Friday, August 27, 2010

My Response To Andrew Bacevich's Article "The Making of a Company Man"

"A young person in a hurry is nearly uneducatable". This relates to AMBITION, so encouraged in the West, yet so out of balance to any idea of a happy life. You can't learn until you slow down and don't have an ulterior motive behind your education...meaning you have an open mind, not a set agenda or pre-conceived notions. This is difficult at a young age, and is the reason why we don't have more serious examination of why it is that we get to live the life of luxury that we do in America. I was recently asked if I had anything positive to say about America. Of course I do. I can speak freely, study what I want, and think how I want to think. I also support the principles that we are supposed to be about. My problem is we don't and haven't practiced those principles in the proper way. Our way of life here comes at an incredibly high cost to the rest of the world. I would gladly adjust my standard of living (low for America, but high for the majority of the world) to see some equality amongst my fellow citizens of the earth. We have the resources to make sure that we all have the basics: adequate diet, health care, exercise, education, clothes, housing and communication/information access abilities. What more (outside of PEOPLE) do we need in life? To clear up confusion, I'm NOT promoting a Socialist agenda. I'm merely saying that we don't have to live in such excess in America while people overseas labor in sweatshops and die in their own homes for that excess to happen (and that worldwide poverty is increasingly starting to happen at home as well).

It's sad to me to see people chasing career, ambition and status when it doesn't bring them happiness. As a double negative, it costs (in blood, lives, basic living necessities and military intervention) the rest of the world so much. They rightly ask...what the hell they're paying for?

I am no nationalist (nationalism is exclusive not inclusive), but this is the land I live in, and I greatly value the ability to learn and think freely. Plus, I value the IDEA of the original America (ironically decided by men who practiced genocide to the Native Americans and the subjugation of humans in their own homes)...but it appears utopian in the real world. Those are the most positive things I can say about the country of my birth. I had to have the inner strength to overcome the incredible amount of American propaganda and conditioning to sort out the good from the bad and to see with any kind of clarity. Mind control is dominant in this country. It just happens under the guise of "freedom". Until we learn to value the rest of the world as we value ourselves, we aren't truly free. Freedom doesn't oppress, and that's what we're doing in so many places and in so many ways. I truly think it's too late at this point for the "American dream". We are an empire on the decline, and the national psyche is not prepared for the power shift. VALUE HUMANITY, NOT a country. We are all united as world citizens first. Boundaries divide, love unites. Freedom is universal. Education starts inside first and can not happen from the accumulation of externals.

Bacevich's full article url:

Full article text:

An Education Begun in the Shadow of the Brandenburg Gate

Worldly ambition inhibits true learning. Ask me. I know. A young man in a hurry is nearly uneducable: He knows what he wants and where he’s headed; when it comes to looking back or entertaining heretical thoughts, he has neither the time nor the inclination. All that counts is that he is going somewhere. Only as ambition wanes does education become a possibility.

My own education did not commence until I had reached middle age. I can fix its start date with precision: for me, education began in Berlin, on a winter’s evening, at the Brandenburg Gate, not long after the Berlin Wall had fallen.

As an officer in the U.S. Army I had spent considerable time in Germany. Until that moment, however, my family and I had never had occasion to visit this most famous of German cities, still littered with artifacts of a deeply repellent history. At the end of a long day of exploration, we found ourselves in what had, until just months before, been the communist East. It was late and we were hungry, but I insisted on walking the length of the Unter den Linden, from the River Spree to the gate itself. A cold rain was falling and the pavement glistened. The buildings lining the avenue, dating from the era of Prussian kings, were dark, dirty, and pitted. Few people were about. It was hardly a night for sightseeing.

For as long as I could remember, the Brandenburg Gate had been the preeminent symbol of the age and Berlin the epicenter of contemporary history. Yet by the time I made it to the once and future German capital, history was already moving on. The Cold War had abruptly ended. A divided city and a divided nation had reunited.

For Americans who had known Berlin only from a distance, the city existed primarily as a metaphor. Pick a date -- 1933, 1942, 1945, 1948, 1961, 1989 -- and Berlin becomes an instructive symbol of power, depravity, tragedy, defiance, endurance, or vindication. For those inclined to view the past as a chronicle of parables, the modern history of Berlin offered an abundance of material. The greatest of those parables emerged from the events of 1933 to 1945, an epic tale of evil ascendant, belatedly confronted, then heroically overthrown. A second narrative, woven from events during the intense period immediately following World War II, saw hopes for peace dashed, yielding bitter antagonism but also great resolve. The ensuing stand-off -- the “long twilight struggle,” in John Kennedy’s memorable phrase -- formed the centerpiece of the third parable, its central theme stubborn courage in the face of looming peril. Finally came the exhilarating events of 1989, with freedom ultimately prevailing, not only in Berlin, but throughout Eastern Europe.

What exactly was I looking for at the Brandenburg Gate? Perhaps confirmation that those parables, which I had absorbed and accepted as true, were just that. Whatever I expected, what I actually found was a cluster of shabby-looking young men, not German, hawking badges, medallions, hats, bits of uniforms, and other artifacts of the mighty Red Army. It was all junk, cheaply made and shoddy. For a handful of deutsche marks, I bought a wristwatch emblazoned with the symbol of the Soviet armored corps. Within days, it ceased to work.

Huddling among the scarred columns, those peddlers -- almost certainly off-duty Russian soldiers awaiting redeployment home -- constituted a subversive presence. They were loose ends of a story that was supposed to have ended neatly when the Berlin Wall came down. As we hurried off to find warmth and a meal, this disconcerting encounter stuck with me, and I began to entertain this possibility: that the truths I had accumulated over the previous twenty years as a professional soldier -- especially truths about the Cold War and U.S. foreign policy -- might not be entirely true.

By temperament and upbringing, I had always taken comfort in orthodoxy. In a life spent subject to authority, deference had become a deeply ingrained habit. I found assurance in conventional wisdom. Now, I started, however hesitantly, to suspect that orthodoxy might be a sham. I began to appreciate that authentic truth is never simple and that any version of truth handed down from on high -- whether by presidents, prime ministers, or archbishops -- is inherently suspect. The powerful, I came to see, reveal truth only to the extent that it suits them. Even then, the truths to which they testify come wrapped in a nearly invisible filament of dissembling, deception, and duplicity. The exercise of power necessarily involves manipulation and is antithetical to candor.

I came to these obvious points embarrassingly late in life. “Nothing is so astonishing in education,” the historian Henry Adams once wrote, “as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.” Until that moment I had too often confused education with accumulating and cataloging facts. In Berlin, at the foot of the Brandenburg Gate, I began to realize that I had been a naïf. And so, at age 41, I set out, in a halting and haphazard fashion, to acquire a genuine education.

Twenty years later I’ve made only modest progress. What follows is an accounting of what I have learned thus far.

Visiting a Third-World Version of Germany

In October 1990, I’d gotten a preliminary hint that something might be amiss in my prior education. On October 3rd, communist East Germany -- formally the German Democratic Republic (GDR) -- ceased to exist and German reunification was officially secured. That very week I accompanied a group of American military officers to the city of Jena in what had been the GDR. Our purpose was self-consciously educational -- to study the famous battle of Jena-Auerstädt in which Napoleon Bonaparte and his marshals had inflicted an epic defeat on Prussian forces commanded by the Duke of Brunswick. (The outcome of that 1806 battle inspired the philosopher Hegel, then residing in Jena, to declare that the “end of history” was at hand. The conclusion of the Cold War had only recently elicited a similarly exuberant judgment from the American scholar Francis Fukuyama.)

On this trip we did learn a lot about the conduct of that battle, although mainly inert facts possessing little real educational value. Inadvertently, we also gained insight into the reality of life on the far side of what Americans had habitually called the Iron Curtain, known in U.S. military vernacular as “the trace.” In this regard, the trip proved nothing less than revelatory. The educational content of this excursion would -- for me -- be difficult to exaggerate.

As soon as our bus crossed the old Inner German Border, we entered a time warp. For U.S. troops garrisoned throughout Bavaria and Hesse, West Germany had for decades served as a sort of theme park -- a giant Epcot filled with quaint villages, stunning scenery, and superb highways, along with ample supplies of quite decent food, excellent beer, and accommodating women. Now, we found ourselves face-to-face with an altogether different Germany. Although commonly depicted as the most advanced and successful component of the Soviet Empire, East Germany more closely resembled part of the undeveloped world.

The roads -- even the main highways -- were narrow and visibly crumbling. Traffic posed little problem. Apart from a few sluggish Trabants and Wartburgs -- East German automobiles that tended to a retro primitivism -- and an occasional exhaust-spewing truck, the way was clear. The villages through which we passed were forlorn and the small farms down at the heels. For lunch we stopped at a roadside stand. The proprietor happily accepted our D-marks, offering us inedible sausages in exchange. Although the signs assured us that we remained in a land of German speakers, it was a country that had not yet recovered from World War II.

Upon arrival in Jena, we checked into the Hotel Schwarzer Bär, identified by our advance party as the best hostelry in town. It turned out to be a rundown fleabag. As the senior officer present, I was privileged to have a room in which the plumbing functioned. Others were not so lucky.

Jena itself was a midsized university city, with its main academic complex immediately opposite our hotel. A very large bust of Karl Marx, mounted on a granite pedestal and badly in need of cleaning, stood on the edge of the campus. Briquettes of soft coal used for home heating made the air all but unbreathable and coated everything with soot. In the German cities we knew, pastels predominated -- houses and apartment blocks painted pale green, muted salmon, and soft yellow. Here everything was brown and gray.

That evening we set out in search of dinner. The restaurants within walking distance were few and unattractive. We chose badly, a drab establishment in which fresh vegetables were unavailable and the wurst inferior. The adequacy of the local beer provided the sole consolation.

The following morning, on the way to the battlefield, we noted a significant Soviet military presence, mostly in the form of trucks passing by -- to judge by their appearance, designs that dated from the 1950s. To our surprise, we discovered that the Soviets had established a small training area adjacent to where Napoleon had vanquished the Prussians. Although we had orders to avoid contact with any Russians, the presence of their armored troops going through their paces riveted us. Here was something of far greater immediacy than Bonaparte and the Duke of Brunswick: “the other,” about which we had for so long heard so much but knew so little. Through binoculars, we watched a column of Russian armored vehicles -- BMPs, in NATO parlance -- traversing what appeared to be a drivers’ training course. Suddenly, one of them began spewing smoke. Soon thereafter, it burst into flames.

Here was education, although at the time I had only the vaguest sense of its significance.

An Ambitious Team Player Assailed by Doubts

These visits to Jena and Berlin offered glimpses of a reality radically at odds with my most fundamental assumptions. Uninvited and unexpected, subversive forces had begun to infiltrate my consciousness. Bit by bit, my worldview started to crumble.

That worldview had derived from this conviction: that American power manifested a commitment to global leadership, and that both together expressed and affirmed the nation’s enduring devotion to its founding ideals. That American power, policies, and purpose were bound together in a neat, internally consistent package, each element drawing strength from and reinforcing the others, was something I took as a given. That, during my adult life, a penchant for interventionism had become a signature of U.S. policy did not -- to me, at least -- in any way contradict America’s aspirations for peace. Instead, a willingness to expend lives and treasure in distant places testified to the seriousness of those aspirations. That, during this same period, the United States had amassed an arsenal of over 31,000 nuclear weapons, some small number of them assigned to units in which I had served, was not at odds with our belief in the inalienable right to life and liberty; rather, threats to life and liberty had compelled the United States to acquire such an arsenal and maintain it in readiness for instant use.

I was not so naïve as to believe that the American record had been without flaws. Yet I assured myself that any errors or misjudgments had been committed in good faith. Furthermore, circumstances permitted little real choice. In Southeast Asia as in Western Europe, in the Persian Gulf as in the Western Hemisphere, the United States had simply done what needed doing. Viable alternatives did not exist. To consent to any dilution of American power would be to forfeit global leadership, thereby putting at risk safety, prosperity, and freedom, not only our own but also that of our friends and allies.

The choices seemed clear enough. On one side was the status quo: the commitments, customs, and habits that defined American globalism, implemented by the national security apparatus within which I functioned as a small cog. On the other side was the prospect of appeasement, isolationism, and catastrophe. The only responsible course was the one to which every president since Harry Truman had adhered.

For me, the Cold War had played a crucial role in sustaining that worldview. Given my age, upbringing, and professional background, it could hardly have been otherwise. Although the great rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union had contained moments of considerable anxiety -- I remember my father, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, stocking our basement with water and canned goods -- it served primarily to clarify, not to frighten. The Cold War provided a framework that organized and made sense of contemporary history. It offered a lineup and a scorecard. That there existed bad Germans and good Germans, their Germans and our Germans, totalitarian Germans and Germans who, like Americans, passionately loved freedom was, for example, a proposition I accepted as dogma. Seeing the Cold War as a struggle between good and evil answered many questions, consigned others to the periphery, and rendered still others irrelevant.

Back in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, more than a few members of my generation had rejected the conception of the Cold War as a Manichean struggle. Here too, I was admittedly a slow learner. Yet having kept the faith long after others had lost theirs, the doubts that eventually assailed me were all the more disorienting.

Granted, occasional suspicions had appeared long before Jena and Berlin. My own Vietnam experience had generated its share, which I had done my best to suppress. I was, after all, a serving soldier. Except in the narrowest of terms, the military profession, in those days at least, did not look kindly on nonconformity. Climbing the ladder of career success required curbing maverick tendencies. To get ahead, you needed to be a team player. Later, when studying the history of U.S. foreign relations in graduate school, I was pelted with challenges to orthodoxy, which I vigorously deflected. When it came to education, graduate school proved a complete waste of time -- a period of intense study devoted to the further accumulation of facts, while I exerted myself to ensuring that they remained inert.

Now, however, my personal circumstances were changing. Shortly after the passing of the Cold War, my military career ended. Education thereby became not only a possibility, but also a necessity.

In measured doses, mortification cleanses the soul. It’s the perfect antidote for excessive self-regard. After 23 years spent inside the U.S. Army seemingly going somewhere, I now found myself on the outside going nowhere in particular. In the self-contained and cloistered universe of regimental life, I had briefly risen to the status of minor spear carrier. The instant I took off my uniform, that status vanished. I soon came to a proper appreciation of my own insignificance, a salutary lesson that I ought to have absorbed many years earlier.

As I set out on what eventually became a crablike journey toward a new calling as a teacher and writer -- a pilgrimage of sorts -- ambition in the commonly accepted meaning of the term ebbed. This did not happen all at once. Yet gradually, trying to grab one of life’s shiny brass rings ceased being a major preoccupation. Wealth, power, and celebrity became not aspirations but subjects for critical analysis. History -- especially the familiar narrative of the Cold War -- no longer offered answers; instead, it posed perplexing riddles. Easily the most nagging was this one: How could I have so profoundly misjudged the reality of what lay on the far side of the Iron Curtain?

Had I been insufficiently attentive? Or was it possible that I had been snookered all along? Contemplating such questions, while simultaneously witnessing the unfolding of the “long 1990s” -- the period bookended by two wars with Iraq when American vainglory reached impressive new heights -- prompted the realization that I had grossly misinterpreted the threat posed by America’s adversaries. Yet that was the lesser half of the problem. Far worse than misperceiving “them” was the fact that I had misperceived “us.” What I thought I knew best I actually understood least. Here, the need for education appeared especially acute.

George W. Bush’s decision to launch Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 pushed me fully into opposition. Claims that once seemed elementary -- above all, claims relating to the essentially benign purposes of American power -- now appeared preposterous. The contradictions that found an ostensibly peace-loving nation committing itself to a doctrine of preventive war became too great to ignore. The folly and hubris of the policy makers who heedlessly thrust the nation into an ill-defined and open-ended “global war on terror” without the foggiest notion of what victory would look like, how it would be won, and what it might cost approached standards hitherto achieved only by slightly mad German warlords. During the era of containment, the United States had at least maintained the pretense of a principled strategy; now, the last vestiges of principle gave way to fantasy and opportunism. With that, the worldview to which I had adhered as a young adult and carried into middle age dissolved completely.

Credo and Trinity

What should stand in the place of such discarded convictions? Simply inverting the conventional wisdom, substituting a new Manichean paradigm for the old discredited version -- the United States taking the place of the Soviet Union as the source of the world’s evil -- would not suffice. Yet arriving at even an approximation of truth would entail subjecting conventional wisdom, both present and past, to sustained and searching scrutiny. Cautiously at first but with growing confidence, this I vowed to do.

Doing so meant shedding habits of conformity acquired over decades. All of my adult life I had been a company man, only dimly aware of the extent to which institutional loyalties induce myopia. Asserting independence required first recognizing the extent to which I had been socialized to accept certain things as unimpeachable. Here then were the preliminary steps essential to making education accessible. Over a period of years, a considerable store of debris had piled up. Now, it all had to go. Belatedly, I learned that more often than not what passes for conventional wisdom is simply wrong. Adopting fashionable attitudes to demonstrate one’s trustworthiness -- the world of politics is flush with such people hoping thereby to qualify for inclusion in some inner circle -- is akin to engaging in prostitution in exchange for promissory notes. It’s not only demeaning but downright foolhardy.

Washington Rules aims to take stock of conventional wisdom in its most influential and enduring form, namely the package of assumptions, habits, and precepts that have defined the tradition of statecraft to which the United States has adhered since the end of World War II -- the era of global dominance now drawing to a close. This postwar tradition combines two components, each one so deeply embedded in the American collective consciousness as to have all but disappeared from view.

The first component specifies norms according to which the international order ought to work and charges the United States with responsibility for enforcing those norms. Call this the American credo. In the simplest terms, the credo summons the United States -- and the United States alone -- to lead, save, liberate, and ultimately transform the world. In a celebrated manifesto issued at the dawn of what he termed “The American Century,” Henry R. Luce made the case for this spacious conception of global leadership. Writing in Life magazine in early 1941, the influential publisher exhorted his fellow citizens to “accept wholeheartedly our duty to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.” Luce thereby captured what remains even today the credo’s essence.

Luce’s concept of an American Century, an age of unquestioned American global primacy, resonated, especially in Washington. His evocative phrase found a permanent place in the lexicon of national politics. (Recall that the neoconservatives who, in the 1990s, lobbied for more militant U.S. policies named their enterprise the Project for a New American Century.) So, too, did Luce’s expansive claim of prerogatives to be exercised by the United States. Even today, whenever public figures allude to America’s responsibility to lead, they signal their fidelity to this creed. Along with respectful allusions to God and “the troops,” adherence to Luce’s credo has become a de facto prerequisite for high office. Question its claims and your prospects of being heard in the hubbub of national politics become nil.

Note, however, that the duty Luce ascribed to Americans has two components. It is not only up to Americans, he wrote, to choose the purposes for which they would bring their influence to bear, but to choose the means as well. Here we confront the second component of the postwar tradition of American statecraft.

With regard to means, that tradition has emphasized activism over example, hard power over soft, and coercion (often styled “negotiating from a position of strength”) over suasion. Above all, the exercise of global leadership as prescribed by the credo obliges the United States to maintain military capabilities staggeringly in excess of those required for self-defense. Prior to World War II, Americans by and large viewed military power and institutions with skepticism, if not outright hostility. In the wake of World War II, that changed. An affinity for military might emerged as central to the American identity.

By the midpoint of the twentieth century, “the Pentagon” had ceased to be merely a gigantic five-sided building. Like “Wall Street” at the end of the nineteenth century, it had become Leviathan, its actions veiled in secrecy, its reach extending around the world. Yet while the concentration of power in Wall Street had once evoked deep fear and suspicion, Americans by and large saw the concentration of power in the Pentagon as benign. Most found it reassuring.

A people who had long seen standing armies as a threat to liberty now came to believe that the preservation of liberty required them to lavish resources on the armed forces. During the Cold War, Americans worried ceaselessly about falling behind the Russians, even though the Pentagon consistently maintained a position of overall primacy. Once the Soviet threat disappeared, mere primacy no longer sufficed. With barely a whisper of national debate, unambiguous and perpetual global military supremacy emerged as an essential predicate to global leadership.

Every great military power has its distinctive signature. For Napoleonic France, it was the levée en masse -- the people in arms animated by the ideals of the Revolution. For Great Britain in the heyday of empire, it was command of the seas, sustained by a dominant fleet and a network of far-flung outposts from Gibraltar and the Cape of Good Hope to Singapore and Hong Kong. Germany from the 1860s to the 1940s (and Israel from 1948 to 1973) took another approach, relying on a potent blend of tactical flexibility and operational audacity to achieve battlefield superiority.

The abiding signature of American military power since World War II has been of a different order altogether. The United States has not specialized in any particular type of war. It has not adhered to a fixed tactical style. No single service or weapon has enjoyed consistent favor. At times, the armed forces have relied on citizen-soldiers to fill their ranks; at other times, long-service professionals. Yet an examination of the past 60 years of U.S. military policy and practice does reveal important elements of continuity. Call them the sacred trinity: an abiding conviction that the minimum essentials of international peace and order require the United States to maintain a global military presence, to configure its forces for global power projection, and to counter existing or anticipated threats by relying on a policy of global interventionism.

Together, credo and trinity -- the one defining purpose, the other practice -- constitute the essence of the way that Washington has attempted to govern and police the American Century. The relationship between the two is symbiotic. The trinity lends plausibility to the credo’s vast claims. For its part, the credo justifies the trinity’s vast requirements and exertions. Together they provide the basis for an enduring consensus that imparts a consistency to U.S. policy regardless of which political party may hold the upper hand or who may be occupying the White House. From the era of Harry Truman to the age of Barack Obama, that consensus has remained intact. It defines the rules to which Washington adheres; it determines the precepts by which Washington rules.

As used here, Washington is less a geographic expression than a set of interlocking institutions headed by people who, whether acting officially or unofficially, are able to put a thumb on the helm of state. Washington, in this sense, includes the upper echelons of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government. It encompasses the principal components of the national security state -- the departments of Defense, State, and, more recently, Homeland Security, along with various agencies comprising the intelligence and federal law enforcement communities. Its ranks extend to select think tanks and interest groups. Lawyers, lobbyists, fixers, former officials, and retired military officers who still enjoy access are members in good standing. Yet Washington also reaches beyond the Beltway to include big banks and other financial institutions, defense contractors and major corporations, television networks and elite publications like the New York Times, even quasi-academic entities like the Council on Foreign Relations and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. With rare exceptions, acceptance of the Washington rules forms a prerequisite for entry into this world.

My purpose in writing Washiington Rules is fivefold: first, to trace the origins and evolution of the Washington rules -- both the credo that inspires consensus and the trinity in which it finds expression; second, to subject the resulting consensus to critical inspection, showing who wins and who loses and also who foots the bill; third, to explain how the Washington rules are perpetuated, with certain views privileged while others are declared disreputable; fourth, to demonstrate that the rules themselves have lost what ever utility they may once have possessed, with their implications increasingly pernicious and their costs increasingly unaffordable; and finally, to argue for readmitting disreputable (or “radical”) views to our national security debate, in effect legitimating alternatives to the status quo. In effect, my aim is to invite readers to share in the process of education on which I embarked two decades ago in Berlin.

The Washington rules were forged at a moment when American influence and power were approaching their acme. That moment has now passed. The United States has drawn down the stores of authority and goodwill it had acquired by 1945. Words uttered in Washington command less respect than once was the case. Americans can ill afford to indulge any longer in dreams of saving the world, much less remaking it in our own image. The curtain is now falling on the American Century.

Similarly, the United States no longer possesses sufficient wherewithal to sustain a national security strategy that relies on global military presence and global power projection to underwrite a policy of global interventionism. Touted as essential to peace, adherence to that strategy has propelled the United States into a condition approximating perpetual war, as the military misadventures of the past decade have demonstrated.

To anyone with eyes to see, the shortcomings inherent in the Washington rules have become plainly evident. Although those most deeply invested in perpetuating its conventions will insist otherwise, the tradition to which Washington remains devoted has begun to unravel. Attempting to prolong its existence might serve Washington’s interests, but it will not serve the interests of the American people.

Devising an alternative to the reigning national security paradigm will pose a daunting challenge -- especially if Americans look to “Washington” for fresh thinking. Yet doing so has become essential.

In one sense, the national security policies to which Washington so insistently adheres express what has long been the preferred American approach to engaging the world beyond our borders. That approach plays to America’s presumed strong suit -- since World War II, and especially since the end of the Cold War, thought to be military power. In another sense, this reliance on military might creates excuses for the United States to avoid serious engagement: confidence in American arms has made it unnecessary to attend to what others might think or to consider how their aspirations might differ from our own. In this way, the Washington rules reinforce American provincialism -- a national trait for which the United States continues to pay dearly.

The persistence of these rules has also provided an excuse to avoid serious self-engagement. From this perspective, confidence that the credo and the trinity will oblige others to accommodate themselves to America’s needs or desires -- whether for cheap oil, cheap credit, or cheap consumer goods -- has allowed Washington to postpone or ignore problems demanding attention here at home. Fixing Iraq or Afghanistan ends up taking precedence over fixing Cleveland and Detroit. Purporting to support the troops in their crusade to free the world obviates any obligation to assess the implications of how Americans themselves choose to exercise freedom.

When Americans demonstrate a willingness to engage seriously with others, combined with the courage to engage seriously with themselves, then real education just might begin.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (Metropolitan Books), has just been published. This essay is its introduction.

Copyright © 2010 Tom Engelhardt

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The "NYC Mosque", Nondualism and Justice

From the intensity of the debate on my Facebook wall over the past couple of days, it has become apparent to me that the issue of the "NYC" or "Ground Zero" Mosque (or community center) is of no minor significance. It's become a gauge of the exact position of American/Islamic relations post-9/11. It has challenged my thinking at a time when I am a week away from beginning classes to finalize a degree with a peace and justice emphasis. How does one approach this situation PRACTICALLY in a loving, just manner? How does one practice justice in real life without taking a "stand"...and therefore saying "this is WRONG"? It would be great to think that everyone acknowledges the inherent unity of each of us, but the ego predominates in our world, and that is not the case. Practical justice issues...real life situations...are messy.

A great deal of my personal study over this past year has involved the further enhancement of my concepts of love and justice through Nondualistic methods. I was introduced to Nondualism by the Western spiritual teachers Richard Rohr and Eckhart Tolle. Nondualism is the most beautiful expression of love and unity that I have ever come across. It reaches to the very depth of who I am as it touches that ESSENCE that is a part of us all...the ESSENCE that IS God itself. Nondualism being perfect unity, it simply IS. It eliminates the need for "right" or "wrong" and "winners" or "losers". These are illusory labels in an external world. It is THAT world that is dominated by the ego.

Yet real life IS externals. Real life is physical hunger. Real life is oppression. Real life is racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, killing, torturing, war and religious intolerance. We can not ignore these issues and profess to practice love and justice towards others. How do we take Nondualism and apply it to an external situation?

I think back to the great non-violent leaders of the recent past such as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. When I look at how they approached Nondualism, they did it through the means of equality. They saw an oppressed people, their people, and they sought to elevate them to an equal status with the rest of humanity. To do this, they had to take a stand. To take that stand they had to carefully evaluate an "objective" issue through their own "subjectivity". For everything we can comprehend...our reality (at least externally) filtered through our own mind first. These men reached deep into their souls and saw that true love involved their own self-respect as much as it did loving their enemies. Jesus saw this same truth. He said to "love your neighbor as yourself". He also said to "love your enemies". This is a spiritual maxim and if you do not claim to be spiritual, is something that can be found in the basic concept of love. I use the example of Jesus because it is the one I am most familiar with, having been raised in a Christian environment. However, the "love" he was referring to was UNITY. We have no choice but to love our enemies, because they have a share of the same essence and "universal consciousness" or "God" that we do...that is to say that we are united to them whether our ego accepts that or not. However, that unity does not mean that we have to accept the external manifestations of the ego. This is where real life and Nondualism intersect.

So, here we are, on August 22, 2010. A demonstration has taken place today on the streets of lower Manhattan, of people opposed to the building of the "Mosque" which is to be two blocks away from Ground Zero. The crux of the situation is simple. According to the official version (which I won't debate in this forum), Muslims attacked America on 9/11. The protestors believe that a "Mosque" built two blocks away, representing the religion of the alleged attackers, would be an affront to the dignity of the victims. The protests range in intensity from eliminating Islam from America to the seemingly minor issue of moving the "Mosque" a few blocks further away. Depending on one's viewpoint, all levels of these protests involve elements of intolerance (and that is in fact my position, that all the proposals are intolerant).

Now here is where the dirty work the details. Tolerant progressive papers proudly promote the right of Islam to practice wherever and however they choose, as long as it is done in a peaceful manner. However, most that I've seen have the one caveat that it would be "prudent" for the "Mosque" to be moved a few blocks as to not "ruffle any feathers" in effect. President Obama has also taken this stance.

It is hard for me not to picture Martin Luther King and Gandhi when I hear the word "prudent". Both were told that they had a right to do what they were doing, but that it would be "prudent" if they would tone things down a bit. It would certainly have been more "prudent" for Rosa Parks to acquiesce to Jim Crow and give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery. However, that "non-prudent" action of Rosa Parks ended up igniting the Civil Rights movement and made great steps forward in the cause of equality for African-Americans (although we still have a long way to go).

Rosa Parks understood the same thing that Martin Luther King and Gandhi understood. She was quite aware that any step she took away from her own self-respect was a step away from the unity of humanity. She was aware that in order to be able to love others, she first had to love herself. She had to respect herself. She had to acknowledge her equality with others in order to retain her humanity.

The Muslims of "Park 51", the official name for what has been irreverently dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque" are struggling with this same issue of self-respect. They no doubt feel the hate and angst of a nation to a level that we can only imagine. I have tried to empathize with these Muslims, and ask myself what would I do and how would I be thinking? My next step would bring me to a decision. I could take the "prudent" route and acquiesce to the demands of an angry nation and move Park 51...even though the crimes of 9/11 had absolutely NOTHING to do with me. Then I would ask myself: Would this solve anything? Would they hate me less? Would I have any self-respect left by acquiescing to a penalty for a crime I didn't commit? Wouldn't my love for myself be greatly diminished by validating the hateful demands of multiple manifestations of troublesome egos? This is the sober thought process that I would have if I were the Imam of Park If it were ME, I would know that I couldn't be true to myself...loving of myself...respectful of myself...if I acquiesced. If I couldn't love myself, how could I expect to truly know love, to love others, to look at them as equals? So, what would I do? I would take a stand and say "NO"; I will not move my building. I respect your demand. I honor your pain, but I will NOT accept the intolerance of your ego. This is all I would know to go on...what the depth of my soul told me was love...both to myself and to those around me. This is the only way I would know to honor the unity in all of us. Both King and Gandhi showed us that there are certain non-negotiables in life. These non-negotiables involved a stand against any demand to lay down their own love of humanity...and that included their OWN humanity...their very much as it did that of others.

What is justice? How does it look in action? How does Nondualism apply? How do we solve conflicts like these? How do we practice equality? Nondualism is a relatively easy abstract concept. However, abstractions do no good unless they are effectively applied in a loving way. Is there a universal approach to this specific situation? A universal, non-opiniated, Nondualistic response? If so, how do we enact it?

This is the work to which I have devoted my life. That work is the application of love, justice and Nondualism in the real world. What does it look like to you in flesh and blood? I welcome your thoughts, and I thank you for all the commentary, debate and dialogue in which I have already had the opportunity to engage.

Update on 8-23-10: It has come to my attention that things may not be as they seem in regards to the "Mosque". The intentional stoking of hatred for the benefit of profiteers and the war agenda is a possibility, I'm reading and being told. This may or may not be true. What IS important though remains unchanged...the issue of intolerance of Muslims. I stand behind this blog...every word...with the information I had at the time it was written. WHOEVER is behind the Mosque, and WHATEVER their intentions are, this situation has brought Muslim intolerance fully into the spotlight in America. Now is our chance to deal with it and take a stand for our fellow sisters and brothers of humanity...that ALL may be equal in respect and justice.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Greek philosophy, Aristotle and The Universal

I personally find it tough to do any sort of a review on the classics, as just about everything that can be said about a 2400 year old treatise has probably been said. However, like scripture, everyone has their own interpretation of these kinds of documents from antiquity. The interpretations, like any reading, have to do with the culture and time in which one was raised, the society and government around them, as well as one’s age and any previous influential readings and/or life experience. These previous influences allow a “horizontal” approach to interpretation, where one incorporates many different impressions into the present document.

Aristotle's Politics is a link in the evolutionary process of social and political development. Like Plato’s Republic, Aristotle considers the concept of justice (as well as "goodness") in this collection. First, we must define these terms, and then we must figure out the best way to enact them. It is important to remember when dealing with the classics that we are looking at an attempt to tie down a “universal” (itself a tricky word) into a specific place and time. Everyone generally agrees that “justice” or "goodness" is what is “right”. However, conditioning of various types will influence HOW this looks to a particular individual.

The area in which I believe Aristotle to have the greatest wisdom is in his descriptions of human nature (and how to approach the "right" or "good" WITH this human nature in mind). “Men who don’t have control of their own passions will fail to serve their own interests.” “We always prefer what we come across first.” “Men are always wanting something more and are never content until they get to infinity.” “Ambition and avarice are exactly the motives which lead men to commit nearly all intentional crimes.”

Through my recent dialogue with those residing in the East, it is apparent to me that much of Western philosophy is late in its realization of some universal truths. The conflict of opposites is a universal concept. Moderation as a necessity for “goodness” is a universal concept. This would coincide with the idea of “Non-dualism” that has never been embraced in the West as it has in the Far East. Aristotle attempts to broach these topics through more of an exterior view. For example, he uses the analogy of the “perfection of the nose”. A nose that is “extremely” straight, or “extremely” symmetrical in all areas would eventually become so “extreme” as to not even appear to be a nose. It would morph into something else, if you will. That is an example of dualistic thinking. Extremes in anything produce the opposite of what one is trying to achieve. Moderation, looking at all sides of an issue, eradicating dogmatic thinking, are all ways to avoid these extremes.

Modern Capitalistic thought has grasped onto Aristotle’s ideas of distributive justice, aristocracy, and his negation or downplaying of apparent class conflicts to justify certain actions. What Aristotle has not and could not consider is all the complexities of modern times. Race, a global economy, and our current belief in the equality of ALL do not mix with Aristotelian thought. Plato had a much better grasp on class conflict with the idea of the state being TWO states…that of the rich and that of the poor. Although Aristotle DID acknowledge that: “Poverty is the cause of the defects of democracy.” He adds: “That is why measures should be taken to ensure a permanent level of prosperity.”

The eloquence of describing the life of the interior is perhaps the part of Politics which struck me the greatest. "Thought is an activity as much as action itself, and it may even be more of an activity than action is. The self-contained individual...may be busily active: the activity of God and the universe is that of a self-contained life." This statement coincided well with one that Aristotle had mentioned in Rhetoric, where he states that: “The more I am by myself and alone, the fonder I have become of myths.” This seems to indicate that Aristotle may have had an idea, even if he couldn’t name it, of the inherent need for a “god-image” in the nature of humanity.

Philosophy as defined by the ancient Greeks IS wisdom. Therefore it is in itself a universal as wisdom is all-encompassing. Our attempt to make sense of universals containing many expressions is one of the great challenges of living. For me, it has also brought about the realization that we are all looking for the same thing in the end. Approaching others WITH that knowledge is more conducive to dialogue and to greater understanding…which creates a better life for all of us.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Birth and Death

Every moment in life involves a death. From the cellular level to our patterns of thought and consciousness, the old is constantly being replaced with the new. Our soul, as my new friend the eloquent Dr. P.V. has stated, also goes through different vibrations that are constantly subject to change. Everywhere we look, from the micro to the macro, this appears to be a principle of the universe. My recent level of awareness has allowed me to recognize these patterns with greater clarity.

Today I celebrated a birthday that has been the most meaningful of my life (other than the first one of course). In many ways, this entire year has involved deaths to a much greater degree than I have ever experienced. Death should always be looked at as a positive. Your viewpoint of death is your viewpoint of change…and change can not be avoided…nor should it be. Change is meant to be embraced.

Without fully realizing what I was doing, I entered a recording studio today and captured what will be the final program and the final words that anyone will ever hear from me. I recorded the songs and words (my own) that will be played at my funeral…whenever and wherever that may be. As I look at this past year as the beginning of my TRUE awakening, I wanted to mark a subjective moment that has truly made me the happiest I have ever been. Far from being morbid, for me it was liberating. When we are able to face death we are able to truly live.

What I DIDN’T realize, until I had left the studio, is that more than one kind of death was being represented by my action. I was also signifying the death of the radio career that has been a part of my external life since I was 15. I am re-entering university studies this month with an eye to peace and conflict resolution work in the Middle East. Never have I felt more convicted and passionate about a cause for justice. One of the many ways in which we show our love to each other…to the unity that is in all of us…is RECOGNIZING the equality of our universal humanity. To me, that naturally involves taking up the cause of the oppressed. It is only through realizing the essence of my own soul, and through intense mental effort that I have been able to see this path clearly. I am NOT saying that this is or SHOULD be everyone’s path. We can recognize and show love in many capacities in life, and every action, if we are true to our own essence, to our own humanity, is BEYOND valuable.

Seeing a tiny glimpse of your essence gives you a brief vision of the universal, and places you where you were meant to be. That place is INSIDE of you FIRST, NOT outside of you, although what happens INSIDE will affect the OUTSIDE. This search involves a separation (or death) from the externals of society. It often takes adversity to begin the process. Hopefully that doesn’t have to be the case, although it was for me.

I’m not trying to say that I have “arrived” or “achieved enlightenment” in any way, shape or form. However, I HAVE found what you might call “direction”. I am pointed down the right road FOR THIS MOMENT, but the journey will never end. This part of life too will die and be replaced with yet another. However the soul is everlasting. It is what combines me with you and all of us with each other. We are all a part of a collective. Choose death. Embrace change. It’s not an end, it’s a beginning.