Myth Rather Than History, Fiction Rather Than Fact

Twenty-five years ago the Berlin Wall, a dramatic symbol of the Cold War, was breached and then torn down. Yet, even after a quarter century, evidence of the Cold War culture permeates daily life. Regardless of policy decisions in Washington or the ongoing debate among scholars as to whether the Cold War ended or an new Cold War is beginning, evidence that many people long for the clear-cut, black-and-white days of the Cold War is easily found; days when media and governmental propaganda directed the public to the larger imperial struggle rather than at the ground level crises the Cold War policies perpetuated.

Crisis and war abound today with coverage of human tragedy and violent conflict filling the media streams, but intervention by Russia is viewed as being bad and intervention by the United States is viewed as necessary, even if some acknowledge it as a ‘necessary evil’.  Cries for humanitarian assistance from those who are suffering, at times, are obscured by political tirades calling for retaliation and the placement of blame.

When World War I, The War to End all Wars, ended and the call for greater international cooperation went forth among the nations, politics stood in the way. When, after another great war, a second US president called for cooperation, the United Nations was formed. Yet, once again political rivalry and imperial competition undermined international cooperation. Under the cloud of Cold War animosity, it became evident that the United Nations could not prevent violence or war. However, despite such animosity, the United Nations became a vehicle for humanitarian cooperation. As the twentieth century wound down, there was hope that human suffering could be effectively addressed internationally even if it could not be eradicated.

The dawn of a new century violently reminded the world that there were many who preferred violence over peace. Sadly, the lessons of the twentieth century were not headed as fully as they should have been.

Isolation from the world was not the answer, nor is it ever an effective answer. No nation can become a hermit in this modern world without causing internal suffering. Military and humanitarian intervention into the crisis ridden regions of the world is a price great nations pay for the economic gains such regions provide. During the nineteenth and twentieth century, the United States expanded its trade and its influence worldwide. Time, and time again, the United States touted its right to intervene, first in the Americas and later throughout the globe. It was not the only nation to do so. The great nations of the twentieth century all benefited from the colonial and neocolonial policies that provided wealth to their citizens. The competition for resources led to war and certainly contributed to the Cold War game of Risk that dominated half a century. This competition also led to some of the turmoil of today, and is being used as justification for many of the atrocious acts of violence being perpetuated by radical power hungry groups. Yet, rather than working in cooperation to combat the human suffering that increases daily, the great nations seem to have splintered, at least if one reads the propaganda filled media accounts which focus on sensationalism rather than facts.

Has the world become more violent and less compassionate than at any other time in human history? Or is there simply greater means for news of the violence to be shared?

These questions cause me to ponder and reflect on the state of humanity and the crisis of mankind, but there is a bigger question that keeps tumbling around my head and disturbs me on a deeper level. Why would someone wish to sensationalize or embellish the already horrific levels of violence occurring in turbulent areas of the world? It is easy to understand those who wish to ignore the horrors man inflicts upon man, to deny the reality that man can be the most uncivilized of the creature of the earth. Those who hide from the ugly of mankind seek isolation and are naïve enough believe that closing their eyes in the face of danger will make the danger disappear. It is easy to understand their reasoning and their motivation, but the motivation of those who wish to make the horror worse than the evidence supports is much more difficult to pinpoint.

Do they seek to demonize the enemy? During World War II, the strategy of demonizing the enemy was key to gaining support for war. When the war was over, the hatred for the enemy was to magically disappear and the demon to become a friend. The same strategy was used throughout the Cold War. This strategy of demonization worked well for governments (even if the magic of friendship failed) and now seems to be adopted by non-governmental organizations (not necessarily a new tendency) with far reaching consequence including creating a huge volume of untrustworthy ‘news reports’ which make evaluation of world events difficult at best.

If demonization of others is the motivation, then what is goal? Certainly the issue of the worldwide violence and growing humanitarian crises is of great concern, but of greater concern is the growing push for more violence – retaliatory violence. When governments are behind the call to war, there is need for level headed evaluation and hopefully international cooperation. When the call to war comes from sources unknown or sources with questionable motives, the need for level headed evaluation and hopefully international cooperation is much greater.

Sadly, such cooperation seems to be of little value in a world which is seeking a hero, a world in which myth has replaced history and fiction replaced fact.

 

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Here’s My Cape – Does Anyone Want It?

This morning’s breakfast conversation centered on the international events headlining the news, and my ongoing attempt to write a thesis on the diplomatic history of the twentieth century. The central theme of the discussion revolved around the notion that great powers prefer a world were there are many large nations rather than many small nations. The conversation also turned to the problems created by superpowers.

When the Cold War ended, many in the United States naively celebrated the idea of being the only superpower. Many believed that being a superpower was better than being one of the great powers, and the opportunity to shed the role of superpower was waived.  Now, after a quarter century of being the sole superpower whether in reality or in myth, a greater comprehension  of the responsibilities and the dangers of being a superpower has developed.

The problem, however, is that when the United States now asks, “Here’s my cape, does anyone want it?” no one steps up to take it.

When Edna Mode, of The Incredibles, said “no capes,” is this what she was really warning us about? Are superpower capes just too dangerous? Should the capes simply be retired and replaced with the plain clothes of diplomacy?

It is with this question on my mind that I return to the realm of history and try for a few hours to shut out the political realities of the day.

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Reporting the News: a Psychic Creation

I  wish journalists would study more than historical talking-points before tackling foreign policy issues, particularly the effectiveness of intervention wars.

If the history of foreign policy is not their strong suit, bringing in an ‘expert’ would be fine. Bringing in two opposing ‘experts’ would be better, especially if the ‘experts’ were really ‘experts’ and not just the talking heads of the day.

When did reporting the news become nothing more than selling the news? Maybe it has always been that way but there are simply more annoying ways to sell it today.

Propaganda has always had a role in war, and even without governmental encouragement media has spread war stimulating propaganda. It all seems to revolve around having a good story to tell. Sadly, the good story, which spreads like wildfire in the blink of an eye or the click of a share button, can and does affect the public and the officials who in the end create the events that make the news. Reporting the news, therefore, takes on the nature of predicting the future, but a future the psychic has helped create.

It has been fascinating to discover how often propaganda has been shared by the media without the urging of a government. As we swim through the dangerous waters of governmental oversight, we should worry about the other dangerous creature in the water. Drowning may not be what kills us, but rather the sharks feeding off our fear of the water. 

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Saith Me… Choosing to be Miserable

Interpersonal connections through various modes and methods, specifically during this past two months, have reminded me of the old saying,

“You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

There is one category starkly missing, some people can never be pleased because they are determined to be miserable.

Regardless of the justifications of misery – temporary or chronic – there is a stark difference between experiencing misery and being miserable.

Wretched, distressful events occur, but it is a choice one makes to become wretchedly distressed by the events. The key factor separating the experience of misery and being miserable is Choice.

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Saith Me… Opinionated and Uninformed

It is amazing how many uniformed people have such strong opinions, and such strong desires to share those opinions.

Under-informed and curious, good combination. Uninformed and angry, not such a good combination.

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Saith Me… Thesis Lesson #6

Working with primary sources can be fascinating, intriguing, rewarding, and addictive. It can also lead you down tangents and make you think you should change your thesis topic entirely.  U.S. presidents – who knew they said such interesting things.

 

 

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What will be remembered?

Being fully aware of political spin and propaganda, I am wondering if in the end this letter will be what history records for future generations to study.

Willingness to come together for war, but government shutdown in an attempt to stop a health care law. Where does this leave us and what does this mean for our future? Most importantly, what does this really say about us as a nation?

Reid to Boehner 2013

 

PDF of the letter can be found at the ‘letter’ link and at the following:  harry-reid-letter-to-john-boehner.pdf

History of Intervention

Over the past few months, I have been studying the history of intervention as part of my pursuit of a Master’s in Military and Diplomatic History. There seems to be two common lessons to learn from the history of military intervention.

First:

There is no “getting it right.” Military intervention forcibly halts conflict for a time but does not end conflict. It always comes back. Inaction will cause many to suffer. Action will cause many to suffer. Therefore, do we intervene and cause suffering in order to stop suffering, all the while simply postponing war for the next generation? Or do we let war run its course and watch a generation die?

Second:

Stopping regional war but risking international world war is not usually worth the price. Unfortunately, no one can figure out when the price is worth paying. When 100,000 die? When multiple nations topple? When the threat reaches your own back door?

 

There is one new lesson being recorded for our posterity even as I post this.

Those who call for war are seldom the ones who fight the war. This is nothing new, but it is being documented in great volume in the news and social media. Armchair warriors cry for a strong stand against tyranny and call it weakness when diplomacy is used. They approve of the jobs created by military buildup but disapprove of paying the bill. They think war is like a game of Risk, a game that when an impasse is reached you box it up and put it on the shelf for the next time you feel like prancing around like a peacock. Being strong means looking strong rather than acting strong.

What we should be learning.

The one thing that history doesn’t seem to teach anymore is the value of stepping back from a fight and trying for peace once again. When this choice is made, if it is made, it is belittled and viewed as a weakness. It, rather than warmongering, is called the cause of future conflict.

President Teddy Roosevelt said “Speak softly and carry a big stick…” But we do not speak softly any more.

Machiavelli advised to be respected rather than loved. He used the word “feared” but his context inferred respected because the Prince should avoid being hated.

The person who always carries a big stick will eventually be hated – hated for acting, hated for not acting, and hated for the threat of the big stick. Sadly, this is the lesson history is trying to teach but a lesson we just don’t seem to be learning.

 

Saith Me… Debate or Tirade

Differing perspectives can elevate our comprehension of complex issues, but they can also drag us down into a pit of malevolence when discussion and debate are replaced by an unbending quest to convert or conquer.