Saturday, November 22, 2008

New Ways of Thinking: change, a distant dream

Opponents criticize Obama on his nominations, so far, of those who will serve America with him in his cabinet. They say that his choices do not reflect change. That is because they view his choices as Clintonian, and that is not change; but this not the overarching message of change which Barack Obama has been promoting, as demonstrated in his speech, “A More Perfect Union”.

I believe that his leadership skills, his ability to inspire, his wisdom and intelligence will be the impetus that will bring Americans and America to a better place: “… a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.”

Robert F. Kennedy in quoting George Bernard Shaw often said, "Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”

A future of things that never were requires change. Change not for the sake of change, not just to make things different, but change that in one way or another alters, modifies, converts, varies, shifts, transforms, and/or transmutes our world to a world of peace, for in peace lays the resolution to our most urgent problems.

Dreaming of things as we would like them to be, and believing that anything can be achieved, is a hoped for expectation that things can be different than they are now. Envisioning things that will make our world a better world, and not looking it as utopian, and therefore remaining stuck in the status quo, but instead engaging the mind and heart by asking, why not? Change is a process; it will be a distant dream, seemingly utopian, but not unreachable, not impossible.

Barack Obama, like the late Robert F. Kennedy, has visions of what America can and should be: a vision of equality for all people. A vision of a compassionate America, and compassion for all Americans from America’s leadership.

Robert F. Kennedy in announcing the death of Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally in Indianapolis Indianan on April 4, 1968 said:

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”

I believe Barack Obama also shares the vision of John Kennedy as expressed in the commencement address he gave at American University on June 10, 1963:

“I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal.

Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions -- on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace; no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process -- a way of solving problems.”

The dreams of John and Robert Kennedy are the change Americans must seek. I believe that change in the attitudes we have toward each other and between nations will ultimately lead us to a world of peace. It will bring about the economic, social, and foreign policy changes Americans seek.

Barack Obama has said over and over again, “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change … I’m asking you to believe in yours.” And, a quote from the remarks delivered by President-elect Barack Obama, “This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you. Together, we will change this country and we will change the world. Then you and I - together - will change this country and change this world.”

As with Barack Obama, the change that I believe Americans seek requires a belief in ourselves that we as a people can bring about change. To perpetuate a viable evolutionary change we must nurture, educate, and assure every child has love, a feeling of belonging, is safe, and has the physiological needs of food and shelter, for it is our young people who will be the forerunners of the change we seek. Transparent leadership with probity, and leaders who have the ability to inspire and who are of high moral character, is the final ingredient that will bring us to that place for which we all yearn.

In closing a word from T.J. Turner who served nine months in Afghanistan with the 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Group: "I hear lots of talk in our nation about the global war on terror, and my opinions evolve with that debate. However, we seem to miss the root cause. Hell is what causes terrorism. It’s about pure desperation, and feeling like there’s no way of recovering the hope of childhood. I’m not saying that we’ll be able to win this conflict with teddy bears alone, but when I deploy next I’m packing a bag full of them just in case."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A New Way of Thinking: Veteran’s Day -- “NEVER AGAIN!”

Veteran’s Day is a day America sets aside to honor its veterans. It is a day that we should honor veterans for their dedication and commitment. It is not a day that we should glorify the wars in which they served. Veteran’s Day is as much a metaphor of our past as it should be a metaphor for our future, war “NEVER AGAIN!”

I am proud of our veterans in that they have selfishly served our country, whether that service is voluntary or not, based on a belief propagated by our government and “We the People” that their service was and is necessary to preserve our freedom and our way of life. They acted on our collective behalf. Their courage, loyalty, and devotion are extraordinary.

I am not proud of a government and “We the People” who do not respect life and who will send an American into harms way willy-nilly, in deceit, and wage war of their own design, or who wage war by imbuing Americans with the notion that “If we didn’t have a military we would not have a country!”

On a trip home from a family event, I was making critical remarks regarding a member of our family whose intent was to join the U.S. Army. I was surprised when I received from my son the following unexpected, bombastic, visceral exclamation: “If we didn’t have a military we would not have a country!” It was disappointing because my wife and daughter agreed. It was unnerving because it was unexpected and I did not have a response.

There is no quick counter exclamation, no come-back to make. At least I could not think of any. A thoughtful response would be too long. No one would allow me to complete my thoughts before interrupting, anyway. I felt, though, that I must be able to counter it, if not verbally then at least in writing, if my view was to be considered valid.

The raison d'ĂȘtre for Americans making this response is founded on a patriotic and nationalist mindset, where freedom and democracy have symbiotic threads to the military. These threads have an interrelationship in our culture that influences the way Americans view the military. The purpose of our military is to fight wars to defend America, protect our democracy, our freedom, and to defend our way of life, which is true. However, this perspective is so binding that every military excursion or war is perceived in the light that it is done to protect these values, which has not been true.

This mindset is embedded so deeply that it makes a change in a way of thinking nearly impossible. It impedes on our willingness to proactively and nonviolently negotiate our differences as opposed to using force in an effort to coerce others into thinking the way we do. This is a state of mind which obscures the fact that the reason for past military actions have been based on unsubstantiated and contrived facts, on impure motives, and not because America was under an exigent threat, Iraq being the best example.

This dismissal of reality invokes irrational thoughts and fears. It conjures up a perceived need for a martial response. It conjures up “irrational exuberance”: after 9/11/01 it was ubiquitously apparent with seemingly every home, truck, SUV, and car displaying the Flag. Seemingly, everyone was wearing a flag pendant. It was like they had to prove to other Americans that they were Americans. It was patriotism and nationalism gone wild. It gave birth to “If you’re not with us then your against us”, which was at first meant as a warning to other nations, but it became viciously directed at Americans who were against the war. It will cause Americans to give up their freedoms, and accept limitations in how they participate in their democracy, because of fear.

The perceived indispensable role of the military in our society is a monomaniacal vision subliminally implanted by the time we were toddlers and nurtured throughout life: military uniforms and paraphernalia; toy guns, swords, and other weaponry; inclusion of the military in every parade or civic event, even St. Patrick’s Day; inculcating Boy Scouts with an indoctrination of marching, earning medals and ribbons, and Boy Scout salute, which are all military characteristics; fetish inculcation of a cult of the flag; and even our American Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, which is a song of patriotism with allegiance more to our militarism than to our nationalism – why not “America the Beautiful,” instead; mythical idolization of war heroes; and, in our zeitgeist, ubiquitous email mantras: “it is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion” — “it is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press” — “it is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech” — “it is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble” — “it is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial” — “it is the veteran , not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.”; and finally, “it is the veteran who salutes the flag.” These insidious, subliminal, inculcated messages have been implanted and reinforced on Americans since the founding of our nation. They have been bequeathed from one generation to the next.

Books that emphasize my view:

The Pentagon “is the biggest, loosest cannon in American history, and no institution has changed this country more,” from “House of War” by James Carroll.

Andrew Bacevich, who by the way lost a son to Iraq, in his book “The American Militarism” “warns of a new and dangerous obsession that has taken hold of so many Americans, conservatives and liberals alike. It is the marriage of militarism to utopian ideology – of unprecedented military power wed to a blind faith in the universality of American values.”

James Bamford in his book “A Pretext for War” details the Bush administration’s misuse of intelligence to sell preemptive war to the American people.

Due to patriotic and nationalistic hubris, proponents of the military and war lead others down the same dangerous path with the view that we fight to save our country, our freedom, our democracy. From the very birth of our nation, Americans have been imbued with a strong sense of patriotism and nationalism that has not served us very well.

This ready-made exclamation, “If we didn’t have a military we would not have a country!” is made with such veracity that it is put forward as if it is axiomatic. Americans who posit these remarks will emphatically opine that they can determine this truth empirically; after all, would we not be speaking Japanese or German if we had not fought World War II? And therefore, “If we didn’t have a military we would not have a country!”

Reasoning based on results, no matter how beneficial the result may be, does not mean the same result could not have been otherwise achieved. A violent military response is reactionary and immediate; it’s not proactive and does not necessarily provide a long-term solution. Peace is a continuum — a process; war immediate with unpredictable results.

The observable winning results, the fact that we are not speaking Japanese or German, and the seemingly social benefit derived as a result of our win in World War II is only an observable fact of today. The fact is that many millions of people suffered on all sides of the conflict, some who never recovered and atrocities that were committed beyond belief by both sides, as a result of World War II. World War II turned out to be a reactionary, defensive war that with foresight, as we evolved into the 20th century, could have been circumvented, and most likely with the same winning results. In the zeitgeist of the first half of the 20th century, maybe this foresight would have been too much to expect; but, in the zeitgeist of the 21st century, we do have the necessary know-how to avoid war, avoiding war is entirely possible.

Americans, in a way, perhaps cannot be blamed for their thoughtless, visceral, spontaneous outburst in support of their position. In a sense, one cannot blame Americans for being proponents of war, even though, of course, they are as responsible for war as much as anyone else. Many Americans tend to believe what the nations leaders tell them without critical examination. Naively they believe that American Presidents are truthful; that an American President would not deliberately lie in order to muster Americans to support a war, and then send American men and women to war who may be maimed for life or may on whose behalf give their life, without good reason. They take the voice of the government and their interlocutors veridically. Older Americans evidentially didn’t learn from the experience of Vietnam; or, for those who did not live through it do not care to learn from that experience. They may be Nixon’s “silent majority”: those who are content with the status quo; those who do not believe strongly enough, or do not care enough to speak out.

From an excerpt of an interview, Why We Fight By Eugene Jarecki & Amy Goodman, exemplifies what I have been writing: Eugene Jarecki, film maker and Director of the film “Why We Fight”: “Because I think Americans right now are preoccupied with thinking this is a one-off, that we've never done this before, that the American public has never found itself deeply in a war, far too in to go back, learning that the reasons we were given up front turn out not to have been what was discussed behind closed doors. And the sad reality is Iraq is not unique in that way. The weapons of mass destruction are as grave an illusion as the Gulf of Tonkin. And we've had a number of wars, all too many, where there's a huge gap between what the public understands and what is truly driving the machine.” “Like myself. The Gulf of Tonkin was the myth on which Johnson's entry into the Vietnam War was based. The idea that our ships had been attacked in the Gulf later turned out not to have been true, but it was very useful illusion for those who wanted to compel us to war.”

The inculcated belief that the military is responsible for preserving our liberty is the result of lies, distortions, obfuscation, demonizations (wartime propaganda that demonizes the enemy) and even the microinequitable as well as the microaffirmative messages (sound-bites; demeanor and countenance when speaking, or how one presents themselves in photo opportunities) by hawks, government, capitalist and other proponents of war. These subliminal messages, some deliberate and some not, that the government and others foster, inculcating a esprit de corps in Americans to support war when otherwise, if the facts were known, there would be opposition and outrage — even anarchy.

These messages are so influencing and affecting, and cause so much exuberance that Americans will mirror in their own rhetoric what has been said without critical review, and even act out on those messages in irrational ways.

Just as we are now experiencing with opposition to the Iraq War, as with our Vietnam experience, Americans, only when we are not showing progress (a euphemism for not winning), will view a war with ambivalence and antipathy. Remember body counts of the Vietnam War? The higher the enemy body counts the more of an indication we were winning.

In the words of James Madison and John Quincy Adams:

“Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies. From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the dominion of the few.... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” “War is the parent of armies.” By James Madison, the principal architect of the U.S. Constitution, 1795

“She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence; she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.... [America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty.” “She [America] well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she [America] would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.” John Quincy Adams, 1821

I believe that Madison and Adams would seriously object to the exclamation: “If we didn’t have a military we would not have a country.” I believe they would have condemnation for our government, and disappointment of how our government has evolved.

Journalist Charles Lewis stated “There are so many theories about what happened in Iraq and why we really went in, but when you look at the history of the United States, almost every president, there is something we don't like somewhere in the world, and we’ve got to dispense military force.”; “This is not about one president or one party. We fight as a nation because we perceive it is in our interest to fight. We then mention words like “freedom” and nice common values that -- who can be against freedom? -- when in fact much more has been going on privately.”

The fact is that Chris Hedges is absolutely correct: “War is a Force That Give Us Meaning.” “We are addicted to the ‘drug of war’,” and therefore militarism, a reason for a muscular foreign policy, a reason for preemptive military action.

As a result of the way our country has evolved, the military and war are essential to our economy. Maybe that is what is meant by “If we didn’t have a military we would not have a country.”

January, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his final address as President of the United States: “My fellow Americans, this evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen. We have been compelled to create a permanent armament industry of vast proportions. Three-and-a-half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. The total influence, economic, political, even spiritual, is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development, yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex [Military-industrial-congressional complex]. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

In the final analysis, “We the People” are the scoundrels of war. All Americans are collectively responsible, for "War is the first resort of scoundrels" (Charles Bernstein, War Stories, first published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday, March 31, 2003)

America’s solution to international conflict has been war, not diplomacy, not negotiation, not a willingness to explore nonviolent resolutions.

As long as we are under the impression that “If we didn’t have a military we would not have a country,” as long as Americans believe that diplomacy and negotiation are analogous to appeasement, war will remain the only option remaining. I am sorry to say, in consideration of this mindset, the mantra “NEVER AGAIN!” will not have any meaning in our future. There will always continue to be veterans if we don’t change our way of thinking.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Courage, wisdom in an age of fear

So many of James Carroll's articles speak my mind. Perhaps it's because we are about the same age, lived through the same time. I don't know, but the following article is one of them.

"One of the joys of the current season is to see a fresh generation respond to the promise of Obama without reflexes of worry. Young people have a right to uncomplicated hope, and Obama is himself young enough to nurture it."

"But for many Americans, ghosts haunt the house of politics, a hovering threat for which, until recently, there were no words. That is the background for the shudders felt when last week's presidential debate turned to the ugliness of what this campaign has surfaced. John McCain complained about "unfair" criticisms by Georgia Congressman John Lewis of slurs shouted at some McCain-Palin rallies. Obama replied that he had distanced himself from Lewis's comments. But he explained that Lewis was expressing concern at McCain supporters shouting, as Obama put it, referring to himself as the target, "things like 'Terrorist!' and 'Kill him!' " "

'There it was: Obama himself using the phrase "Kill him!" Obama naming the threat of his own assassination. He went on, "And that your running mate . . . didn't say, 'Hold on a second, that's kind of out of line.' I think Congressman Lewis's point was that we have to be careful how we deal with our supporters." "

"McCain swung into a manic defense of his supporters, displaying tone deafness to the unnerving chord that had been plucked by his own campaign. McCain is of the generation that was traumatized by the murders of 1968, but that year he was undergoing a separate trauma of his own in Hanoi. He is not seized, perhaps, by the visceral dread out of which Lewis was speaking, and which so many recognize. However irrelevant the youthful nihilism of William Ayers, its full horror cannot be grasped without reference to the social breakdown that preceded it.

Obama has shown that he understands the positive and negative legacies of the 1960s, but he is defined by neither. For me, his calm and reasonable demeanor was never more welcome than when he repeated that phrase "Kill him!" Unlike me, Obama is not afraid to put the threat into words, as long as doing so opens into deeper understanding. The threat thus spoken of is defused."

"A Republican mantra has been, 'Who is Barack Obama?' But he has been showing us. His courage runs as deep as his wisdom. For some Americans, he represents, in addition to everything else, the unexpected possibility that we can find release in middle age from what took us hostage when we were young."

James Carroll, The Boston Globe, October 20, 2008

Our Future with Russia

"Presidents who used martial swagger to cloak personal insecurity took America disastrously to war in Asia three times. Psychological animus of the sort that defines McCain has been a feature of this country's most significant foreign policy failures. Obama represents another mode of leadership altogether."

"The financial crisis that continues to roll across the globe, like an endless earthquake, is irrefutable proof that old categories of regional and national dispute - including the East-West divide - no longer apply. What the world needs now is an unprecedented strategic partnership between Moscow and Washington, bridging Europe and Asia, north and south, as the ground of political and economic renewal. McCain, stuck in the past, hasn't a clue of this future. Obama speaks from it."

James Carroll, The Boston Globe, October 27, 2008