Saturday, November 05, 2005

I Believe Even More

Now that I have spilled my guts about what I believe, my best move would be to turn to other subjects before I bore both of you with navel gazing introspection. That would be the easy route, as Richard Nixon said. But if nothing else, this weblog is my opportunity to say what I think. And writing about what I think forces me to, well, think. Here’s how my core beliefs inform my opinions on a range of issues.

Capitalist Development: Much of the wealth created by capitalism throughout its history has been at the expense of the mass population, which provided much of the energy needed for the rise of industry, and indigenous peoples whose land and resources were appropriated by armed force or clever manipulation. This exploitation continues today throughout much of the world as evidenced by near slave-like working conditions (if not actual slavery) and capitalist collusion with authoritarian regimes that rob their people of their national wealth. Exploitation is inherent in a system whose highest value is to maximize profit. Capitalism as currently practiced violates the Golden Rule and the unalienable rights of the individual. One of the great achievements of American politics was New Deal legislation that recognized labor rights, redistributed income, and limited some of the capitalists’ more egregious practices. Franklin Roosevelt prevented capitalism from creating the immiseration that would trigger the Revolution Karl Marx had predicted.

Economic Justice: My fundamental beliefs tell me that each individual is entitled to the fruits of his her labor in order to secure the necessities of life. If the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness mean anything, they mean that individuals have the right to provide for themselves. Yet economic organization and activity have almost always transferred wealth from the many to the few. And while entrepreneurs and capitalists are entitled to rewards (and loses) of their enterprise, those rewards should not deprive others of their life, liberty or ability to seek happiness. Honore’ de Balzac noted that “Behind every great fortune is a crime.” Perhaps not in all cases, but true in many cases. That crime is exploiting others to their disadvantage. I believe that economic justice is measured by widespread prosperity, not just overall wealth which is often concentrated in a limited population.

Iraq War and American Militarism: Believing in that killing other humans is wrong, I am opposed to war in all but the most extreme situations and then, only with the knowledge that my nation has done all it could to avoid war. The United States failed that test completely in Iraq. BushCheney’s willful decision to invade Iraq in pursuit of American hegemony in the middle east was wholly unnecessary and has now placed American strategic interests in jeopardy. Their lies and falsehoods have destroyed American credibilty . Equally distressing is the loss of America’s reputation for justice and democracy. BushCheney has squandered generations of good will that survived the US sponsored secret and overt wars of the last 60 years. Now this nation is, if not reviled, certainly regarded poorly, even compared to like China.

War has a particular resonance for me since I actually participated in one. My year in Vietnam, including five months on infantry patrol, made me realize that I could kill even for a cause I thought wrong. My country had no right to conduct a war in Vietnam and it was clear to me long before I went that our efforts benefitted neither the Vietnamese nor American people. All that heroism and sacrifice. For nothing really. (After 30 years I’ve reached a truce with that decision but it still haunts me. Now I see the US sending another generation of soldiers into a war based on a lie, a war that does not leave this country any better off yet imposes a high cost on Iraqi’s and Americans. They will come home asking why and, like me, they will find little to justify the death, destruction and suffering they inflicted in Iraq..

More generally, I oppose American militarism. This nation used its economic and military dominance of the previous century to its advantage, often at the expense and disadvantage of other nations. The Twentieth Century is a litany of American interventions and wars against other nations: The Philippines, Nicaragua (twice), Iran, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Cuba, El Salavador and now, Iraq. We intervened because we were afraid, afraid of losing economic advantages and opportunities, afraid of a communist ideology, afraid of looking weak. The US is hardly alone in its actions; other western nations did much the same during their respective pinnacles of influence. But that only makes this nation another in a long line of arrogant imperialists. We are supposed to be different. America, like any nation, has the right to defend itself against threats. But that right is one that should be exercised with care, thought and understanding. Many American interventions have been made without sober reflection.

America in the World: My questions about American militarism go to the heart of this nation’s role in the world. The United States has pioneered the rise of democracy in the world. Our Revolution may have been more of an economic rebellion but it set in motion ideas that helped individuals assert greater power and control over their lives. This nation has a heritage and democratic ideals that should set the tone for the entire planet. Not through conquest, but by virtue of their demonstrated ability to expand and protect human liberty. The United States should recognize the right of all peoples and nations to pursue their own interests in a way that maximizes their freedom and ability to support themselves. We should also understand that culture and tradition will influence how other societies will comprehend and embrace our fundamental ideals.

Aside from its absolute Correctness, policies that respect the lives and liberty of other nations also enhance our own security: satisfied individuals and nations are less likely to attack our wealth and privilege because they share in that wealth and privilege. Karl Marx was so very accurate in identifying the consequences of economic polarization; he saw that desperate masses with nothing to lose will overwhelm the few who have monopolized wealth. Marx was wrong in predicting solutions but he was right about the need for all members of a society to share in its prosperity. Marx’s wrote in a world of nation states, in an era when the United States was isolated by two oceans. At the beginning of the 21st Century, the scope is global. Rich western nations will find it increasingly difficult to float safely amid widespread poverty and increasing desperation.

I could go on and on but this post is already too long and has taken more than a week to write. So I’ll leave it at this for the time being.