from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Thoughts for free - you get what you pay for. 

As a social studies teacher, at times I have taught both US and World History. As person from an educated family (both parents graduated from Cornell in 1930’s and both did substantial graduate work) I grew up reading widely. As a recipient of a liberal education (including a degree from Haverford where though my major was music my minors were history and philosophy) I have learned to read beyond official sources in order to have a more complete understanding.

Given all of what I have noted above, given some of my recent reading and one hell of a lot of reflection back on previous reading, I come to one inevitable conclusion:

the misconduct and atrocities we attribute to the Bush administration, especially but not exclusively in foreign affairs, are nothing new, differing from their predecessors not in kind but merely in degree.

I realize that there are those who will immediately accuse me of being anti-American. Far from it. I believe in holding my nation to its highest aspirations. As a believer in a democratic republic I believe that the voting populace of this country is entitled to the truth from their leaders, and do not accept the statement so exemplified by the character Col. Nathan Jessup in “A Few Good Man” when he spits back “You can’t handle the truth.”

The United States has always been willing to intervene in the affairs of other nations when our leadership thought (a) it was to our benefit, and (b) they could get away with it. Our history of doing so in this hemisphere cannot be legitimately gainsaid. The very expansion of our nation has included the Federal government validating the illegal acts by American settlers in seizing all or parts of other independent nations - Mexico (Texas) and Hawai’i - for the economic benefit of those doing the original seizures. As a former United States Marine I am well aware of the use of the Corps to intervene multiple times in the nations of Central America and the Caribbean. As one who was a child in the 1950’s, I realize how the specter of communism was used in my childhood to justify US involvement in destabilizing or overthrowing governments in places as far dispersed as Iran and as near as Guatemala. And I remember all too well how that same specter was used to silence critics, to ruin careers. But even the reign of terror of which Nixon and McCarthy were so much a part was nothing new. And it was not just Republicans who were willing to tramp down on civil liberties.

After all, Wilson was president when the WWI era espionage and sedition acts became law. Palmer - regrettably a Quaker - the man who did the “Red Raids” was appointed by Wilson. FDR was president when the Japanese-Americans were interned. And the first president to be truly harsh towards Native-Americans was Andrew Jackson.

I realize that -unlike the wonderful diaries by Unitary Moonbat on things like the Crusades and now Lebanon which have truly expanded the knowledge of many here - even a complete listing of all US interventions in other nations, all treaties with Native Americans unilaterally abrogated, all violations of civil liberties, would for many here not inform them of things of which they totally lacked awareness, although to see all listed together might make at least a few aware of the previous scope of how we have not lived up to the promise of this nation.

In his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy offered the following remarks, which we often tend to forget:
To those people in the huts and villages of the world, of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help themselves, for whatever period is required - not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

Noble sentiments, but I look at the final sentence and wonder how truly we have ever accepted it: If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. I think JFK was correct about that, but I cannot expect that we will apply that principle in our foreign relations when we are unwilling to seriously attempt to apply it at home. Can our rich truly believe that we can continue to move in the direction of a 3rd world nation, that they will have enough wealth to be able to buy security for them and their kith and kin while an increasing majority of the American people fall further behind? Can we exist as a democracy if we allow the existence and growth of a permanent underclass? Do we care? If so, why are so many of our people still without medical insurance? Why do we tell countries like St. Kitt’s and Nevis - which do have free health care - that they have TOO MANY doctors? Why do we keep lowering the taxes on the rich while effectively increasing them on the poor?

We often hear that our troops should not be involved in situations that are not in our national interest. Those of a non-libertarian conservative outlook would argue that controlling access to petroleum is clearly in our national interest and hence justifies our intervention in places like the Middle East. That may be true, but I would wonder if we have sufficient troops to be able to assure such access, and whether the cost is greater than the benefit. I want an open discussion, not just an administration that cuts deals for the sake of oil, whether it is FDR’s with the Saudis, our interventions in Iran in the 1950’s (where the players included the sons of two presidents, Herbert Hoover Jr. and Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt), or Cheney’s energy task force dividing up the oil fields of Iraq long before 9-11.

And I would be prepared to argue that using our military to stop ethnic slaughter that destabilizes nations and regions is equally in our national interest, although we seem unwilling to intervene unless the people look like us or there is oil involved - if hundreds of thousands of Africans die we seem not to care.

I have been a politically active person since my early adolescence. And I will acknowledge that there are still many important battles before us, some that seem so important that we may not believe that we have time to stop and reflect - to see if the actions upon which we embark will possibly be deleterious to the long-term health of our nation.

Please note -- I am not arguing quietism. By all means challenge the abuses of this administration, call to account those Democrats who will not stand up for what is right. I do worry that they way we contest and compete may make governing impossible were we to be so fortunate as to have sufficient control of governmental apparatus as to be able to attempt governance, or at least that part in theory given to the federal legislative branch.

I have been accused recently of being self-indulgent, of navel gazing (a term that is a pejorative originally misapplied to hesychastic monks of the Christian East, something I find as offensive as gyp, or jew-down, or nigger-lip, or welsh on a bet). Others have said that I was attempting to portray myself as morally superior. Some accused me of being too sensitive, that I was withdrawing because my feelings were hurt. I chose not to respond then, and in general I will not respond to such comments now. But I do have thoughts to offer, so I continue to write and post when I think it appropriate.

Meteor Blades challenged us as to how we developed our positions, upon what sources of information and knowledge did we rely, and offered his own extensive explorations of the issues related to the current crisis in the Middle East. I am not attempting anything so significant, nor do I write anywhere as cogently.

But I believe that to argue that the abuses of this administration are something sui generis in fact weakens the argument that we can make, and hence abdicates the serious responsibility of challenging America to live up to its promise.

When I say that what have is a question of degree, I acknowledge that those who see themselves as Democrats will have to acknowledge that the hands of their party are not totally clean. And if we find what we encounter now offensive - as we justly should - then what principles of epistemology and hermeneutics are we willing to apply? How do we determine that the actions of this administration rise to the level where we are justifiably so upset and angry, and yet when similar things have happened on the watch of Democratic Presidents and Congresses we did not similarly object? What can we offer to voters other than “we aren’t them?”

I offer this diary, my first in about a week in any venue, not so much because I have answers, but because I wish to nudge a bit, to perhaps provide an occasion to think a bit differently.

Therefore I will end with something I read about a week ago, shortly before I wrote my last diary. It was written in 1965, and appears as the introduction to a new book entitled Calming he Fearful MInd: A Zen Response to Terrorismby Thich Nhat Hanh. In that volume it is entitled “Recommendation.”
Promise me,
promise me this day,
promise me now,
while the sun is overhead
exactly at the zenith,
promise me:

Even as they
strike you down
with a mountain of hatred and violence;
even as they step on you and crush you
like a worm,
even as they dismember and disembowel you,
remember, brother,
man is not our enemy.

The only thing worthy of you is compassion -
invincible, limitless, unconditional.
Hatred will never let you face
the beast in man.

One day, when you face this beast alone,
with your courage intact, your eyes kind,
(even as no one sees them),
out of your smile
will bloom a flower.
And those who love you
will behold you
across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying.

Alone again,
I will go on with bent head,
knowing that love has become eternal.
On the long, rough road,
the sun and the moon
will continue to shine.

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