Monday, June 07, 2004

In late 2002, I interviewed Oliver North about (among other things) Ronald Reagan, in anticipation of the former president's imminent death.

North passionately related what I think was a very telling anecdote:
The night, that April 15th, when we attacked Moammar Khadafi’s terrorism training camps, I had written, along with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, the remarks that the president was gonna use. And just as the setup is happening in the Oval Office and the president is going through the remarks, I had to come running in and say one of the lines that we’d put in the remarks were wrong. All of the planes had not returned safely. In fact, we’d lost an F-111 with two U.S. Air Force officers aboard. We didn’t know whether they were alive and well at that moment.

And I came over to the desk and the speech writers and Larry Speakes and all..a lot of turmoil going on. I said, "Mr. President, these words have got to come out." And he looked up and he said, "They... they didn’t come back?" I said, "No sir, we’re missing one airplane." And you could see the tears. And... this is not done for television cameras -- I mean, we know of presidents who do it for the television cameras. This was...the TV cameras weren’t on. This was a genuine action of a commander-in-chief who had sent men into harm’s way and who then knew at that moment, just before he went on national television, that not all of ’em had returned safely as the words were in the text that I had written.

By the time he went on the camera, he had controlled himself to the point where even though I knew, and everybody in that room knew, I mean, it was... it was a very emotional moment for everybody there to see his reaction to striking those words out of the text. And yet he had the discipline internally to be able to control it when he looked into the camera to talk to the American people. He was able to discipline himself enough so he did not appear weak.

To me, those are the marks of a great leader.
A once-in-a-generation leader, at that.

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