Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

What does America really stand for?

PRESIDENT Bush said recently that it was important to have a democracy in Iraq because "free nations are peaceful nations."

I wondered if he really believed what he had said.

We citizens of the United States have as much freedom as anyone in the world.

But it would be difficult to make the case that our nation is among the most peaceful.

In my lifetime, I have lived through the end of World War II, the Korean War, U.S. Marines in the Dominican Republic and Lebanon, the war in Vietnam, attack on Grenada, two wars in the Middle East, our troops in Angola, and heavens knows how what else I have forgotten.

I am not debating whether all or any of those wars were appropriate. I am simply testing the claim that the President laid out. I see absolutely no correlation between being free and being peaceful.

As I recall, Singapore was a model of calm and probity for years, but it was a reflection of the iron will of its leader, not because its people were free.

The President was trying to justify our remaining in Iraq to ensure peace, that if Iraq were democratic it would be peaceful. But his statement was so transparently wrong that it was at best silly.

It is a continuation of our primary international problem. The rest of the world no longer believes us.

We used to be able to treat other people like mushrooms - heap manure on them and keep them in the dark. That is no longer possible. A Mongol living in a yurt can watch CNN. He can talk by cell phone to somebody in the Fiji Islands.

Our leaders, and this is true of those in both major parties, are in the process of destroying the integrity which really has given the United States its position in the world.

Having more weapons and economic strength can be the base for a nation's power, but it only works until another nation has more weapons and greater economic strength.

Being feared may obtain results for a while, but it is less effective over the long-term than being respected.

Take the issue of torture.

God forbid, if someone kidnapped someone I loved and placed them in a box where they would suffocate within a few days, I would have no problem applying a blowtorch to whatever portion of the perpetrator's anatomy seemed most calculated to lead to a swift reunion with my loved one.

But it demeans us to say that we have a policy against torture that we will always follow unless - that is until - we unilaterally decide we will not.

Turning a prisoner over to leaders of less powerful nations who have no compunctions against torture is worse. It makes us not a "user" of torture but a "dealer."

If we start chipping away at our bedrock principles, the terrorists have already won. We will in short order destroy ourselves.

Once you conclude that there are circumstances in which it is all right for the nation to ignore its principles, like those against torture, where is the logic in stopping Ohio policemen from torturing a mass murderer in order to obtain a confession to be sure that he is stopped?

Is torture permitted because the scale upon which the terrorists operate is larger than a single mass murder? Do we establish a finite limit of potential victims above which we allow torture but below which we forbid it?

Fortunately it appears the President and his advisors have stepped back from that sort of policy.

And what of paying news media in Iraq to run stories prepared by our propaganda experts?

The First Amendment of our Constitution deals with press freedom. We offend that principle when we suborn others to provide "news" stories that may not be true but which helps us "win" public approval.

If it is all right in Iraq, why not here? Indeed there is some evidence that our government has done that with our media - having various agencies send out stories which look like news but are manufactured stories.

To be sure, there is a war and in a time of war, the rules are different. In fact, I remember seeing letters saved by my mother from a family friend serving on a Pacific Island during World War II.

Large portions had been clipped out by a censor. Is that not the same as planting favorable stories, nothing more than the reverse?

The answer is "no." The censorship of the letter was immediately apparent. There were whole pieces of the paper upon which it had been written that were missing.

Not so with a planted news story. If there were a note indicating that this was prepared by U.S. military intelligence, I would not be troubled.

It is the deception involved, the willingness to make things appear different than they are to accomplish a "good end" that is the vice.

That is the problem with "good ends." That thinking is what causes a 17-year-old to strap on a bomb and blow himself up in a movie theater. It is morally wrong from our standpoint, but not from the point of view of that young person. He was moving toward a "good end."

I believe that when we give up the positions of integrity we have adopted over the years, we forfeit our right to tell others that their views are wrong. We evolve into a position in which there are no absolute truths; everything is relative.

The President also said that the intelligence from U.S. agencies and other international information gatherers about Iran's possession of weapons of mass destruction was wrong. It was about time he admitted that. If he learned of the errors after the fact, his admission would have been sufficient.

But the fact is that there were serious doubts when Mr. Bush originally made statements about the WMDs. But our leaders believed that removing Saddam justified the means and stretched the truth. They wanted support from other nations and could not get with the complete truth, so they lied; the good end justifying the misrepresentation.

Such conduct has never been right but in our present world, it is increasingly foolish.

We have 24/7 news coverage which sends these statements across the world and which equally instantaneously preserves them so that they can be replayed and the lie replayed again.

Let me ask: What is it we as a nation stand for? Does what we do speak so loudly that others cannot hear what we say? Talk the talk and walk the walk.

We might as well start readying ourselves to be in the second tier of the nations of the world.

Richard M. Kerger is a partner in the Toledo law firm of Kerger and Kerger.

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