A Voice From the Past

The shadow of war looms large over America.

Bombers are poised, our boys are digging in, battle plans are getting their final X's and O's.
Over the din of preparation we hear each day new and increasingly shrill attacks, not against Iraq and Saddam Hussain alone but even our longtime European allies. Lo, the United Nations itself, a global peacekeeping body we were central to forming and host upon our very soil. Not merely from White House flacks and harried ambassadors but the President of the United States himself.
In speech after speech we find the world according to George W. Bush being divided evermore into Good Guys and Bad Guys, Black Hats and White. Using language out of a B Western, Mr. Bush has told the entire global community of nations they're either for us or against us, with nothing in between.
It wasn't always this way - neither the polarizing worldview of our Chief Executive, nor the way it was expressed.
Consider the telling and diametric contrast between these simplistic fulminations and the words of a speech given nearly 40 years ago by then President John F. Kennedy to the commencement crowd at American University. Back in June of 1963, when the US was caught in the middle of a Cold War that threatened the security of every man and nation on the globe just as we are told today we are by unchecked terrorism:
"What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war...a genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children..."
"The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough -- more than enough -- of war and hate and oppression."
How clear can that language be? The United States "will never start a war."
On the other hand, he continued, the US will do our part to build "A world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just," and work "Not towards a strategy of annihilation but towards a strategy of peace." Real peace. No unilateral American Peace enforced by the American military. Nor one of mulit-national machination over oil, water, and geopolitics. But a genuine, just, and lasting peace -- as JKF affirmed in an address at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, that same year:
"We must first of all recognize that we cannot remake the world simply by our own command...Every nation has its own traditions, its own values, its own aspirations. Our assistance form time to time can help other nations preserve their independence and advance their growth, but we cannot remake them in our own image. We cannot enact their laws nor can we operate their governments or dictate our policies...."
Was that direct enough? No remaking the world at our command; instead assist nations to preserve their independence. Outdated concepts, it seems. Or were they?
Getting to the pith of things, Kennedy remonstrated that,
"Foreign policy in the modern world does not lend itself to easy, simple black and white solutions. "If we were to withdraw our assistance from all governments who are run differently from our own, we would relinquish half the world immediately to our adversaries. If we were to treat foreign policy as merely a medium for delivering self-righteous sermons to supposedly inferior people, we would give up all thought of world influence or world leadership. "For the purpose of foreign policy is not to provide an outlet for our own sentiments of hope or indignation; it is to shape real events in a real world. We cannot adopt a policy which says that if something does not happen, or others do not do exactly what we wish, we will return to 'Fortress America.' That is the policy in this changing world of retreat, not of strength...."
Check. No simple black and white solutions; no policies that say if something does not go exactly our way we will return to Fortress America - or turn it loose on upon those who thwart us.
These powerfully pluralistic beliefs were underscored again in an address given that year at the University of Costa Rica, where President Kennedy advanced his vision for the Alliance for Progress. There, pledging our support to an organization we had established to nurture the health and independence of our neighbors to our South, Kennedy stated that the US was committed to four basic principles:
The right of every nation "to govern itself, to be free from outside dictation and coercion, to mold its own economy and society in any fashion consistent with the will of the people."
The right of every individual citizen "to political liberty, the right to speak his own views, to worship God in his own way, to select the government which rules, and to reject it when it no longer serves the need of a nation."
The right "to social justice, of every citizen to participate in the progress of his nation."
And the right "of every nation to make economic progress with modern technological means."
How much clearer can those rights be stated? But why don't they seem to apply any more? -or at best only selectively, the US picking and choosing at them like items on a Chinese menu.
What became of a government -and a leader - that would say and mean it just four days before he died, that the central task of America was the, "steady conquest of the surely yielding enemies of misery and hopelessness, hunger and injustice"? Not a string of aseptic buzzwords like globalization, privatization, and deregulation. Or "Equity," "interest rates," and "tax relief."
Rather misery, hopelessness, hunger, and injustice. Indeed, after three years of enlightenment as president JFK wasn't seeking to wage a hot war, or even the Cold War anymore. He was striving for durable peace through shared resources and burdens, respect for diversity and national sovereignty, and a global balance of power that favored no one nation at the expense of its fellows.
Before it is too late, before the tanks begin to rumble and the missiles are lit, may we not reflect on the danger of seeing the world only as black and white. As one of good guys and bad guys, being only fer' us or agin' us. And instead consider how we can come again to view it in all its shades and colors. Most importantly in the bright light of peace.

Robert Moyer is a Kittery Point resident who occasionally writes about political and social issues. He can be reached at rjppm2@aol.com.

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