Lincoln Chafee withdrew from the presidential race today. His parting shot was a call for a less belligerent foreign policy:
When I was a senator, a general from the Pentagon testified before the Foreign Relations Committee on global military powers. I asked him who was second to the U.S. in military might? He thought for a bit and said, “probably the U.K.” Yes that was a few years ago but the point remains true: no real rival to the United States exists when it comes to total weaponry and deployment potential.
We make Virginia class submarines in Rhode Island and I’ve been on an overnight patrol. What a phenomenal piece of technology and craftsmanship – a machine bristling with the most advanced power imaginable. Submarines are just one instrument in our staggeringly efficient arsenal of war. And yet we are sinking ever deeper and deeper into an endless morass in the Middle East and North Africa. People keep dying, and peace seems further and further away. It’s evident that all this military power isn’t working for us right now.
Let me share a story from DaNang, Viet Nam. DaNang – that city has so many memories for my generation. But just this summer, former Viet Cong and ex-American G.I.’s were laughing, eating, drinking and celebrating the Fourth of July together. The article quoted Pete Peterson, a former Air Force pilot who spent six and a half years in a Hanoi prison camp after he was shot down. Later he served as Ambassador to Viet Nam in the 1990’s. He said now Viet Nam and the United States have so much in common. After all the death and devastation during that horrible war, why did we do it, he was asked. He said, “I have thought about this for a long time. I’m convinced that the war could have been averted had we made the effort to understand the politics of the place. … had we made the effort to understand the politics of the place.”
Ladies and gentleman, from what I’ve heard none of the Republicans running for president want to understand anything about the Middle East and North Africa. Instead they prefer to espouse more bellicosity, more saber rattling and more blind macho posturing. . . .
Do we want to be remembered as a bomber of weddings and hospitals? Or do we want to be remembered as Peacemakers, as pioneers of a more harmonious world?
I'm reminded of recent discussions I've had with people over the topic of symbols and how the same emblem or icon can mean entirely different things to different people.
To illustrate my point, I used the example of the flag of the United States of America. To most Americans, they see the flag and associate it with a bunch of positive qualities: home, security, democracy, justice - the whole gamut of "Mom and Apple Pie" patriotic values.
But then I pointed out that in many parts of the world, the flag of the United States of America is far more readily associated with death, destruction, greed, and injustice. To someone who chiefly sees our flag on the uniforms of soldiers occupying their country, or stamped on the bombs casing and landmines they dig up to sell for scrap to help keep themselves fed, the image of the flag takes on a very different set of values and meanings.
The same is true of the word "America". When we hear it spoken aloud, it's often in reference to pride and patriotism, or at the very least it serves to speak of our collective "home". But for millions of people around the world, the word "America" is spoken typically in reference to the strange people from far away who came and bombed their homes, killed and maimed their loved ones, and who drive fear into their hearts every day with the uncertainty of when or where the next attack might occur.
Sadly, my point was largely lost on my listeners. They responded with arguments like, "Well of course they think badly of "America" and of our flag! They're evil and out to destroy us / jealous and out to rob us of our wealth / oppressive and out to crush our liberty!"
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