The Divided States of America

By Bill Deiz in Portland, Oregon, a former print and broadcast journalist; now communications director of a statewide non-profit.

It’s coming right down to the wire. That’s why your vote is so important and why attempts to discourage you from voting may be more egregious than ever. Videotaping voters dropping off their ballots right here in River City, indeed?

This is Portland, Oregon, for Pete’s sake.

A hint of desperation in the air on this late October day?

What I don’t understand is the blatant anti-Americanism that has creapt into this campaign. Right-wing Republicans are actively working to suppress voting in minority districts, not only in Florida but in many of our inner cities, enough so that the NAACP has sent out teams to assure that votes are properly counted. They are requiring “loyalty oaths” on the part of those who want to come and hear the U.S. president, “our” president speak. If you are not a member of their exclusive club, you don’t get in, or if you do, you don’t stay for long.

Both sides abuse the power of a free press – something that helped us become America-- by constantly twisting and distorting their messages, keeping organizations like factcheck.org working overtime, trying to sort through the debris. We expect a little distortion in the campaigns for election, but outright lies? As a matter of policy?

Senator Kerry has finally corrected his estimate of money spent on the Iraq War to the more realistic $120 billion dollar range as opposed to the $200-billion dollars he was touting earlier in the campaign.

President Bush realizes he actually did say that he was no longer that concerned about Osama bin Laden, even though it was Osama who attacked us and not Saddam.

Bush jokes before a live audience about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction, as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers who believed his rationale for sending our young men and women into harm’s way, that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction posed a threat to our way of life, weep for the irreparable loss of their loved ones.

Meantime our economy staggers under the twin burdens of what many—Republicans and Democrats-- view as an unnecessary war; and a wasteful tax cut in a time of war, a war with no exit strategy and with insufficient troops on the ground to provide the safety required of nation building.

Have we as a nation learned nothing from our experience in Vietnam?

I wore the uniform of my country, both as a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserve, which I voluntarily joined during the Vietnam conflict, and the United States Navy Reserve where I received a direct commission as an Officer.

During my advanced training as a Marine Corps rifleman at Camp Pendleton, California, I was hospitalized with pneumonia. It was here that I befriended a number of wounded Marines, just back from the front lines in Vietnam, some terribly shot up and crippled, who opened my eyes about the reality, and futility of our war effort in Vietnam. There didn’t seem to be a plan, they said, to win this thing. It was already becoming apparent, in 1966, that this was a war we might not win. I knew then that it would be only a matter of time until the American people learned the truth about this terrible war and public sentiment turned against it. So, even as I served my country, I began to question the decisions of its leaders: a reminder that this is the duty of every thinking American, especially today, at this time, with this war.

John Kerry did a very brave thing when he returned from that Vietnam war. He aired many of the frustrations and concerns of our troops on the ground to leaders who were in a position to do something about it. He did not “turn on” his fellow combatants, as some have charged. He merely reported what he had heard and seen, as well as what he has personally experienced, some of it too horrible for non-combatants to understand.

His testimony was so well presented, so well thought out, that president Nixon, watching from the Oval office, saw him as a threat and created an organization designed to discredit this articulate war hero, who reminded Nixon, all too well, of another JFK, one who had been a thorn in Nixon’s side. That organization, with John O’Neil at its helm, morphed into the group that did the sleazy Swift Boat ads against John Kerry in 2004, ads replete with distortions and untruths, so sleazy that Republican John McCain was moved to condemn them.

Wake up America!

Have you ever wondered why, during the current war, we see so few pictures of the collateral damage done from a ground-level perspective? Where are the pictures of the horribly burned and disfigured women and children who suffer from our efforts to pacify their country—except in a Michael Moore movie? Shouldn’t these pictures be all over the evening news, as they were during Vietnam? Have you ever wondered why we are not being shown these realities? It is, after all, WAR and bad things happen to good people in any war. But when we treat it as a video game, with high-tech photos of bombing runs, from the air, and not as gritty war waged on the ground, we lose a lot in the translation, foremost: the ability to make rational decisions in our nation’s best interests. Warriors and those who trained as warriors know that war should always only be a last resort, when all other options have failed, and not something you rush into, willy nilly.

Even more important: war should be against a clearly-defined enemy, one who has harmed us in some way, not an invention of those who see political advantage in a pre-emptive war against a much weaker opponent.

So in these Divided States of America, this is our moment of truth. We can, as a nation, awaken from our slumber of the last few years, and confront, head-on, the ugly realities of our present course.

The fact that both sides have exaggerated fact in order to make political capital has turned off many voters. But when one weighs the scale and looks with opened eyes at what we have done, there really is no choice: We must change our present course or continue to be diminished in the eyes of history and in the judgment of the world, as we scurry down a path that only leads to decreased safety and the probability of more horrors to come.

We are the world’s only true super power. Yet we behave as if we were the big bully on the block. “Bring it on!” indeed. Teddy Roosevelt said: “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” He did not say: “Bully and swagger and shove the rest of the world around because we can.”

Will we ever be the United States of America again? You know the country: The good guys, who, during World War II, came riding in to the rescue wearing white hats and who the world respected and looked up to. We have the power. We have the might. We have the means.

Do we still have the will?

Comments

  • (Show?)

    We must change our present course or continue to be diminished in the eyes of history and in the judgment of the world, as we scurry down a path that only leads to decreased safety and the probability of more horrors to come.

    We are investing so much energy into determining what happens on November 2 that we haven't thought about what happens on the third. That's when the real work begins.

    To play a blatantly partisan card here, evidence abounds that the hard right of the GOP has spent twenty years feasting on divisiveness. Obviously: their natural constituency is about 25% of the population. They have to create enough dischord to boil down the opposition such that the 25% becomes the majority of whatever's left. But it's a short-sighted polity, and one that has reached the ultimate, inevitable dead end.

    Americans who care about where we're headed are going to have to join together to try to reconstruct a process of sound policy and decision-making. Liberals must lead this--conservatives are opposed to the idea. They're still running the country like they're the minority party--smashmouth, crush the opposition politics.

    It's time for adults to start running the show again, and those must be liberals. It's a moment when it seems like we should extract our pound of flesh for what the GOP has done to America over the past generation, but we have to rise above that. We must knit together a policy that will unite the non-radical 60% of the country. This doesn't mean wishy-washy moderatism/apologist liberalism. The last time it happened was under FDR.

    But it can't be done by playing the game of payback. America (and Oregonians in particular) are so sick of that.

  • Anthony (unverified)
    (Show?)

    How, exactly, are “right-wing Republicans…actively working to suppress voting in minority districts”? This race-baiting mythology has been thoroughly debunked in the past, and no doubt will be again. I can’t say I’d be shocked to hear of some misconduct on the part of Republican operatives during this intense campaign – much as such behavior would disgust me – but the reports I’ve heard so far involve almost exclusively the hectoring of early voters by Democrat zealots.

    Are we supposed to be impressed by the claim that things are bad “enough so that the NAACP has sent out teams”? The NAACP has demonstrated itself to be a viciously partisan group more interested in perpetuating old stereotypes and justifying its sclerotic existence than really working to help people of African ancestry advance.

    Bill writes: “Bush jokes before a live audience about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction…”

    One moment Bush’s opponents will lambaste the president for rigidity and lack of self-doubt, next they’ll criticize him for a self-deprecating comment that acknowledges his limitations and mistakes.

    Of course, the President was no less omniscient than everyone else that believed Saddam’s capabilities were greater. However wrong intelligence estimates were, one thing is for sure: Saddam will not be a factor in the distribution of WMD in the future. In this age of asymmetrical warfare, it’s reassuring that he will not be playing a part, especially in the distribution of chemical or biological weapons that require vastly less infrastructure and time to develop and deliver.

    Bill again: “… a war with no exit strategy…. Have we as a nation learned nothing from our experience in Vietnam?”

    Hopefully we’ve learned that we should be focused on victory, not an “exit strategy.”

    I think Bill draws exactly the wrong lessons from Vietnam. He recalls his hospital mates saying that “there didn’t seem to be plan… to win this thing.” They were right about that. So this time let’s plan to win rather than obsessing about when we can bug out. There were several reasons public sentiment turned against the war, many of them unreasonable. But a reasonable one was that the war was not conducted with determination to win a military victory.

    Bill: “John Kerry did a very brave thing when he returned from that Vietnam war. He aired many of the frustrations and concerns of our troops on the ground to leaders who were in a position to do something about it. He did not ‘turn on’ his fellow combatants, as some have charged. He merely reported what he had heard and seen...”

    John Kerry did “a very brave thing” that was immensely helpful in jump-starting his public life. Many veterans are justifiably angered that he portrayed their efforts in the worst light, unjustifiably disgracing them. That might have been a breach in loyalty had his comments been truthful and disinterested. It most certainly was a breach given that his comments were calculated to produce a lurid effect and larded with false accounts, in many cases providing wholesale inventions calculated to make the worst impression. I don’t recall Kerry’s apology for these damaging falsehoods. Yes, “His testimony was so well presented,” that many believed the crock of excrement he was peddling.

    What is the average person to think of Kerry’s conduct? The best one can say is that he was a dupe in the Winter Soldier farce. But that seems too generous, given his degree of activity and leadership. Kerry also made a public display of throwing, or pretended to throw, his medals away. Later, once it was no longer so popular to denigrate the conduct of American soldiers in Vietnam (we can all remember how their portrayal in popular films, etc., began to change), Kerry didn’t scruple to leverage his service for political advantage. Which is it? Proud or ashamed? Band of Brothers, or barbarian horde? Contempt for medals, or a place of pride on his office wall? Obviously it’s both, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

    Neither John McCain nor anyone else has successfully refuted the Swift Boat ads, to my knowledge. I’ve seen accusation and counter accusation, but the mainstream media’s tactic has been to simply dismiss or shout down the accusations rather than dispassionately entertain them, or even condemn the approach, if they disapproved, while honestly examining the claims. What McCain disliked, apparently, was questioning anyone’s war record. As far as I understand, he made a principled general objection, not a refutation of specific claims.

    Bill writes: “We are the world’s only true super power. Yet we behave as if we were the big bully on the block… Teddy Roosevelt said: “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” He did not say: “Bully and swagger and shove the rest of the world around because we can.”

    Obviously, if the U.S. ever acts as the world’s only superpower, those resentful or fearful of its dominant position can always describe it as behaving like a bully. Teddy Roosevelt didn’t say, “Speak softly and be embarrassed about that big stick you’re carrying, and never, never use it unless France, China, Russia and the two-bit tyrants of the U.N. approve.”

    Many Europeans resent American power simply for existing, and go apoplectic when it is actually used. It may be that the exercise of American power thus diminishes American popularity, but it certainly does not diminish respect for American power. People confuse popularity for credibility. Judicious use of power increases credibility; while equivocation and empty bluster create the image of a “paper tiger” – which only emboldens action. Thus the Soviets reacted to Jimmy Carter’s diplomatic posture by invading Afghanistan, much to Carter’s chagrin. And thus terrorist culture has grown and metastasized in response to pandering and backing off. When Reagan retreated from Beirut after the barracks bombing, it taught the terrorists the lesson that they could intimidate a militarily powerful opponent. The same lesson was inculcated by Clinton’s ignominious withdrawal from Somalia. By contrast, George W. Bush’s unseating of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein sent a very salutary message to America’s enemies – one that Moammar Qadaffi took to heart, and one that will have made a strong impression in the breasts of many a malefactor from Syria to North Korea.

    “Will we ever be the United States of America again?” Bill wistfully asks. “You know the country: The good guys… during World War II… Do we still have the will?” My hope is that people like Bill have the will and the good sense to resist the impulse to blame America first, or at least to think ill of America at the slightest suggestion by those who mean us no good. My hope is that people like Bill will eye America’s critics with as much skepticism as he applies to America’s actions. My hope is that, without romanticizing the America of WWII even as much as Bill might, we can look at its faults more sympathetically and cast off the image, forged in Soviet and European socialist propaganda of the United States as a font of evil in the world – an image that did so much to vilify American action in Vietnam, even as it romanticized and whitewashed the actions of America’s enemies in that conflict. That propaganda spawned the “blame America first” tendency, which even honorable people such as Bill (for whose service I am grateful) find hard to resist.

  • J.G. Boccella (unverified)
    (Show?)
    <h2>...I thought this web-site could be of interest: www.DividedStates.com</h2>
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