Last words say a lot about the people who speak them. Final utterances can range from regrets for a life not fully lived or satisfaction for a job well-done. Some shed light on the true nature of the individual. The consummate entrepreneur/entertainer P.T. Barnum’s last gasp asked, “How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?” Comedian Lou Costello said, “That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted,” before breathing his last.
Sometimes last words are worth acting upon. So are the last words of Richard Holbrooke, the American diplomat, who died in December. Holbrooke was in the middle of a mission to pave the way for America’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan when a torn aorta brought about his demise. According to his family, just before being wheeled into surgery to attempt a repair to his heart, Holbrooke told his doctors, “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.” Of course, within hours of his last words becoming public, official Washington rebutted Holbrooke’s deathbed request as mere "painful banter just before surgery." In other words, he didn’t mean it – it was simply the words of a man who was out of his mind in pain.
Now, I would not be so arrogant as to interpret for the rest of us the meaning of Holbrooke’s last words. I’ll leave that to the know-it-alls in our nation’s capital. What is important is that Holbrooke’s final plea should be acted upon. Clearly, nine years later fighting this protracted war in Afghanistan has apparently not made us any safer. If it did we wouldn’t be constantly reminded by Uncle Sam that the next Al Qaeda attack is just around the corner. We wouldn’t be told that full body scanners and sexual assaults by TSA agents at the airport are necessary to keep our airways safe.
Look, on my way back to the United States from Qatar for Christmas, my family and I had to endure additional security searches at the airport in Doha all because we were traveling directly to the U.S.. Travelers flying between other countries don’t have to submit to longer lines and more intimate searches of bags and person. When we flew to Egypt and Jordan earlier in the year we were not subject to these added security measures. Let’s consider that the difference is that our government is not doing enough to keep us safe – and that includes ending wars that produce resentment and hatred of Americans.