A Lesson for Our Political Aristocrats — Jim Webb Puts ‘Enemies’ in Perspective

To continue Charlie’s and Jonah’s “enemies” discussion, I thought the entire exchange was the low point of the night — at least until Jim Webb spoke. After IRS targeting scandals, Secret Service targeting of Jason Chaffetz, and the Wisconsin John Doe investigation (not to mention Hillary’s own vindictive past) watching people who aspire to the world’s most powerful political office brag about their respective enemies lists was a bit disturbing. If I worked for a pharmaceutical company, a Wall Street bank, or an insurance company, I’d be alarmed.

Then along came Jim Webb:

His enemy was “The enemy soldier who threw the grenade that wounded me.” 

That is an enemy. The makers of Lipitor, Wall Street bankers, health insurance executives, or people who exercise their First Amendment rights to defend the Second Amendment are not. They may oppose you on policy grounds. They may even try to stop your political career. But they are decidedly not your “enemies.” There are real enemies out there, and it’s startling that — aside from Hillary’s offhand reference to the “Iranians” in addition to “the Republicans,” “the NRA,” the “health insurance companies,” and “the drug companies” — none of the other candidates could reach outside of their narrow political experience to name even one.

Webb was likely referring to this incident, taken from his Navy Cross citation:

On 10 July 1969, while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb’s platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex which appeared to be unoccupied. Deploying his men into defensive positions, First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel. Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data. Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker.

Jim Webb is a patriot, a warrior, and a scholar. While I disagree with him on a number of policy points, he may well have the most impressive biography of any candidate still in the race. Yet spectacles like his fellow Democrats’ enemies lists are exactly what we get when the bulk of our aristocratic class (I’m going to stop using the term “elite” until that status is earned) is largely divorced from the harsh realities of the world. They don’t understand what an enemy is because — thanks to the sacrifices of men like Jim Webb — they haven’t felt the fear and horror of up-close encounters with true evil.

But lest anyone think I’m a self-righteous scold, I’ve got a confession to make. One of the worst things I’ve ever said was not dissimilar from Hillary’s response last night. In 2007, shortly before I deployed to Iraq, I was asked at a conservative event why I had decided to join the Army Reserve at the same time that I continued my First Amendment litigation practice (mainly focused on college campuses). My response? “Because I think the two greatest threats to the U.S. are Islamic jihadists and the radical university Left, and I feel I should fight both.”

That statement was horrible — spoken out of stupidity, foolishness, and ignorance. I hadn’t yet seen jihad with my own eyes, and when I did I felt deep shame that I’d linked my ideological opponents in any way to evil, murderous savages. So I vowed going forward that in my constitutional litigation and in my conservative writings, I would reaffirm my commitment to attack ideas, not individuals, and to never treat my fellow citizens as enemies — no matter how they treated me. Simply put, I needed to grow up, to get outside the polarizing bubble of my own ideological battles. Jim Webb did that long ago. He understands what true “enemies” can do their fellow man. His colleagues, sadly, do not.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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