Is Lindh deserving of sympathy or scorn?

SATURDAY MAILBOX

August 03, 2002

I'll certainly forgive the Lindhs for still loving their child. And I'll excuse Susan Reimer for feeling sorry for them. I feel sorry for them, too. But I cannot take the comparisons Ms. Reimer draws in her column "Lindh rage gives way to sadness" (July 23) without comment.

Ms. Reimer paints the Lindh case as another case of youthful idealism gone awry.

And she compares his parents' experience to that of the parents of the kids killed at Kent State or while working in the voter registration drives in the South, or those beaten and harassed protesting the Vietnam War.

Ms. Reimer writes, "All of these families learned a lesson the Lindh family now understands. Idealism can be fatal to our young people."

But there is an enormous difference between the "ideals" held by Mr. Lindh and his adopted family, the Taliban, and the ideals of the young people Ms. Reimer strains to associate him with. The young people who suffered, and in some cases died, fighting for civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War fought to end the killing and promote justice.

We need idealism now more than ever. Suggesting that it can be "fatal" is not the lesson young people should learn from John Walker Lindh.

He is not a martyr or a hero -- but he is old enough to take responsibility for his actions. That's the lesson children -- and parents -- should learn from the Lindhs.

Jennifer Arnold

Towson

Susan Reimer is certainly a bigger person than I am, since she forgives John Walker Lindh's parents for still loving him and feels sad for all of them.

I do blame his parents. When John Walker Lindh was 16, they started financing his travel to Pakistan, his exploration into Islam.

Mr. Lindh chose and gravitated toward the most radical views -- ones that have subjugated, degraded and doomed women to lives of absolute dire poverty.

I do not feel sad for the Lindhs.

I feel sad for all the women in Afghanistan who have lived barely livable lives because of the fundamentalist regime that captivated Mr. Lindh.

Lora Rosen

Baltimore

While I agree with Susan Reimer's assessment that John Walker Lindh was "searching for something," I take exception to her assumption that his situation could have happened to any family.

What Mr. Lindh was searching for -- and never quite found -- was parental guidance.

This was a kid who dropped out of school, with his parents' blessing, then joined what turned out to be a cult -- a version of Islam that included guerrilla training.

If the elder Lindhs had been more insistent on his staying in school and going to church while he lived under their roof, John Walker Lindh would have been less likely to need to take such a journey.

Children need rules as much as they need freedom.

Rhonda Altice-Jackson

Hunt Valley

I read Susan Reimer's column and felt relief that at least one other human being shares my point of view about John Walker Lindh -- that impressionable, slightly post-adolescent kid who is now going to spend much of his adult life incarcerated.

As a product of the 1970s, I lived and survived a series of experiences that I have long since outgrown. I am not ashamed of my adolescent behavior, nor am I proud. I think I behaved like a deranged, free-range chicken, and the knowledge I gathered during this period is priceless.

My saving graces were that I did not use hard drugs and, miraculously, I did get high grades. However, I did hitchhike across three continents and experience the euphoria of being thrown into totally alien situations, for better or for worse.

I experienced coups in Central America and I dined with cartel members in Colombia without even knowing what they were up to. I ate lunch with crazed veterans in Costa Rica training the contras, and on and on.

I did not join military forces or adopt religious beliefs, but I, too, remember being so open and impressionable.

I do not have the ability to survive another wild young adulthood. Once was more than enough.

And there were plenty of times when I was threatened with reformatories, but that wasn't necessary. I grew up and assumed my responsibilities.

To put this child, John Walker Lindh, behind bars serves no purpose, but to further burden the already overtaxed penal system.

R. Turner

Baltimore

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