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Gordon Cucullu- Contributor

Former Green Beret lieutenant colonel, Gordon Cucullu is now an editorialist, author and a popular speaker. Born into a military family, he lived and served for more than thirteen years in East Asia, including eight years in Korea. For his Special Forces service in Vietnam he was awarded a Bronze Star, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and the Presidential Unit Commendation. After separation from the Army, he worked on Korea and East Asian affairs at both the Pentagon and Department of State as well as an executive for General Electric in Korea. His first major non-fiction work, Separated at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin, is based in large part on his extensive experience in Korea and East Asia as a governmental insider and businessman. [website] [go to Cucullu index]


Separated at Birth : How North Korea Became the Evil Twin
Gordon Cucullu

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Moral Courage
Right Leader, Right Time…

[Gordon Cucullu] 9/8/04

A young military officer learns that courage comes in many forms. Airborne training, for instance, requires a burst of physical courage to step out of an open aircraft door, often at night, sometimes with people shooting at you. Rangers, SEALs and Special Forces test the courage of endurance under prolonged physical and mental stress. Candidates are ground down by discomfort: short rations, lack of sleep, intense physical challenges and demands on their leadership abilities. It is the courage of getting knocked down time after time and continuing to rise to do one’s duty.

There is another form of courage that is more difficult to define and less frequently acknowledged but considerably more important that these two: it is moral courage. In some ways the standards of the types of physical courage - bravery and endurance - are far easier to meet than those of moral courage. Moral courage requires a leader to do the right thing at the right time. He must test himself against standards that daunt others. Moral courage is expensive: it can hurt career advancement, damage relationships, or lose financial rewards. The payoff for moral courage is intangible: the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you have done the right thing.

Moral courage is severely tested when staff advises the leader to take an easier course, to listen to public opinion, to bow to the weight of the press, to heed critics, and to duck responsibility. These are seductive voices, the Scylla and Charybdis waiting to lure a leader into a catastrophe that sinks him and all who depend upon his judgment. Moral courage, because it is rare is all the more to be valued when discovered in a leader. But many in our country and abroad have a differing opinion: because they lack this courage they despise and denigrate those who possess it.

A leader with moral courage is vilified as stupid, a ‘cowboy’ (if American), a madman, irrational, a loose cannon, divisive, unilateral, obstinate and – paradoxically – a tool of a cabal of corrupt advisors. These are some of the printable things said about a morally courageous leader. Demonstrating what moral courage is, leaders who have it typically ignore criticism, further enraging their critics. Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair are examples of morally courageous Brits; Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush of morally courageous American leaders.

Being morally courageous does not mean that they were always right: as with any human being, morally courageous people made mistakes too, sometimes tragic. But they share common virtues. They are leaders who stood firm against vacillating counsel or pressure to appease an enemy. They steered their country and the free world through dangerous times. In times of acute stress their compass was a well-understood, focused moral code. They were willing to seek Divine guidance. They recognized that the values they were responsible for promoting and protecting were greater than themselves. In fighting to safeguard those values they achieved greatness.

If the quality of a person is evaluated in part by contrast to his enemies then George W. Bush scores well. Those who attack him clearly lack moral courage. They cringe fearfully before America’s enemies. They urge appeasement. They howl hysterically about ‘unnecessary’ war, drowning themselves in waves of emotional, irrational accusation. When unable to find substantive fault they fabricate. If challenged on facts they counter with feelings. They hide their falsehoods in endless, mindless repetition. Compared to these people George W. Bush stands tall indeed.

Bush is no saint. Like many of us in younger days, he had wild moments. But he overcame them and found his compass. He earned an MBA from Harvard. As an Air Force pilot he flew the hottest interceptor jet of the period, the F-102. (A higher percentage of Air Force F-102 pilots died in crashes than did Navy Swift Boats officers in combat in Vietnam. Flying the F-102 challenged physical courage at all levels.) Bush became a solid leader. But the 9-11 attack raised the bar. His moral courage was tempered in the flames of terrorism and war and emerged stronger than ever. Bush has confidence in himself and his values. He distinguishes the important from the frivolous.

Bush’s refusal to take his enemies’ criticism seriously drives them nuts. They call him stupid and he cracks a self-effacing joke, referring to himself as ‘misunderestimated.’ He rises above the critics because he is the real thing: he visits troops in combat, faces down dictators, and deals firmly with phony allies. He confidently surrounds himself with tough advisors, people who are also guided by a strong moral compass and who care less about polling data and focus groups than they do on accomplishing critical missions. He comforts the relatives of those lost in combat privately, respecting their grief and sharing in it. At every opportunity Bush praises the sacrifices of the servicemen and women he orders into harm’s way. He enjoys a mutual respect with America's military that cannot be faked or contrived.

America is being tested by forces bent on destroying us. We must bring all possible strength to the fight, most importantly leadership shaped by moral courage. George W. Bush defines moral courage in a time when our country and the free world desperately need that quality. He is the right leader for a dangerous time. CRO

copyright Gordon Cucullu 2004




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