we observed the leadership of University of Virginia president Edgar Shannon. His handling of the potentially mutinous students was masterly. He was able to communicate to them that he was on the front lines with them, though in a more formal, more traditional way. In his commencement speech in 1970, he made some statements that are just as pertinent now as they were then. Here is one quotation from that speech:
“There are times when personal neutrality — and failure to express convictions on issues gripping the nation and the university community — can be fatal. In such circumstances…to take no position is in fact to take the worst of positions.”
Today on NPR we heard from Senator McCain, who has been debriefing Army Captain Ian Fishback of the 82nd Airborne about the habitual abuses of prisoners by the members of his First Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry (NTYimes, 10/5/05). We also heard from Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who opposes restrictions on prisoner (“detainee”) abuse and torture. Stevens said, We need to be able to treat these individuals the same way they would treat us. (I have not put this in quote marks because I may not have the wording exactly right, but I certainly have the basic idea right.) It was an inversion of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A new Golden Rule by Senator Stevens.
Don’t we need to be correcting these sorts of statements from the pulpits of the land? and don’t we need to hold up the Ian Fishbacks among us as models? Senator McCain said, after interviewing him further, “I’m even more impressed by what a fine and honorable officer he is.” Senator McCain’s praise may not do Capt. Fishback’s Army career any good. It took him 17 months to get a hearing; the Army refused to listen. Whistle-blowers tend to get demotions. Nevertheless, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.