We Make Peace

 

by Drew W. Eaton

 

When I started writing my essay, I decided I wanted to focus on the importance of the role each individual plays in a democracy. An awareness of history is critical to that role. I would like to read a highly truncated version of my essay; it's titled: "Peace, and the Arrogance of Power.

 

I'm an "old student." The last time I was a student we were talking about peace, but that was thirty years ago and we were talking about Vietnam. We lost that war and 58,000 Americans, and equally saddening, three million Vietnamese. En route, we witnessed Watergate, an event that affects this country to this day, but perhaps not in the ways that it should.

9/11 has provided the opportunity for "boomer" parents and youth to discuss the relevance of Vietnam and Watergate and to bring them into focus alongside the confusion and horror of youth's now altered worldview. But, amidst the comfort of our material plenty and our sudden sense of vulnerability, have we retained our sense of that time? The lessons of Watergate, and of Vietnam, are largely unstudied these days, unknown or forgotten to many.

In 1966 Senator J. William Fulbright wrote "The "Arrogance of Power," an examination of when government develops an attitude of absolute self-righteousness in its moral and ideological stances, domestically, or internationally, or both. It is an exclusionary approach and is given over to avarice and using power to manipulate, and often oppress, others. It eschews understanding and compassion, accepts poverty, and readily embraces obsessive secrecy, violence and war as instruments of policy. Arrogant leadership "has all of the answers; "Just trust us" is its motto.

Henry Kissinger, in a recently declassified document from May 1975, provided conclusions drawn from the war. He wrote: (quote) "One clear lesson that can be drawn... is the importance of absolute honesty and objectivity in all reporting, in and from government as well as from the press" (end-quote). If, in addition to suggesting a need for what we now call transparency, Mr. Kissinger had been more circumspect, he might have talked openly of the deception laid bare with the publication of the Pentagon Papers. As Neil Sheehan wrote in the introduction to that work: (quote) "The segments of the public world - Congress, the news media, the citizenry, even international opinion as a whole - are regarded as elements to be influenced" (end-quote).

We have seen recent events in which people who raise questions that are "uncomfortable" to government and draw attention to "difficult" issues are called "traitors." It is consistent with the Arrogance of Power concept. The intended net effect of this dynamic is to quell at least temporarily, well-intended, often well reasoned, and often enlightened dissent. The internal ideological wars perpetrated by Joe McCarthy in the early '50s not only ruined lives and set the stage for Vietnam but snuffed out all discussion of the grotesque imbalances in the distribution of the world's wealth and the levels of oppression often found in a world controlled by capital.

The lessons of Vietnam and Watergate teach us how national security is not just a matter of blindly accepting everything the President, as head of government, or his cabinet or staff, or his appointees, tell us. They teach us that government is quite capable of pursuing its own agenda to the detriment of the American People, as well as the global community. They teach us government needs to stay truly open to an inflow of opposing ideas. They teach us that powerful people in powerful places can, and will, lie, mislead, misrepresent and manipulate with all of the powers at their disposal to achieve ends which are not synchronized with the long term benefit of the American people via the pursuit of global peace.

 

Arrogance is exclusive in nature. Inclusiveness, on the other hand, tries to promote understanding and compassion. It advocates greater, not lesser, degrees of transparency in government because it has less to hide. It sees greed as a great destroyer and seeks lesser imbalances in the distribution of wealth. It engages in the noble pursuit of equality and democracy, and does not settle for the empty mouthing of the words.

Peace, increasing degrees of it, and lasting, will be found only when we approach the world with open arms, not clenched firsts; when we engage in a dialogue seeking mutual understanding, not engage in the rhetorical spewing of arrogant proclamations, so firmly convinced of our moral rectitude. We elect our leaders. We must learn our lessons and look deep within ourselves, at our history, our tendencies, our motivations and our greed. We must recognize the failings and the dangers of arrogance. When we consistently vote for political leaders who will pursue understanding, compassion and general inclusiveness, we will find ourselves on the road to Peace.