Blog Archives

Trust in government

July 30:

Syria in ruins.  These are Reuters photos that make me wonder why people still believe that there’s something heroic in fighting each other.  When it’s all over, as it will, eventually, be over, won’t they say, “What was it all for?”  They will have nothing.  Will anyone help rebuild such self-destruction?  What if the old city of Damascus gets destroyed along with everything else?  Was one man’s life (Assad), worth the destruction of thousands of years of culture?

August 1:

Tim Wiener of Enemies: A History of the FBI and Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, has an editorial in today’s Cincinnati Enquirer that appears generally sympathetic to Pfc Bradley Manning.  I have admired Mr. Weiner’s writing, especially his history of the CIA, but he has some phrases in his column today that I find deeply disturbing.  Perhaps I misinterpret, but read the piece for yourself and decide what you think.

Speaking of the files leaked to Wikileaks that had to do with the Iraq war, Weiner says this:

“What the files reveal is a slice of what life during wartime was like under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. And understanding what war is, and what it does to people, is dangerous knowledge.” (Italics are mine)

Why does Weiner say this is dangerous knowledge?  Understanding what war is may well make us less willing to go off on similar disastrous adventures in the future.  Understanding the depths of brutality and depravity war causes in people should make us wary of ever engaging in it except for the defense of our nation on our own soil.

He goes on:

 When the Pentagon Papers were first leaked to the New York Times, White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman shared a fascinating insight with President Richard Nixon. Haldeman had been talking about the papers with another Nixon aide – Donald Rumsfeld – who had said that “to the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook.”

But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing,” Haldeman told Nixon. “You can’t trust the government. You can’t believe what they say. And you can’t rely on their judgment“. (Italics are mine)

Well…?  Relying on “their” judgement is exactly what we should not have done in 2003.  Is that lack of trust in government what’s “dangerous”?  Frankly, I’m not ready to put away my critical faculties or the ability to see what’s real in favor of some higher power that calls itself my government.  As Americans, we need to treasure the skepticism our nation was born with, not relinquish it to some Washington DC power that tries to tell us what to think.  That’s what the Germans did before and during WWII to their sorrow.  That’s what many of the citizens of Communist countries did during the Cold War, and that’s what we did during the long fight for Vietnam that turned out not to be the “domino” we were sold.  Unquestioning trust in any authority usually leads to some sort of disaster after which we live with the dead, the maimed and impaired, the suicides and substance abusers, the broken and scattered families, the homeless former warriors who walk our neighborhoods as pariahs, and the fanatics with murderous intentions.

Seems to me Life is more precious than that.  Think about those Reuters photos of Syria and think about the people who did the destruction and what it has done to them and those whose lives were destroyed.

Total trust in government is what gets us to the point where we don’t mind that our government can mine everything we say and do on the Internet or other electronic device, where something we believe to be safety leads us to relinquish our rights as citizens.  I think it could well be a slippery slide to authoritarianism.

Bad times

I apologize for the long silence.  I’ve been packing and moving a school and unpacking it at the other end.  Also, it’s been hard to write anything sensible during the circus of the Republican primaries and the election campaign since.  It would be so nice to think of something cheerful and optimistic about what is going on in the US and in the World, but everywhere people seem afflicted by the “Austerity Disease”.  In Greece it’s despair is killing old men with their own guns, and quite likely to drive the country out of the Eurozone.  In Fact the European Union appears to be coming apart at the seams.  The lack of demand is slowing down even China, and how does that help the rest of us?

In the US, the Republicans are so intent on damaging President Obama that they apparently don’t see (or don’t care about)  the greater damage they are doing to our economy and the futures of millions of ordinary people.  How can business create jobs, when there is no demand for their products because people have no money to spend on anything but basic survival, and sometimes not even that?  I just don’t understand how the conservative mind works, either here at home or in Europe.  All this pain has been so unnecessary, but I’m afraid it will get worse before it gets better.  Has Romney thought about how he might fix all the damage his fellow Republicans have done to the country both at the national and the state level by their insistence on Deficit reduction and tax cuts, but cutting the jobs of state & federal workers and then refusing to bargain with those who are left?  

I’m afraid that a Romney win in November will just make things worse, although with Obama facing a Republican dominated Congress again wouldn’t be much better.

Parts of the rest of the world are even sadder.  Egyptians are watching their Revolution escape through their fingers even while they try to elect a new president between 2 choices few are happy with.  It looks very much as if the Army is set to take over again, and that will be a tragedy.

In Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki keeps moving closer and closer to consolidating dictatorial powers in his own hands rather than reaching out to other groups and building some sort of consensus.  As a result the bombs are going off again, and opposing politicians are being put in prison or escaping into exile abroad.

Syria is descending into full-scale civil war as the UN gives up its attempts at mediation and leaves the country. Congressional Republicans want us to get into the fight militarily, but how are we to do that without the help of other countries who refuse.  Besides, what good could we possibly do if we sent arms or put boots on the ground? (And putting those boots on the ground might be extremely costly and dangerous.  Syria is not Iraq.)  Aren’t the Syrians suffering enough without us?  Hasn’t our military seen enough of fighting without result in the last 10 years without throwing them into more of the same in a country whose language and customs we do not understand?  Is Libya really better off now because we “helped” them militarily overthrow their dictator? It seems to me that all our hugely expensive military activity since 9/11 has done nothing much good for us or for the countries we “helped”.

I will vote in November and cross my fingers, but I doubt things will get much better for a long time to come.