Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Paying Tribute to Democracy

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Paying Tribute to Democracy

Article excerpt

If the good feelings that Independence Day evokes are something you would like to prolong, I have two books to recommend. Both of them, believe me, will deepen your appreciation of this country, its history and its people.

The first, published last year, is "The Nightingale's Song" by Robert Timberg, a first-class journalist at The Baltimore Sun. It is the story of five men whose lives, like the author's, have been decisively shaped by the Naval Academy and the Vietnam War. Three of them became famous, in different ways, because of the Iran-Contra scandal: former Reagan administration National Security Council officials Robert C. (Bud) McFarlane, John Poindexter and Oliver L. North. The fourth is the mercurial James H. Webb Jr., novelist and onetime Navy secretary. And the fifth is John S. McCain III, a Vietnam POW and now senator from Arizona.

"The five major characters in this book," Timberg writes, "display vast differences in personality and style, but some remarkably similar strains as well. In a way, though none would be comfortable with this characterization, they are secret sharers, men whose experiences at Annapolis and during the Vietnam War and its aftermath illuminate a generation, or a portion of a generation - those who went.

"Each in his own way stands as a flesh-and-blood repository of that generation's anguish and sense of betrayal. Whatever they later became - hero, hot dog, hustler, or zealot - they were for a time among the best and the brightest this nation had to offer. And in their formative years - at Annapolis and during the Vietnam era - they shared a seemingly unassailable certainty. They believed in America."

What Timberg has done in this remarkable book is to provide, in five vivid, interconnected biographies, a reflection on the meaning, and limits, of patriotism. I guarantee you will not think of these men - or of that powerful abstraction, patriotism, that drove them - in the same way again.

That John McCain could endure what Timberg describes in awful detail and emerge so unembittered that he has become perhaps the most effective advocate of improved relations with Vietnam is a tribute to him - and to the American spirit. …

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