Culture war looms large over America

Even though the war on terror dominates the headlines, the culture war in America is almost as intense. On one side you have traditionalists, people who believe the country was well-founded, does mostly good things, and has become the most powerful nation on earth by adhering to Judeo-Christian principles like generosity, justice and self-sacrifice.

On the other side of the culture war are the secular-progressives (S-P's) who believe that the U.S. is fundamentally a flawed country, which has caused considerable misery both within and outside our borders. The S-P's want drastic change and a new direction for America.

The two most intense issues in the culture war right now are how to deal with terrorism and what role spirituality should play in the public arena.

The S-P's want little or no public displays of God or religion. That's what drove the attacks on Christmas images and traditions; knock down the big Christian holiday, and the secularists achieve a big victory.

On the terror front, traditionalists largely want aggressive action to wipe out the "evildoers," and if lraq is the battlefield, then so be it.

Secular-progressives are appalled by the Iraq war and generally believe the U.S. has no right to act unilaterally to hunt down terrorists or their enablers.

So the stage was set for my recent appearance on the David Letterman show. I am a traditionalist; Letterman tends to mock traditionalists. And he often does it well.

Our discussion began with the Christmas controversy. Dave did not see it as a big deal. When I pointed out the absurdity of a library in Memphis, Tenn., OK'ing a manger scene but then telling the woman donating it that she had to remove Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the three Wise Men, Dave said he did not believe the story. And, generally, that was the opinion of the liberal media: There was no Christmas controversy - the whole thing was fabricated by religious zealots bent on establishing a theocracy.

Dave's skepticism must have come as a surprise to Memphis resident Brandi Chambless, the woman ordered to remove statues of the Holy Family and their visitors from the East. But, hey, the shepherds could stay, staring into an empty stable.

The subject quickly shifted to Iraq, a conflict both Letterman and I believe has been poorly managed. We also found common ground on the terrific performance of the U.S. military.

But then Cindy Sheehan came up. Uh-oh. Dave, as well as many in the entertainment community, feels that Sheehan should not be criticized. He believes she is above reproach because her son, Casey, was killed in Iraq.

I do not see it that way, so sparks flew. My contention is that Sheehan is entitled to grieve and dissent in any way she wants, but her grief is being exploited by far-left elements.

And when Sheehan told Mark Knoller, a correspondent for CBS radio, that the terrorists in Iraq were "freedom fighters," she insulted thousands of other Americans who lost loved ones in Iraq.

Simply put, terrorists who blow up civilians, women and children are not freedom fighters in any sense. They are murderers, and I called Letterman on Sheehan's support of them.

I hope you saw the program. It was a rare display of the culture war on television. I told Dave I respected his views and he should respect mine. I enjoyed the joust.

By far more important, is the wake-up call many late-night viewers got. We in America are becoming a deeply divided country along cultural lines. The more we all understand what the issues are, the better. The culture war is real, and now, everybody who watched Letterman that evening knows it.

Veteran TV news anchor and author Bill O'Reilly is a host on Fox News. His column appears on Friday.