BY JERRY TALLMER | When Hitler completed the murder of Europe with the April 1941 invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia, a Dartmouth College senior named Charles Guy Bolté wrote an open letter to F.D.R. that began: “Dear Mr. President… Now we have waited long enough… .”
It was a cry for F.D.R. to step free of the half-measure upon half-measure delaying tactics of what Auden characterized as “a low, dishonest decade” — an umbrella at Munich, a sellout of Spain, those Bundles for Britain, destroyers for bases, etc., etc. — to put all that in limbo and actually put the United States into battle against the Nazi conquest of civilization.
I printed Bolté’s letter on the front page of The Dartmouth — the oldest daily college newspaper in America — thereby thrusting an 80 percent rock-ribbed Republican campus into turmoil between its very many hard-core isolationists and far fewer stop-Hitler interventionists.
(In those days, however, Republican did not yet mean lunatic.)
In any event, Roosevelt — all too well aware of the Coughlinite fury and anti-Semitism of the America Firsters — kept on cautiously piecing together this country’s guarded, bit-by-bit backing of democracy for another aching eight months until the Japanese at Pearl Harbor rendered all that pussyfooting background academic.
Five weeks ago in these pages, in the immediate wake of the slaughter by automatic rifle of 20 little kids at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, I declared it “distressing… infuriating…that every person of authority in this country, up to and including an otherwise pitch-perfect president, is playing dodgeball with this question” — this mortal question — of guns and gun control.
I wrote of course too quickly, and in anger, and too soon. On Wednesday of last week, five days before his re-installation in the Oval Office, that pitch-perfect president, Barack Hussein Obama — with Vice President Joe Biden running interference for him — carried the battle right into the face of the National Rifle Association in tough, quiet, unhysterical, Obama-style, solid-based, self-controlled terms built around 23 specific and sensible executive orders over and above anything the prodded Congress may or may not now choose to do.
“When I finish talking here,” the president said, “I’m going to go to that desk over there” — nod of head — “and start signing them.”
Which is exactly what he did.
At that point, watching it on the tube, I shivered and allowed a long-forgotten line of poetry to wander back into my brain: “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you… .”
“This president is a long-range thinker. He doesn’t scare,” said radio’s acerbic Joe Madison (“The Black Eagle”) on Al Sharpton’s “Politics Nation” that same night.
Indeed Barack Obama doesn’t scare. He slows down and regroups sometimes. His strangely diffident first debate versus Willard Mitt Romney demonstrated that. But I think last Wednesday’s quietly coming to grips with gun control may prove, in the long haul, to be his finest hour. The president closed it by saying: “Let’s do the right thing.”
Here is the full first stanza of that half-forgotten, timeless poem by Rudyard Kipling:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…
…and the next day after Gun Sense Day — no, before that first day was out — the Obama-haters were targeting his and Mrs. Obama’s two young daughters with explicit implicit threats of the most odious sort. Abraham Lincoln, another thoughtful man, was at least spared that.