The Wound

Aug. 24 1996 3:30 AM

The Wound

How bashful is Dole about his wartime injury?

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Dole is "reluctant," "reticent," and "loath" to discuss it, claims the press corps. Or "even to think about" it, as Newsday's Elaine S. Povich wrote Aug. 12, "because to do so would unearth the demons that he has lived with--and mostly hidden from the public--for the majority of his 73 years."

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"It," of course, is the war wound, the battlefield maiming of his arm and shoulder during World War II--or, as the Washington Post's David Maraniss and other writers have upgraded it for their journalistic purposes, the Wound.

The press loves the Wound for the reductionist power it affords them when they write about the candidate. Writing in the New Republic on behalf of hacks everywhere, the otherwise estimable Matthew Cooper (now bound for Newsweek) calls the Wound Dole's "Rosetta stone." Dole speaks in shorthand? Explanation: Infirmities prevent him from scribbling much beyond his signature, so he's trained himself to compress the world into verbal hieroglyphics. Dole refuses to give up? Explanation: He was left for dead in Italy and marked a goner several times in hospitals, and he'd be taking the dirt nap today if not for his interminable spirit. Dole is a hatchet man, a mean guy given to angry outbursts? Hell, goddamnit! He grew up hardscrabble and was crippled in the bloom of his handsome prime! He earned everything he has, unlike softies like Bush and Forbes, who had the world handed to them, and Clinton, who was anointed by Fulbright and got his own free ride!

But most of all, the press corps loves to touch the Wound because they've convinced themselves that subject was previously taboo. Give a listen:

Most revealingly, [Dole is] willing more and more to speak of being shot in World War II, and of his lengthy recovery from wounds that almost killed him and left his right shoulder incapacitated.

--Los Angeles Times, Feb. 24, 1996

Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, the laconic Kansan who for more than three decades in Congress has been to reluctant to draw attention to his wounds from World War II, returned today to a hospital building where he suffered excruciating pain and nearly died.

--Washington Post, March 15, 1996

Midwest stoicism being what it is, Dole still seems uncomfortable talking about the wounds that nearly killed him as he lead (sic) a platoon up an Italian hill April 12, 1945.

As he wrapped up his party's nomination, his generation's World War II experience is at the heart of his third run for the presidency. But he talks about it reluctantly.

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