If silence often speaks louder than words, then for one day last week the silence on the American left was deafening.
The biggest story in the United States and in much of the rest of the world Thursday was the air strike taking out the leader of al Qaida in Iraq. The deaths of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and seven of his lieutenants have fascinating implications for both the war in Iraq and the sure-to-be-longer "worldwide war on terror," as CBS anchor Bob Schieffer termed it.
It was a tremendous victory for American intelligence-gathering and American troops, and for the overwhelming millions of Iraqis who want to live free. The network news divisions devoted much of their half-hour evening broadcasts to Zarqawi's death, the anchors even dropping their usual we're-not-rooting-for-either-side demeanor to communicate actual satisfaction.
On Friday it was still, appropriately, the lead story on their Web sites and those of some major American newspapers -- even before the posting of updates revealing that Zarqawi was still alive and mumbling when our troops found him.
But the silence on left-wing opinion pages and blogs was nearly complete. One Web site, truthout.org, mass-mailed four communiques on Thursday -- its normal output -- each providing links to its news and opinion pieces on pressing political topics.
Only one of these 20 or 30 stories concerned Zarqawi's demise, and that was simply a reprint of a New York Times article. Other topics included "Father of Beheaded Man Blames Bush, Not Zarqawi," "Blame for Haditha Lies at Bush's Feet," and "Military Officer Gains National Support for Resisting Deployment," so clearly the important news was being celebrated.
On DailyKos.com, just one blogger had anything to say on the matter. Although "Bill in Portland Maine" wrote that "U.S. forces rocked... al-Zarqawi's world last night when they tossed a thousand pounds of explosive whupass down his gullet," he couldn't resist dismissing its significance, at the end of his single paragraph: "For those of you keeping score at home, this is Iraqi Turning Point #697."
And on the "Lean Left" Web site, the last mention of Zarqawi is from November 2005.
Although online magazines such as Slate.com contain considerably more information and analysis on the decapitation of al-Qaida, it is in the personal blogs, chat rooms and message boards that today's leftists have been struck dumb. Their silence speaks volumes.
Friends who hew to that political persuasion have steadfastly insisted that they can support the troops and be patriotic while still opposing the war. On its face, that's a reasonable claim, but I've asked, without any satisfactory answer, how exactly does that work?
They might support anti-war political candidates while also contributing to any number of the charities that assist Iraqi war veterans, or their widows and orphans, with housing and jobs. I'm certainly willing to assume that behind certain people's unmitigated criticism of the Bush administration and its prosecution of the war hides personal generosity that modesty prevents them from trumpeting.
But on the public front, that's a tougher sell. How would we know, for instance, that the compilers of a political Web site support the troops if virtually all the articles and comments they post denigrate the troops, emphasize the failings of a few and ignore the successes of the rest?
How would we know that a given pundit looks favorably upon our armed forces when he cannot bring himself to pen even a single word of praise for their having rid the civilized world of a horrible monster? That was Thursday.
By Friday the lefties had gathered their wits about them and were finding ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Their day of silence and the subsequent resumption of negativity are inseparable, and what they say about the modern left is tragic.
There are people who oppose this war because they oppose all war; they learned nothing from World War II about the lethal consequences of conducting endless diplomacy with a madman. Their silence, or even disapproval is expected.
There are people who believe that in some instances war is inevitable, even just, but that this war didn't fit those terms. These people should have stepped forward -- and still could -- to make the healthy moral distinctions that would allow them to acknowledge the great service done to the civilized world, not George Bush's political reputation, in Zarqawi's killing.
They could set aside their parochial political agendas to do what they keep telling us they do -- that is, to "support the troops" and, by coincidence, support civilization. In their silence, they have failed.
Correction/Clarification: (Published June 13, 2006) This installment of Ruth Ann Dailey's column for June 12, 2006 editions incorrectly said only one blogger on DailyKos.com had commented on the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A further search of the Web site showed more threads where users posted comments on the topic.
Ruth Ann Dailey can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1733.