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Commentary: Trouble comes from the blind side

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 19, 2009 - I recently read Michael Lewis' "The Blind Side." The book relates the remarkable story of Michael Oher, a black kid from Memphis who was taken from the ghetto by an affluent white couple, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, and raised alongside their children as one of their own.

The Tuohys enrolled young Oher in an exclusive private school and hired a tutor to help him catch up to his classmates academically. Under their tutelage, he developed into an adequate student and an outstanding left offensive tackle on the school's football team.

In the pass-oriented modern game, the left tackle plays a critical role on offense. When a right-handed quarterback positions himself to throw, his back is turned to the left side of the field. It is thus the responsibility of the tackle on that side to protect the QB's back by picking up the blind side pass rush.

Oher's proficiency at this crucial task eventually won him an athletic scholarship to Sean Tuohy's alma mater. The NCAA initially challenged his eligibility, apparently suspecting some new plot wherein wealthy alumni take ghetto kids into their homes for years on end and send them to the finest schools available to improve the pass protection at Ole Miss. Then again, the NCAA is the same outfit that presently oversees an 11-team conference called the Big Ten so it's possible that its concerns were misguided.

At any rate, Michael went on to excel in the college game. He was ultimately selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens who signed him to a 5-year contract worth $13.8 million.

This true story of human compassion and personal triumph has since been made into a Hollywood movie starring Sandra Bullock as the surrogate mother/mentor. Though I haven't seen the actual film, its ad campaign contains enough saccharin-laced sentimentality to gag a Mary Poppins impersonator.

The improbable case of Michael Oher came to mind amid the renewed debate over how best to continue prosecuting the war on terror. Terrorism, after all, is fundamentally an attack from the blind side. The recent shooting rampage at Fort Hood provides case in point.

It is still debatable whether this killing spree constitutes a genuine terrorist incident. Was Maj. Hasan's religious zealotry the cause or the effect of his psychological distress? Did his belief system prompt his murderous rage or did incipient madness cause him to adopt his homicidal beliefs? Does any of this matter? As of this writing, no one can answer these questions authoritatively. And these are not the only details of the massacre that remain unclear.

Initial reports from the scene credit a female civilian police officer, Sgt. Kimberly Munley, with disabling the shooter. Nicknamed "Mighty Mouse," she became an immediate darling of the press in much the way that Jessica Lynch did during the invasion of Iraq.

Lynch, you'll recall, was launched into national prominence when it was reported that, while on an important nocturnal mission, the convoy in which she was riding was ambushed by hostile troops. She resisted heroically until she ran out of ammo and her vehicle ran off the road into a ravine. She was subsequently shot, stabbed and sexually molested by the Iraqis who captured her. Several days later, she was rescued from her sadistic captors during a daring Special Forces raid deep behind enemy lines.

Hers was a compelling and seductive narrative complete with valorous Americans and villainous Arabs -- a useful fable to symbolize the rationale behind the Iraq War. Unfortunately, it was also total B.S.

Much to her credit, once Pvt. Lynch was afforded the opportunity to set the record straight, she did so with alacrity. Her convoy wasn't executing a secret mission; it was lost. She didn't run out of ammunition; her rifle jammed before she could fire a shot. Neither shot nor stabbed, she sustained her injuries in a serious vehicular accident. She has no recollection of any sexual abuse.

She was knocked unconscious in the crash and awoke in an Iraqi hospital where she was treated well. In fact, her attending physician attempted to return her to American lines but aborted the effort when the ambulance transporting her was fired upon by coalition troops. The hospital where she was treated was undefended at the time of her rescue.

Jessica Lynch wasn't a hero because of her actions under fire -- she was a victim in combat, but a hero for volunteering to go there in the first place. Similarly, details of Sgt. Munley's actions have morphed over time.

First reports had Munley confronting the psycho psychiatrist and shooting it out with him toe to toe. While hospitalized recovering from her wounds, she became a distaff reincarnation of Wyatt Earp in the public imagination. Days later, a different rendition of events began to emerge.

According to a still unnamed eye witness, Sgt. Munley was shot and fell to the ground during the course of her confrontation with Hasan. As he turned from her and attempted to insert a fresh magazine into his 9mm, another police officer, Sgt. Mark Todd, rounded the corner of a building from the opposite direction. When Hasan pointed his weapon at him, Todd lit him up.

The salient question here is not which officer behaved heroically -- they both did by advancing toward gunfire to protect others. Nor is it the matter of Hasan's twisted motives. The fact that this man was an officer clearly indicates a critical breakdown in the personnel vetting process; but motives notwithstanding, the overriding concern is why a lone gunman was able to shoot 51 people in the middle of an Army installation before being stopped.

By definition, attacks from the blind side come from behind. The Fort Hood episode was no exception. The security scheme at the base was designed to repel external assault but woefully unprepared for a threat from within. Michael Oher has already been drafted, but the Pentagon may want to look for a few good left tackles of its own.