gut check

Foreword

I found this old message board post that I wrote about nine years ago and thought I might share it and some additional thoughts here. Because it was originally a response to another post on that board, it will require a short introduction.

I was responding to a person known as Kirk who was a notorious anti-American extremist. He had often made great noise about how little credit America deserves for freedom in the world and as you will guess reading my post, his central claim in the specific post that roused my ire was that America has no “guts”. Some of my choice of emphasis may appear odd in here but I was partially responding to some other specific assertions about various American involvements and motivations. Why he incensed me more than usual on that particular day I do not remember.

Here is what I said then for your consideration. An Afterword will follow as well.

I’m not really sure what GUTS are, but, I will take a stab at explaining how America has them.

In the 17th Century, people seeking the freedom to practice their religion left Europe to settle a new and unknown continent. They gave up the security of the known and braved a treacherous sea journey to travel to a wild and inhospitable place called America. The first settlements were abysmal failures-but still they came. These first patriots starved and they worked and then they starved some more. They were killed by the indigenous people and isolated from civilization- but they stayed to pursue the idea of Freedom. Maybe that is GUTS?

In 1769, most people would have sneered at the thought of colonial secession from the British Empire. It was unthinkable. But, by 1775 attitudes had changed and their emerged a consensus among American leadership that something must be done or the Freedom which they had enjoyed might be permanently snatched away. They stood up to one of the world’s great powers and risked everything in the cause of Freedom. The soldiers of the Continental Army were volunteers who followed Washington though they were starving, unclothed and engaged in what appeared to be a hopeless battle, all in the cause of Freedom. Maybe that is GUTS?

Soon after their revolution, America again faced a crisis. The economy was in a shambles and the Union was in name only. The leadership again met to set things straight and they proposed a new Constitution that would protect Freedom for all time. They did this in spite of the fact that all evidence would lead one to believe that a Union of this sort was not possible. Every delegate to the Constitutional Convention had more to lose than to gain by this stronger Union. After all, they were the leadership of their own States and what they proposed was to give up much of their power. Rather than continue the proven path of State independence and luxuriate in their own personal ascendancy to power, they chose the less likely course of Union. This they did in the cause of Freedom. Maybe that is GUTS?

Soon this new Nation’s legitimacy was challenged by the Barbary pirates and again Great Britain. Rather than pay tribute to foreign despots as were many of the “great” nations, America took the war to the shores of Tripoli and won international respect for the cause of Freedom. Soon, rather than submit to the conscription of its citizens into the Royal Navy, America again fought Britain and after great suffering were victorious. This victory was won in spite of long odds and early devastating defeats. The new nation fought on in the name of Freedom and prevailed. Maybe that is GUTS?

By the middle of the 19th century, the young nation was torn asunder by the astonishing lack of freedom of black Americans. America fought herself in a great internal battle that would determine what Freedom meant to its citizens. The war went on for years because her leadership insisted that the American States would stay united and her people, all her people this time, would be Free. This struggle for Freedom continued in spite of the temptation to end the struggle. After all, what threat could a new Southern nation be to the industrial North? Politically, Lincoln had every thing to gain by ending the war but America fought on in the name of Freedom. Maybe that is GUTS?

When Germany sank the Lusitania and sparked direct American involvement in W.W.I, many American were already overseas serving in French and English uniforms. It was tempting for America to sit out this war completely. After all, the war was principally a stalemate and there was little threat to the Freedom enjoyed on American soil. America could of easily ignored the loss of a few ships and allowed Britain and France to continue the fight on their own, but, what is Freedom worth if foreign powers can attack our citizens with impunity? America went to war again in the cause of freedom and her sons died a death just as real the sons of France and England. This sacrifice was not viewed as vain because we shed our blood for the idea of Freedom. Maybe that is GUTS?

When World War Two came to American shores in 1941, the American industrial machine was already producing much of the armaments being used by the Allied nations in defense of Freedom. Americans again shed blood in the cause of Freedom when her youth went ashore in Normandy rather than Honshu. The physical threat to America in the 1940s was the one from the West not the East, but, America knew that a Europe liberated by the Red Army would not enjoy Liberty even if the yoke of Nazism was throw off with American supplied weapons. America chose to engage Hitler before Tojo because of Freedom and American blood spilled in pools that were just as red as the pools of blood that the English sons died in. At the end of this terrible war, America used the Atomic Bomb in a terrible display that brought a quick end to the bloody conflict and for the first time democracy to Japan. America was winning the Pacific war long before 1945, and the A-bomb was not the only way to defeat the Empire of Japan. Had that bomb not been dropped, the sons of England, France, Australia, Canada and many other great nations would have died along side Americans because this would have been required to advance the cause of Freedom. Maybe that is GUTS.

Kirk, you may find me to be “unduly proud” but I have no shame in extolling the virtues of my country. I take nothing away from other nations when I waive an American flag. Your implicit assertion that the American contribution to the cause of freedom is so minimal that it should be ridiculed is an assertion that I find offensive. The irony of your disdain for America is that if brave patriots had not made the sacrifices I described in detail, you would probably be brushing up on your German or Russian today rather than posting to the internet. If your ideas were not so pathetic, you would be funny.

America is far from perfect but, as always, we are striving to be better. Do not doubt our willingness to sacrifice for a noble cause; we have proven that in sacrifices of the past. We will stand aside the nations of the world who also love freedom and with them continue to defend that which we hold dear. Soon, the whole world will enjoy the Freedom which we are privileged to know, and, God willing, the Dream which is America, will become the Reality of the World.

Afterword

Please don’t send me emails castigating (or praising) me for my turn toward super-nationalism-I wrote this almost ten years ago. Even then my rhetoric went further than did my actual heart on the matter. Still, I would only change my tone today: the substance of what I said, I still stand by. I had no thought of making a balanced presentation when I wrote that and I don’t regret failing to make a more subtle analysis of the reluctance of America to enter both of the great twentieth century world conflicts.

Even in the short years since I wrote that, however, America, or perhaps more accurately American Idealism, has eroded considerably. Frankly, I do not think that today I could muster the enthusiasm to respond to Kirk that I had then. I am posting this in part to perhaps establish my credentials with you as a reformed super-patriot. Perhaps in part also to just be a bit more transparent to those of you who take the time to read these words.

I am well aware that often I come down pretty hard on America and my fellow Americans. I would submit that this is in part because of the road that I have traveled to get here. I’m a bit like an addict: nobody hates drugs like a recovering drug addict. Perhaps my path less traveled might help someone else in their struggle to overcome their own addiction to super-nationalism.

Rest assured that it is my sincere hope and prayer that America recovers its lost senses- the world needs us to regain our composure. I may not feel as present tense patriotic as I did when I wrote the earlier message board post, but that void has been replaced in my heart not by disloyalty or loathing, but by melancholy. I now fear that the Dream which is America will not only fail to be the Reality of the World, but also that it has already tragically failed to continue to be the dream of even Americans.

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value of the dollar

It is incredible how much being a Dad changes one’s outlook on the world. People told me when my wife was pregnant that “everything changes” and I assumed they were talking just about priorities and day to day lifestyle. Little did I realize that it would change me in profound and fundamental ways.

I think about the future far more now than I did pre-Fatherhood. And I’m not talking about retirement planning, but rather the big sweep of history: the world which we will leave to our offspring and in turn, they will leave to theirs.

These matters are weighing heavy today because of the thought provoking op-ed written by William Broyels, Jr. entitled A War for Us, Fought by Them. You should definitely read that piece if you haven’t already. Broyels ends with a call to reinstate the draft, and while I do not agree with his ultimate conclusion, his argument is very persuasive.

The startling fact in that op-ed was the that only one of 535 members of Congress has a child actively engaged in military operations in the Middle East. On reflection, I’m not shocked by this, but still, it is an amazing statistic that reflects how the power elite in our country are manipulating circumstances to their benefit. Broyels envisions a solution through an objective, no deferment draft that will force the children of privilege into the ranks of the military and thereby approximate the wealthy’s participation in conflicts of our past.

The central problem with Broyel’s argument is that he believes that a Congress which consistently and systematically forfeits its power to decide whether to go to war would make more sober decisions if they were personally vested in the matter. I wish I shared at least that optimism. I for one have lost faith that our current legislators can ever be trusted to do the right thing if it means that some of their number could have their tenure jeopardized by a tough vote.

I am betting that Shrub would have towed a Swift boat by canoe all the way to Hanoi if that were necessary to present the right image of the Bush family to the public. The elite often sacrifice their own to maintain their station and their kids tend to tow the line for the family because that is the course of their own access to wealth and power. Sadly, Broyel’s version of the draft would only affect the vote of those occasional legislators who put the needs of our country over retaining their positions of power and prestige. The drums beat loudly these days and now there is a strong possibility of a draft for whatever real or imagined rationale.

When you have a young son, the drums get your undivided attention.

I have always imagined that I would teach my son the same lessons my Father taught me about country, duty and honor. As a young man, I believed in America as the leader of the free world. Having been steeped in the history of our sacrifices in the War to End All Wars and World War II, if called I would have risked life and limb to advance the cause of freedom in this world. This Cause was greater than myself and therefore worthy of my last full measure.

I remember well when the selective service registration was resumed during the early days of the Reagan administration. I had a little lump in my throat as I dropped off the card knowing of the tumult in the Middle East, but I knew without a doubt that if called, I would go. Twenty-four years and a few questionable foreign ventures later, I’m not so sure I’d encourage my son to analyze duty in the same way, and this realization aggravates a deep angst inside myself.

America’s leadership is obviously bent on flexing its muscle to peruse an agenda that is ostensibly American, but is in fact primarily about consolidating power. This radical change of course in policy and behavior is decidedly un-American. Our former allies understand the enormity of the shift and thus have given us their ire rather than their support for a new world order.

Inwardly too we are coming apart. Sound politics now rules over sound policy. Sound bites rule over sound logic. And in a horrible symbol of how far we have slid, in a collective panic we have rushed to shred our Charters of Freedom and throw our human rights legacy into the trash can following the attacks on September 11th. We have arrived at a new and different reality where one is hard pressed to find what clear values America still stands for other than, perhaps, the value of the dollar.

Clearly, our most vicious preemptive strike has been against the State of Reason.

The nobility or ignobility of a war does not impact the honor of the service of those who have given their all in military service. I have the utmost respect for our soldiers in Iraq. They serve in my name and their oath is to protect me-for that I am forever indebted to them. It is not inconsistent to assert that I strongly object to how this Administration is squandering our youth in a war waged on false pretenses.

My Son will be draft eligible in thirteen years which is a long time. Time enough for me to hope that America can get itself turned around. But that hope is increasingly a thin reed and I must contemplate the reality of the world as it will be then. Clearly this administration is going to leave things in a mess for some time to come, so there is a greater probability than some realize that my Son might be conscripted to serve.

Serving and dying for a big cause is much different than what we are asking our Sons and Daughters to do now. While it would be a personal tragedy of the greatest proportions, I could eventually deal with a Son who died in the cause of freedom. One can make sense of that. But could I make sense out of his death in defense of the right of Congressmen to use the Congressional country club and Plutocrats to have a villa in Vail? That is a different calculus altogether. Torn between honest patriotism and a more realistic view of our current national direction, I honestly do not know what I would tell an eighteen year old son if he were drafted today. Fortunately, I have over a decade before I might be asked, “what would you do Dad?”

I pray we make good use of that time, because right now, I am terrified of my answer to that question.