her Sept. 19 column in the Financial Times, "A new spin on Vietnam,"
conservative columnist Amity Shlaes observes that the idea is gradually
taking hold with many Americans that the U.S. should bring democracy to
"troubled places," and that a "moral campaign" (meaning "war") can be a
"noble cause." She notes that, "The clearest signs that attitudes are
changing are coming out in the presidential campaign. Everyone expected
that the experience of Vietnam would influence the discussion of Iraq
policy. Instead it is turning out to be the other way around."
It seems that the failed policies of the Vietnam War era are being perceived
in a different light following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the
success of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, and the restoration of democracy in
Yugoslavia with the demise of Slobodan Milosevic. Now the thinking is that
perhaps the "fight for freedom" was a worthy cause after all, especially if
the U.S. can win. And the historical fictions that were widely perpetrated
by the corporate media during the recent lionization of Ronald Reagan served
to spur this "patriotic" fervor in the minds of a new generation of young
Americans who weren't yet born when Saigon fell.
Shlaes correctly observes that wartime yields a new culture and a new set of
values. That is how "civilized" Americans can consider preemptive and
indiscriminate murder to be a "moral campaign." Americans certainly do not
consider these very same values inherent in the terrorism of al Qaeda and
other Islamic extremist groups to be moral. It depends entirely on one's
perspective, and the truth is that nobody can claim the moral high ground.
Noam Chomsky's principle of universality -- to apply to yourself the same
standards that you apply to others, if not more stringent ones -- was evoked
this past week by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Quoted in the Washington Post, Annan said, "Every nation that
proclaims a rule of law at home must respect it abroad. And every nation
that insists on it abroad, must enforce it at home." Without mentioning any
nation by name, although we know who he was talking about, he said, "Those
who seek to restore legitimacy must themselves embody it. And those who
invoke international law must themselves submit to it." Also, in an
earlier interview with the BBC, Annan declared that the US-led invasion
of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened the UN charter.
This is reminiscent of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's admonition in his
1961 farewell address: "In the councils of government, we must guard against
the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the
military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of
misplaced power exists and will persist." And Ike may very well have been
the last American president to practice what he preached. His son John
put it this way: ". . .Ike's rejection of force as an instrument of
national policy applied to everyone - to America, to America's friends, as
well as to America's potential enemies."
The principle of universality is a concise form of the general principle of
the ethic of reciprocity, or the "Golden Rule," that is found in nearly
every religion. So if you have a Christian friend who feels that killing
someone can be justified, remind your friend to think about the following
biblical passage: "In everything, do unto others as you would have them do
to you; for this is the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)
Mohandas Gandhi freed the entire subcontinent of India from colonial
repression without firing a shot. He was prepared to die for his cause, yet
there was no cause for which he would kill. Gandhi stated, "Victory
attained by violence is tantamount to defeat, for it is momentary."
Unfortunately, for every Gandhi there are hundreds of political opportunists
who mask their ambitions with populist rhetoric in order to incite the
masses to war. Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the
world." He observed that if Christians had practiced what they preached,
all of India would have been Christian as a result.
We do not know within
millions how many people the U.S. military killed in Southeast Asia, and
because of the
widespread use of the highly toxic defoliant Agent Orange, 150,000
Vietnamese children have been born with horrible birth defects. We do not
know within tens of thousands how many Iraqis have been slaughtered, but we
do know that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children died of disease and
malnutrition as a result of U.S./U.N. sanctions.
With the passage of time,
their culture has made it possible for the Vietnamese to forgive Americans
for their foolishness. But because of their vengeful tribal customs, that
will not be the case for Iraqis. To this day, the Crusades -- the military
campaigns of European Christians against Muslims in the 11th, 12th, and 13th
centuries -- have never been forgotten.
America's democracy is being eroded by its own misguided evangelical foreign
policy. And if we continue along this course in our nuclear age, there
won't be anyone left to forgive us -- including ourselves.
Harold Williamson is a Chicago-based independent scholar. He can
be reached at:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2004, Harold
Articles by Harold Williamson
Call It Murder
* It Isn't
God Who is Crazy
Trust Anybody Over Thirty
in the Postmodern World
Remember Who The Enemy Is
Obscenity, A Sign of the Times and the Post
Anew: A Do-It-Yourself Project
America's Blind Faith in Government
Tanks and the Brainwashing of America
for the Bush Doctrine: A Natural History Perspective