People differ greatly in how they perceive good and bad when it comes to behavior, occupation, or public persona. Christ was crucified by the government for seditious views. Robin of Loxley, a common thief, was revered for robbing the rich and giving to the poor. Osama bin Laden, the reigning poster boy for bad guys is a hero, nonetheless, to Muslim fanatics around the world.
As a kid growing up in the fifties it was easy to see that the cowboy with the white hat on the white horse deserved our applause as he battled the black hats on their black horses. The good guys were clean shaven, wore gloves, embroidered shirts, loved their horses and dogs, and worshipped women. The bad guys were unshaven, generally scruffy, and a menace to girls and dogs as well. While the Lone Ranger loved his faithful companion Tonto, the blue shirted Calvary always prevailed over the bare chested savages – White skin good – Red skin bad.
Uniforms, whether military, police, firefighters, even athletic – were almost always worn by good guys, unless they were German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, or Russian. Today most Americans are uncomfortable with turbans and robes and suspicious of soldiers who don't look like the British or Australians. Most American servicemen were uncomfortable bivouacking with the Turks, South Vietnamese, or Afghans, even though they were effective allies under fire in recent wars and military activities.
Sadam Hussein and Yassar Arafat both wear uniforms that represent causes few in the civilized world can accept. How different are the Saudis, Cubans, North Koreans, Libyans, Pakistanis? The major difference is the strategic alliance or political sensitivity between our government, its allies, and these rogue states. Add to the mix our properly unwavering support of Israel, and our unquenchable thirst for oil, and we find ourselves trying to differentiate between the bad guys, the really bad guys, and the guys so bad that preemptive military action may be justified.
At one time O.J. was running through airports, a national icon, sports hero, and color commentator extraordinaire. In spite of overwhelming evidence against him, the reckless behavior of uniformed L.A. police, and racist detectives like Mark Fuhrman, convinced a jury to overlook an unusually brutal murder.
That young black men, who make up the bulk of our prison population, don't think much of our judicial system, may result from the fact that they routinely serve hard time for petty thefts and possession of drugs, while big time crooks like the Enron, Tyco, World Com, Martha Stewart, Adelphia crowd retreat to their mansions to count their millions.
We tend to forget, in the face of the Islamic induced horrors of Sept. 11, that Tim McVeigh, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacey were authentic homegrown Anglo Saxon American guys. While few maniacs have achieved the Satanic proportions of Hitler and his "Final Solution", the Crusades and the Inquisition murdered thousands of innocent people in the name of God. In our lifetime Orville Faubus and George Wallace turned dogs, cattle prods, fire hoses and worse on American citizens peacefully trying to attend school, take public transportation, or vote. Both Orville and George were elected governor with huge majorities in their respective states, and George actually ran for President.
We feel especially bad when one of our idols, like Pete Rose, falls off his pedestal, but not so bad when the same thing happens to an Allen Iverson or Chris Webber. Perhaps this is the unpleasant residue of our early white hat, black hat conditioning.
Our perception of good and bad is heavily influenced by things superficial. We never feel quite comfortable sitting on a bus next to someone with a pierced nose and a Superman jersey, even though he may well be a dot com CEO. It is much harder today to spot a streetwalker with any certainty when virtually all nubile young women bare their navels and most of their breasts and buttocks as well. Tattoos no longer define an alternative lifestyle, but are more often a badge for the rich and famous. Good cops and bad cops look the same. Were Christ to reappear among us he might be mistaken for a terrorist. After reporting a car stolen from in front of our Old Town Chicago home in the 70's, the detective who handled the call told us car thieves are more apt to look like insurance salesmen. Even priests today are looked upon by many as child molesters.
It's what people do – not what they have, how they look, or what they wear – that defines their relative goodness or badness. Sexual infidelity had nothing to do with the considerable accomplishments of the Clinton Presidency, but everything to do with judgments regarding Clinton's character. While results in the short run are most important, the way they are achieved defines their place in history.
Most of the world desperately wants to be rid of bin Laden and Hussein. If, however, we have to give up too many of our freedoms or alienate our allies to take them out, we may be unwittingly changing the way future generations see the color of our hat. I am betting that we have the collective resolve to win both the battle and the war with our white hats intact. Would be interested in your opinions.