A Voice From the Past
shadow of war looms large over America.
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
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,
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.
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 email@example.com.
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