Wednesday, March 28, 2007

1984.................Are we there yet?

Last night I watched a movie about a future in which a state had become a bureaucratic tyranny. I was struck by the realization of how the world must see the U.S.
There has always been a vast gap between how Americans see themselves and the truth, any trip through a text book from any but a few top schools, and some of them too, will quickly show a biased, to the point of useless view of American history. I am not an America basher by any means but I am not a fool. It doesn't take a lot of studying to get a more realistic view of the past. Children of my generation were not taught that Thomas Jefferson was a slave holder or that the Spanish American war was not about freedom of Cubans but involved the annexation of the Philippines for coal bunkers to support a much larger policy of expansionism. I would hope that we at least tell the truth about Jefferson in this day and age but I would doubt that we are ready to get into dirty details of the American expansionism period as we are not out of it yet.
It is often said that history repeats it's self and if one starts with the War of 1812 you will see that there were other reasons for the conflict than just British navel hi jinx. Were you taught that we invaded Canada twice and failed? If you follow the time line forward, through the Seminole war, (Gen. Jackson) the annexation of Indian territories east of the Mississippi, you see the seeds of manifest destiny come to flower in the Mexican American war, a not so nice interlude in American history, with a brief break for the Civil War, in which some saw as an excuse to invade Canada yet again, because of England's wait and see neutrality,we come to the Spanish American War. Now you have to slow down and look a little closer. I don't want to give a history lesson but if you take the time to look you will find not just similarity's to what is happening now but the start of modern American expansionism. Manifest destiny has evolved into the white mans burden, partly because of the rise to power of the media one now has to be more careful of terminology, but the same phrases, freedom of the oppressed, liberty from Spanish tyranny for the Cubans and Filipinos. There is no mention of the need for coal bunkers for the great navy we are developing, control of the Caribbean and the eventual mouth of the Panama canal. The reasons things happen are never so simple as liberty, democracy, justice and any other phrase you get pummeled with. If there is one thing that is constant is that there is always ambitious men. History is highlighted by the adventures of ambitious men.
It is hard for most of us to imagine actually attempting to sit down and formulate a world plan either for a nation or everyone, but people do. You have to stop and think about this. It is one thing to be patriotic and believe in your form of government and your social system it is a rather large step to then project that out into the world and see it as the system for every one else. We have all sat and wondered what we would do if we were in charge, but to actually formulate a plan or to even to lash out blindly to change the worlds present order is ambitious indeed. The depth of knowledge and the insight into the social dynamic to make any plan actually work is mind boggling,just the real time intelligence required if you could gather it would require time enough to analyze before the dynamic changed. I am not saying that great things can't be done, under the right circumstance, with enough audacity and a willingness to roll the dice anything is possible, but the real question is not what should be done but what can be done? and that is the essence of politics. The ability to master that question is what separates talented politicians from the rest. It does require more than just ambition.
If you look at U.S. leaders who are considered great ,Lincoln and F.D.R. ( I leave out Washington only because his greatness is for what he did not do), these men were faced with problems that far out weighed there personal ambitions. The problems they faced large as they were did not change the question of what should and what could be done it just made the choices more evident.
If we look at the problems the U.S. faces today and the reaction to them it does give one pause for thought. Some put terrorism at top the list. I see it as a problem but much larger for the Islamic nations then for the U.S. You have to stretch some, but the excursion into Iraq as apart of the solution to terrorism raises some fundamental questions about the present leadership in the U.S. No matter what view one has on the intent of the action, you have to wonder at the logic. If the logic was that to establish a democratic state in the Mid East, and by so doing create a revers domino effect then a basic principle of democracy has been violated. Democracy exists by the will of the governed and so can not be directly exported, if you try than you are the governor and so are imposing your will. If the logic is that it's better to fight them there than here, you have to base that on some fairly large assumptions and also be willing to fight a war of annihilation, dare I say it extermination. If not you are never going to be successful in making that logic work. If the logic is that by securing Iraq and Afghanistan as a stable base for military forces and by so doing controlling the flow of oil to the east and hemming in the threat of Iran than the logic is if nothing else more clear. It does however call into question the intent. This is the point at witch one has to speculate and that is an open ended game, but one can imagine what U.S. policy must look like if you are on the outside looking in. If you think about it, it looks like a policy of domination,"We are on top since the end of the cold war and intend to stay there." I have to admit that being on top is better than most alternatives, and it may be that it is better to have the U.S. on top than anyone else, that is a value judgment and so is made by each individual and not my intent here. No matter the intent, whether you hold to the corporate view of utopia in which all the worlds nations are good free market consumers or that through communication and negotiation a higher world governing body can establish international law, as an American you are required to see the U.S. as the leading or dominant force behind it to feel any other way would be .....well down right un-American! I can't imagine any American taking an idea from some other nation and having it forced upon them. I can imagine that that is precisely how other nations feel about the U.S. now.
The present leadership in the U.S. may be short on ability but they do not lack vision. They have a clear picture of how they wish the future to be and they are ambitious. I am reminded of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Cassius' "lean and hungry look". Those in power now are oil men and see the world in those terms and if all you have is a hammer all problems become nails. But oil is not the only problem facing the U.S. or the fact that some one else has it. One of our greatest problems at the moment is that the threat of terrorism is not larger than the ambition of these lean and hungry men. My only hope is that even if we lack the ability, we are able to see the difference between leadership and domination and not trade the constitution for continuity or else the vision of Orwell's "1984" may not become reality for us but for many.