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Democracy on hold while America waits

By By BONNIE BARTEL-LATINO
Advance Columnist
National news is not a staple of a bi-weekly local newspaper, but the aftermath of the presidential election is the talk of the town, as it is everywhere in our nation. As a former opinion-editorial columnist for "Stars and Stripes" newspaper in Europe, I feel compelled to comment on the political purgatory in which our nation now finds itself.
While democracy is not endangered, the uncertainty surrounding the election certainly makes it feel as if the commonwealth is momentarily on hold. It is almost as if the pause button has been pushed on America and our history via some cosmic remote control.
Our nation's limbo began on election nighteven before the fiasco in which networks jumped off-sides in their rush to be first to "call" a state for one candidate or another. CBS TV anchor, Dan Rather, did not well-serve the election process by saying that, "Bush is moving through the South like a tornado through a trailer park." That is but one example of numerous trite and flippant comments Rather made during prolonged election night coverage. We do not need hackneyed stereotypes about any part of the nation, especially when our citizens are conducting our most sacred responsibility, voting.
In retrospect, Rather's comments and cavalier attitude during much of the election broadcast may have set the foundation for the multiple mistakes his network made that night. Electing the next president of the free world's leader is serious business. We must all be held accountable for our actions. In my humble opinion, responsibility and accountability also applies equally to the electorate as to television anchormen and network moguls.
Much is being made of the importance of the overseas absentee ballots. As the 30-year spouse of a career military officer, who spent 15 of those years living outside the continental United States, I can assure you that if the bulk of those votes do indeed come from military personnel, Bush will garner, at a minimum, 75 percent of them. On that, I would bet my mama's heirloom silver flatware that was hidden in a Louisiana well during the War of Northern Aggression. Yes, that includes the iced tea spoons AND the gumbo spoons!
Why am I so sure about those ballots? As a former commander of an American air base in Germany said to me, "The military readiness pendulum has always swung back and forth over the years, but now that pendulum has swung too far, I fear."
I more than fear it. I know it first hand, just as that Air Force fighter pilot and colonel knew it. In the past eight years, America's military has been tasked to take on more and more humanitarian missions around the world, while being allotted fewer personnel and inadequate resources to complete those global tasks. To say that our nation's military capacity is stretched to the max is a gross understatement.
This election fallout reminds me, to an uncomfortable extent, of voting fiascoes I witnessed during the years I lived in Athens, Greece, where my husband served as a Communications Group Commander. So far, we haven't seen Uzi machine guns on the streets of America, at least not in reference to Florida's election snafu, but some of the verbal rhetoric by irresponsible politicians seems almost as lethally inflammatory.
On Veteran's Day weekend as I pondered the eventual outcome of this constitutional situation, I received an e-mail expressing crucial sentiments that seem to have escaped the attention of both parties and candidates, not to mention the self-serving networks. I refer to the potential peril such discord could thrust our nation into on the global stage.
The author of the electronic correspondence was Ed Evans, a retired Master Gunnery Sergeant, who spent 27 years in the Marine Corps. He served two tours of duty in Viet Nam – first, as a combat field chief for a Marine oral history team and later, as a Leatherneck' magazine photojournalist. In both capacities he was thrown into the vortex of war, officially recording the thick of battle.
However, as a military journalist, Evans was always expected to be ready to put down his photographic equipment, sight in and target the enemy without exception. During his Viet Nam tours of duty he was present at as many deaths of his friends and fellow soldiers as most small town ministers witness in an entire lifetime. There can be no simile for the brutality of the deaths Ed witnessed and sometimes still dreams about.
Though he has also worked on New York's Fifth Avenue as a public relations specialist in the Marine Corps Information Office, Freedom and Democracy are not mere media sound bytes or buzz words to him, nor are they simply intangibles. To Ed Evans and Americans like him, Freedom and Democracy compose a scared Trust that is entwined in their very DNA and interred in the bones of the men and women who have died for that very Trust.
Ed has lived in Tennessee for 12 years where he continues to serve his nation as a civil servant in Nashville. He has given me permission to share his thoughts about what the presidential election of 2000 means to us and the rest of the world. The text of his e-mail follows:
I believe the American people are settled in their minds that the system works, and are prepared to wait until hell freezes over for the results. Any political diddling either of the candidates engage in at this point can only count against them.
I dislike one of the candidates so intensely that I have found myself thinking that if he gets in, he will never be MY president! But America has a tradition of closing ranks behind the man and the party selected, and right now, even before this dragged out decision is made, all Americans need to remember that and to begin to embrace the concept.
Internally, America has its political differences, but terrorists outside our gates, and some inside, will take advantage of any crack they can find in the body politic and whipsaw us about with it. We must be one country united.
It has to be like it is with my brother, Gary, and me. We rarely agree on anything, but God help the person who tries to come between us, or who takes on one of us. For instance, I had just come back from Viet Nam in 1968 and I rode a bus to meet Gary. He had lost his left leg in Viet Nam in 65 but was out of the hospital using a prosthesis, which he hated.
We got into a political argument before we ever got out of the bus station upon my arrival. We were standing on the street corner yelling at each other, probably looking like we were about to duke it out. A passing sailor stopped, butted in and took Gary's side in the argument. My brother launched on him like a shipboard rack of missile launchers. The poor guy never knew what hit him. Gary never touched the sailor but backed him clear across the street instructing him who I was, (Two-time Viet Nam vet, etc.) and why I deserved the man's respect. Further, he told the sailor he should keep his asinine opinions to himself.
We, as a nation, need to close ranks like Gary did that day. We need to solve this problem and move on. People are dying in other parts of the world. They are starving, they are being blown apart. Children are looking with sad eyes to the help that only America can give. We need to get a bigger perspective here. Make a decision, America, then move on. The whole world is watching.
Each hour seems to bring more turmoil and new threats of litigation. We are mired in relativism, and the absolutes are rapidly melting before legal writs and court arguments. Of such things are coups and revolutions made. Thank God our forefathers have given us a solid system that continues in the aftermath of an election that is literally still too close to call.
God bless the U. S. A.