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Tell it to the Marines

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POSTED: January 24, 2008 5:02 a.m.
It’s time for my twice-yearly Reader Mail column. So I reach into the mailbag (nah, I just click the folder), and I come up with ...

“Dear Mr. Ink Spiller,
Reference your article about wanting to punch a crippled man in a wheelchair: That young man is Sgt. Andrew Robinson, U.S. Marine Corps. Sgt. Robinson was on his second tour in Iraq when a roadside blast in Al Anbar province killed three of his fellow Marines. That same blast robbed Sgt. Robinson of the use of his legs and put him in a wheelchair, most likely for the rest of his life. Yet you see fit to mock this young man, and express the desire to ‘punch the guy’... Let me leave it at this: As a former Marine with two hitches in the Corps, allow me the privilege of standing in for Sgt. Robinson.”

A little background:
Last fall Sgt. Andrew Robinson appeared in a TV spot sponsored by the conservative group Freedom’s Watch, saying, “I believe we’re making progress in the war in Iraq, and stabilizing the country there. I would go back to Iraq if I could.”
I wrote at the time that when the camera pulls back and shows he is in a wheelchair, “It has the immediate effect of shutting you up.” I went on: “Here’s a young man bold enough to join the Marines and go fight in Iraq with the aim of making the United States safer, brave enough to want to return to the country where he was so grievously wounded and continue the fight. Most journalists, including this one, have done none of the above. Right away you think, ‘Who the hell am I to say anything to Andrew Robinson?’”
But then Andrew Robinson says, “If Iraq isn’t stable, it’ll be a breeding ground for terrorists.” And I wrote that makes “you want to punch the guy.”
The column got a lot of e-mail from ex-Marines. The one who called me “Ink Spiller” was not alone in the offer to punch me out. Semper fi.
Of course, I had zero intention of actually wanting to punch a man in a wheelchair, a man who happens to be a war hero. I wrote that line that angered so many as a way to express frustration: Iraq already is a breeding ground for terrorists, made possible by the policies for which brave men like Sgt. Robinson have given their blood.
Another ex-Marine wrote: “I know you are not a cad and would never punch out a disabled vet in a wheelchair. The problem with inflammatory hyperbole is that the point of your article was lost in the polarization caused by that one comment.”
I wrote him back acknowledging that “I’ve gotten enough angry reader mail about that piece to make me think you may be right that the one comment overshadowed the rest of the article. Columnists have to be provocative, but not to the point of ruining a column’s main point. Maybe the irony didn’t work here.”
I promised him to take it back in public — and here it is.

Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology. Send e-mail to rogereh@optonline.net
 

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