In my last blog entry I pointed to several characteristics of some Americans that I think reflect true greatness. I’m quite sure the people I described would not call themselves “great.” They are simply acting out of human compassion. My wife and I have had several discussions about how unfortunate it is that many people who have never been to the United States know nothing of the humility and kindess that I wrote about in my previous blog. Most here are more aware of the material wealth or high standard of living in America. My family and I do not really miss the standard of living or the material advantages of America. We think of those Americans I wrote about last time who are always ready to help out in times of crisis, disaster, or basic need.
Then why is America not regarded as a great nation by many? What are those things that that are not great? What have I come to see more clearly by living in Russia about how many in the world see us? I call attention to Dwight Eisenhower’s “Farewell Address” to America, given on January 17, 1961. He had served as Commander of Allied forces before serving two terms as President of the United States. In his last addess as President, he warned of dangers that America was facing. He mentioned the global threat, obviously meaning Communism although he never used that word. The focus of his warning, however, was the new threat posed as the flourishing Armament Industry was joined to the Military Establishment. He called it the Military Industrial Complex. America had never built a lot of arms. Now, after WWII, however, it was truly an industry. He feared the political, social, and moral dangers this new Industry would bring to America.
While Eisenhower clearly saw global dangers, and in WWII had witnessed war and evil first hand, remarkably his final speech still sets forth the hope of a world at peace. He said, “The world, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of fear and hate.” The nations of the world must become a confederation of “mutual trust and respect.” Further, it must be a confederation of equals. The weakest country must come to the table with a confidence equal to that of America. There was no talk of “American exceptionalism.” Rather than an exploding industry of arms production he said, “Disarmament is a continuing imperative.” Clearly, his successors did not heed his advice or share his vision. What happened? What went wrong?
I’ve mentioned Vietnam in my blog on more than one occasion. I regret repeating myself, but Vietnam had such a profound impact on me and my country. The Vietnam “war” offcially began in 1955, the year after I was born. Yet it was after Eisenhower that America began expanding the war. Kennedy started the escalation in 1961, clearly as a “proxy war” with the USSR, and it grew for years. More and more troops and armaments were sent, and more and more bombs were dropped, many of a very incendiary nature. Eisenhower had warned the day was coming when, “A government contract would become a substitute for intellectual curiosity” in research.
For those of us old enough to remember, as the years went by the war ripped our country apart. As I grew into my teen years hippies, yippies, the drug culture, anti-war protests, Woodstock, the 1968 Democratic Convention became the foci of the evening news. These movements and events displayed the divisiveness in our country that Eisenhower feared. “Hawks” and “Doves” arguing in Washington over it were the dominant features of our political culture.
I remember in high school we asked our history teacher to explain why we were there. She gave us the “standard” line: if we allow the Commnists in the North to take over South Vietnam, then the Communists will have a “foothold” in southeast Asia. With China, just to the north and already Communist, and the Soviet Union being such a huge and powerful Communist country, this could lead to the whole eastern hemisphere and possibly the world falling to Communism. Made sense to me–at the time anyway. So a few months after graduating from high school, I joined the Marine Corps. I was never sent to Vietnam, as I planned, however. Shortly after I signed up, they started reducing the number of troops.
America eventually pulled out altogether, and Saigon fell in the Spring of 1975. I recall two things: scenes of the people begging for the helocopters to take them or at least their children away. Weeping women were holding babies up for them to be taken. The country had been ravaged by war. There was nothing left. The whole country was decimated and violent, and they believed the only hope for their babies was to get them out of the country. Second, I felt a hollowness for my fellow Marines at Lejeune who had been injured or lost dear comrades in battle. Why? We just pulled out?
Today Vietnam is a “socialist republic” with one political party—the Communist party, although its economy is a “mixed economy.” There were great problems and a lot of suffering, as I understand, after the Americans left. Today, however, it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Of course, while Communism did take over Vietnam, Communism did not take over anything else. China, immediately to the north is still Communist (sort of), but the U.S. trades freely with them (and owes them a LOT of money). The USSR no longer exists, and neither Russia nor any of the old Republics is Communist. It took me a long time to realize and admit that our national interests never were at stake in Vietnam. Vietnam never attacked America or jeopardized any of its interests. We were fighting a proxy war with the USSR, and thousands of Vietnamese lost their lives and others lost their land and their futures because of it. So much for Eisenhower’s dream of us working for the “betterment” of all nations.
Fast forward to the present: Today, unfortunately, we have not given up on our interventionist policies—no matter the cost to any particular country. It seems we have continued to send troops and fights battles somewhere for most of my life. The seed of doubt, first sown in my mind after Vietnam, that our goals were not always “altruistic” have now sadly flourished. For example, I have heard horror stories about Bashar Al-Assad in Syria for as long as I remember. We have been told, and I believed, that he is an awful person who sometimes slaughtered his own people. After moving to Russia I had access to reports I did not even know of in America. For example, now that I’m an Orthodox Christian I subscribe to several Orthodox Christian sites that provide various kinds of information and inspiration from this part of the world. Not long after getting settled in I saw an interview with an Orthodox priest in Syria. It was during the battle for Aleppo. The Syrian priest was pleading with anyone who would listen for the Americans and others to please stop opposing Assad. If Assad were removed there would be no protection for the Christians from the radical and violent ISIS jihadists. He recounted how ISIS soldiers had slaughtered even Christian children. He stated that Assad had protected the Christian groups there, and no Christian group in Syria opposed him because he allowed them the freedom to practice their Christianity. This man wasn’t a politician trying to curry favor from the powers that be. He was a priest longing for the safety of his people. Not long after that I saw clearly the fraudulant reports of the “White Helmets.” I saw them save that same little girl from various locations. And then they did the same with a little boy. Clearly this group was not who the West proclaimed it to be.
I also found an independent British reporter, Tom Duggan, on Facebook. I know little about his past. I’m not sure how he came to Syria. He ended up marrying a Syrian lady, settling down and learning the language and culture. He made his life there. I appreciate a guy like that! There were no Western reporters on the ground in Aleppo from mainstream networks. Our news networks got their information second hand, as I said, mostly from the “White Helmets” or from the UK based Syrian Observatory, which has few if any contacts in Syria. Duggan lives there. His small film crew films the fighting, and he explains what is going on. Rifle rounds have barely missed him on several occasions. He also explained the the truth about the sarin gas attack supposedly carried out by Assad on his own people. Clearly it could not have come from the Syrian troops. Of course, anyone following the fighting realized that the official story put forth by the U.S. Government made no sense anyway. The Syrian Army was winning the battle for Aleppo. The terrorists were on the run. Why would Assad do it? Duggan’s explanations and videos, along with the refusal of the U.S. to submit to an international team of investigaters going in convinced me there was dishonesty coming from my homeland. We contined to supply weapons and enter Syria uninvited. We have the explicit and mutually exclusive goals of removing Assad from office and defeating ISIS. Assad had won election by 88% of the vote. Of course, we claim the elections were fradulent. After our own last election and the cries that went up from both sides about fraud, do we really think our condemnations of the elections in other countries carry any moral force? We continue to reserve for ourselves the right to decide who should rule in other countries. We are willing to kill and destroy in those countries to preserve that right.
If our goal is to remove Assad because of the supposed horrors he has done to his people, why are we so inconsistent in applying this policy. The criterion for intervention is ostensibly that the leader, Assad, is a bad person. What about the President of Chad, Idriss Deby? He’s been in power since 1990, and the U.S. has condemned his murderous and vicious reign. No one, including the U.S., questions the fact that this man has been ruling his people with constant and violent abuses of their human rights. Yet, we’ve never attempted to oust him, and, in fact, continue to buy oil and other petroleum products from him. When Assad spoke out against the “petrodollar,” then we looked more carefully at how evil he was.
My point in my previous blog entry was that I have come to believe that the greatness of America lies in the boundless efforts to which its citizens go to help others. They desire neither fame nor fortune—or votes. I think these people are the real great Americans. Since writing it my wife and I have thought of other wonderful aspects of greatness we saw while living in America. I am convinced this greatness lies in the fact people are “moved with compassion.” They don’t want to control over who they help and don’t ask about political affinities.
I have also become convinced that our military interventions which disallow the right of citizens of other countries to elect leaders we don’t like will ultimately lead to our disaster. It took me a long time and a lot of research to reach the horrible conclusion that there are people in power in America who will send the sons and daughters of others off to fight prolonged and fruitless wars simply to enhance their financial or political stature. It was a conclusion I reached painfully.
One frustrating aspect of this is that all this hypocritical intervention blinds the world to the great things about the American people about which I wrote and of which I am proud. It isn’t our financial resources or our standard of living that make us great. It is that willingness to help others even when we’ve never met them personally. There are two military men who set forth two very different “visions” to which America should aspire. We can follow the vision of Dwight Eisenhower or, on the other hand, we can follow John McCain. Eisenhower foresaw a nation with a strong and ready military which should be used only in cases when our national security was threatened or there was a genuine international crisis. All nations should come to the proverbial table as equals. The rights and responsibilities of all nations would be respected. Above all, the people of all nations would be treasured. McCain has a very different view. The United States of America is called to lead the world. Leading the world means reserving for ourselves the right to make decisions and draw conclusions on policies and leadership for any country. This kind of vision has nothing to do with the greatness Americans demonstrate in caring for people and their crises regardless of what kind of people they are or even if they even knew them. I obviously see Eisenhower’s vision more consistent with what is truly great about America. It’s more honest. I hope we do make America great again. I believe, however, we need to be very discerning as to how we define greatness.