The Gospel According to Jerry

The Asheville Tribune‘s recent commentary by Bill Fishburne, “Council Liberals Show True Colors in Tuesday Night Anti-military Vote,” implied that the Asheville City Council had deliberately screwed our servicemen and women. This hit a new low in editorial bottom fishing.

The almost childlike implication was that because city staff had negotiated an arm’s-length agreement with a military procurement officer resulting in a substantial rent increase for the Army Reserve Center, our great service personnel would be deprived of bullets for their guns, boots for their feet and armor for their bodies.

Mr. Fishburne singled out the Asheville City Council as war profiteers. It is extremely curious that he has not expressed his ire at the real war profiteers, such as Brown and Root and Halliburton, who have literally — and illegally — deprived our troops of desperately needed resources. Is there no outrage about all the non-negotiated contracts and the billions of dollars that have been misspent or have disappeared outright in the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Could Fishburne’s censure have been tempered by the fact that some of the people he supports are totally in bed with the culprits in this mischief?

Both Mr. Fishburne and I have been outspoken critics of many decisions by this progressive-leaning City Council that we feel are not in our community’s best interest. (The fancy stoplight poles and the “green” roof on the Civic Center, for example, are ridiculous.)

Using an issue like this to question the patriotism of the mayor or Council members borders on yellow journalism. It inflames the lunatic fringe, who come out of the woodwork and make scurrilous attacks and threats against our elected officials.

Apparently the Army Reserve contract negotiator never mentioned the fact that other cities in North Carolina lease their facilities for $1 per year, which tells me that he didn’t do his job very well. It also turns out that the master of the armory specifically said he had no issue with the rent, as it was part of his budget (which was already paid for by our taxes). Fishburne’s accusations also beg the question whether City Council is even authorized to grant such a huge discount — which amounts to an additional cost for city taxpayers.

If the actions of the City Council in the little town of Asheville, N.C., are going to cause our service people to suffer shortages on the battlefield, then this country is in really deep trouble. If ammunition and equipment are in such short supply, then all red-blooded Americans should be additionally taxed to make sure our fighting forces have everything they need to prosecute the war.

What happens if the Army or Navy recruiters or any other military organization decides it wants to use city property for free or at discounted rates? Where does it end?

Was this, instead, an effort to create a political issue in hopes of influencing the recent midterm election? If so, it failed miserably.

In the end, City Council revisited the issue and reduced the rent substantially after new facts were brought to light. It seems to me that Mr. Fishburne and a group of dedicated veterans could have accomplished the same thing by meeting with Council members to discuss the matter.

I am always suspicious of the patriotic police, who are much like the sanctimonious religious police. These folks have determined that their self-righteousness qualifies them to render judgment on those they deem to be less loyal or observant than they are.

Patriotism comes in all stripes: schoolteachers who are entrusted with the care and training of our kids, police and firefighters who risk their lives every day, and the average working stiffs who show up reliably to make sure we have power, deliver our fuel, repair our appliances and provide thousands of other goods and services that we take for granted.

Other patriots do volunteer work or stand for election as public servants, quite often for little or no pay. Together, they’re responsible for holding together this magnificent, 200-year-old tapestry we call democracy. They provide urgently needed services for returning veterans who wind up mentally ill, homeless, unable to find affordable housing or suffering from other service-connected disabilities.

Fishburne takes our young Council to task for not appreciating the great sacrifices made by the brave men and women who are serving us, here and abroad. Bill, you and I both served our country for several years during time of war; we know firsthand the loneliness, discomfort, fear and, at times, despair these young people suffer. We know the discomforts they endure day after day and the risks they take, because we’ve been there/done that.

People who sit in an air-conditioned theater watching Saving Private Ryan or Flags of Our Fathers can’t hope to experience the same level of passion you and I feel toward our troops, so don’t expect them to.

Bill Fishburne is a good newspaperman and an excellent writer; he’s also a good guy. But Bill, we didn’t make our military contributions to our country so some editor could yell “fire” in a crowded newsroom.

In the past, you have flattered me by asking me to write something for your paper. Well, here’s my challenge: You can run this column in The Asheville Tribune and take your best shot at it in a point/counterpoint format.

Instead, though, I would hope that after this trip to the woodshed compliments of an old friend, you would recognize that Council members did not raise the rent on the armory because of their lack of patriotism but because they were not apprised of all the facts.

I think you and I would both agree that except for people actually serving in the armed forces and their families, nobody in our area has made any personal sacrifice in this terrible war.

I invite you to join me in asking the Asheville City Council to add 1 cent to our property-tax rate and have the city send a substantial check to the Pentagon specifically directed to pay for armor, boots and other things to make our military men and women safer and more comfortable. Part of the money should also be earmarked for helping the families of active service personnel in our area, many of whom are suffering great deprivation.

What more poignant way could we demonstrate our patriotic support for these brave forces in recognition of their great effort and sacrifice on our behalf?

[Local developer Jerry Sternberg is a longtime observer of the community scene. He can be reached at gospeljerry@aol.com.]

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