Sen. Robert C. Byrd has delivered a speech that is remarkable because it resounds amidst the silence of the Senate chamber. Speaking on Feb. 12, Byrd called the Bush administration "reckless and arrogant" in its drive toward war and its neglect of the economy and human welfare. Excerpts from the speech are on this page.

Noting the muteness of his colleagues, Byrd asked a series of questions about the consequences of a war against Iraq. He described the horrors that await. He dissected the destabilizing effect of an American preemptive strike and how it will give cover to any other nation with nuclear capability to use those horrific weapons.

Some who do not want to hear Byrd's message will dismiss him as the supreme pork barreler. It is true that he raids the Treasury for his state of West Virginia with a prowess not seen since the late Sen.Warren Magnuson of Washington. But Byrd also has a sense of history and a sense of the Senate's place in the making of that history. He is aghast that senators are playing a role akin to the couch potato.

It might well be that the Senate merely represents the mass of Americans who completely lack the context of history, who possess scant realization of where this war might well lead. It is not far-fetched that most Americans believe what they see in Hollywood's version of war. While Sen. Byrd offered the nation a wake-up call, I have no illusion that many are listening or are prepared for his dose of cold water.

If journalism is the first draft of history, perhaps statues and gravestones are the final draft. With Boston's Mt. Auburn and Gettysburg, the national cemetery at Arlington is one of the nation's most significant graveyards. Women's role in combat was not officially acknowledged until the Gulf War. In addition to several regiments of war dead, there are eminent figures ranging from John Kennedy to former Chief Justice Earl Warren to Robert Todd Lincoln.

At the foot of the hill leading up to the Custis Lee Mansion within the Arlington National Cemetery, there is a relatively new monument: The Women in Military Service for America Memorial. My daughter and I toured the memorial last Saturday morning in the company of retired Air Force Gen. Wilma Vaught, who is its guiding light.

I should not have been surprised, but I was disillusioned to learn that the Gulf War marked the first time that women's role in our military was acknowledged officially. As the memorial demonstrates, women have been on the field of battle since the Revolutionary War, as nurses and in control of weapons. But never officially acknowledged.

One of the most striking stories at the Memorial is Sarah L. Keys. On her first leave as a WAC (Women's Army Corps) private, Keys was told to move to the back of the municipal bus in a North Carolina town. Keys was jailed for her refusal to budge. Her case eventually resulted in a ruling by the Interstate Commerce Commission, outlawing racial segregation in interstate bus travel. That ICC ruling paved the way for Rosa Parks, whose steadfastness on a city bus some two years later would ignite protests across the South.

I take more than a passing interest in the women's memorial. My wife was an Army nurse, and my Great Aunt Zora was a nurse in France during World War I. One of the curiosities on our hallway wall is a photograph of Zora in long nursing habit with physicians on what appears to be a terrace of a field hospital.

Flying to and from Washington, D.C., last weekend, I was highly aware of the dire straits of United Air Lines. It is difficult to keep one's morale when your company is going through bankruptcy. The closest I've come to that experience was working for three years on the staff of a start-up newspaper.

Prior to boarding the red-eye flight from Portland last Friday at 11:30 p.m., I was stunned to be handed the business card of our plane's pilot. In handwriting on the back Jack Richardson said: "Thank you for flying with us tonight. We appreciate your business. UNITED WILL STAND!"

- S.A.F.


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