The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing in an effort to convince those members who either oppose or are undecided  about whether the Congress should vote to support military action in Syria.

There was a great deal of speechifying about our (the United States’) moral obligation to punish an obvious atrocity.  I am nominating Secretary of State John Kerry for an Oscar – both for his performance today as well as for his moving speech on Friday.  Category – Best Performance in a work of fiction.

The Secretary expressed a concern that some members might vote against a resolution authorizing “limited military activity” because of their antipathy toward the Commander in Chief.  I’m no fan of the President’s – but I do not believe he needs to be embarrassed by the Congress.  He is perfectly capable of accomplishing that on his own.  Therefore, I hope that the members make their determination based on the facts and not on the politics.  For better or worse, for the next 1200 days or so we have the present administration in place and we have to live with that.

Looking back about fifty years, I remember another President, John F. Kennedy, who sent some advisors to a place called Viet Nam.  There was a bit of turmoil going on over there.  The French, incidentally our only potential ally in a Syrian adventure, had been dealing with those nasty Communist insurgents in that country for a decade.  This was a “limited” action on the part of our nation and stemmed from the “Domino Theory” that suggested that communism would gain strength and grow as it took over country after country.

Secretary of State Kerry and Sen. McCain, both of whom are advocating for the Congress’ endorsement of a military strike against Syria, served in that war.  So did a great number of young American men and of those who were primarily drafted, 58,209 came home in body bags and another 153,303 returned home wounded.  These are the results of a  “limited” war strategy.

The opening remarks were made by the committee’s Chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez (D – NJ).   One of his statements in his brief remarks was the following:

”This is not a declaration of war.  This is a declaration of our values to the world.”

The profoundly important question that each of us should ask is, “What values does America have?”  Are we to look to our politicians and the Washington bureaucracy to define those?  Are we to look to the examples they set for us as our guiding light?  Are we to have confidence in the values that a Sen. Menendez exhibits in his personal conduct?

Perhaps you may remember that the senator was involved in a scandal in the Dominican Republic, for hiring prostitutes as young as 16 while he stayed in that beautiful paradise setting.  And as recently as June of this year he was apparently involved in an affair with a married woman in Puerto Rico.  Now if you’re an old-fashioned person like me, you might find this sort of behavior reprehensible.  There are fewer of us with that view left in today’s America.  And to expect a thorough investigation by the Congress of one of its members is unlikely – since this sort of behavior is hardly restricted to Sen. Menendez as we have seen.

Perhaps you are of the opinion that a person’s sex life is his or her own business.  Consenting adults are free to do as they will – and the guidance for their actions must come either from within or from some higher power.  But the case of the Dominican incident did not involve adults but children – the same kind of children whom al-Qaeda presses into prostitution.

For some reason, we categorize al-Qaeda as degenerate, medieval bullies for those activities.  Yet we give a pass to a United States senator for utilizing those same children for his personal pleasure.  In fact, we make him the Chairman of a committee which expresses American ideals to the world – both to our foes and to our allies.  And what is more incomprehensible is that our military aid in Syria has, at least in part, gone to support the anti-Assad al-Qaeda rebel faction.

During the course of his testimony, Secretary of State Kerry, when pressed as to whether the proposed “limited strike” might escalate, finally admitted that if there “were a response by the Syrians or others, it might be necessary to send military forces in to Syria.”  He categorized that as a “remote possibility.”  While I’m no military strategist, I would put the likelihood of a “reaction” being pretty close to one hundred percent.

When the United States began sending more and more grunts to Viet Nam to win what the French had already learned was an unwinnable war, American frustration led to our using new and innovative weapons – specifically, napalm.  This was a petroleum based gel, first used during WW II but later perfected and used extensively by our military personnel in Vietnam.

Napalm clings to the skin and causes horrific epidermal burns.  Here is what a Vietnamese napalm survivor had to say about this weapon:

“Napalm is the most terrible pain you can imagine,” said Kim Phúc, known from a famous Vietnam War photograph. “Water boils at 212°F. degrees. Napalm generates temperatures of 1,500-2,200°F.”

In the photo below, Kim is the nude eight year old girl , center left, running down the road after being burned by napalm.


There is no morality in war.  In fact, war is the ultimate expression of a failure of morality.  Whether it’s napalm or sarin gas, nuclear weapons, machetes or assault rifles, the intent of war is to kill.  It doesn’t matter to the dead if she is a Syrian or Vietnamese child or a child in one of America’s inner cities.  Murder is an offense against all of humanity. And until each of us learns to live that truth, there will be murders and we will continue to excuse them by using the legalized term “war” to justify them.

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice.  It demands greater heroism than war.  It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”

– Thomas Merton

Comments on: "AMERICAN MORALITY" (16)

  1. Outstanding essay. You have made the case against military action on Syria in a most persuasive manner. As usual, well done!

  2. Agree 100%.

    However, to expect Obama to judge right and wrong by the moral standards you describe is an insult to his profession as a statesman.

    They are judged by a different set of standards that have to do with (1) keeping his (our) country’s options open in a rough world (that we happen to dominate, but that does not change the standards of success), and (2) getting re-elected.

    Just as a businessman is not judged by the moral qualities of his business, but instead by his profits… same kind of thing.

    So, quite simply, if you and I believe in what you wrote, and you and I ever give either Obama or his political party my vote again, you and I are kind-of a fool. The kind of fool who gets their money taken away repeatedly playing those pop-the-baloon games at carnivals where they tempt you with a giant stuffed animals, but when you win they give you a little tiny one.

    • Thank you for stopping by and taking your time to comment.

      I truly love the quote, “A politician thinks of the next election – a statesman of the next generation.” Given my belief in the truth of that statement, I would argue that Obama is not a statesman. I had the opportunity to vote for him for State Senate from Illinois’ 13th District in 1999. I declined doing that, having met him at a “community meeting” in Chicago. Nor have I voted for him since then.

      I started my executive search business when I was twenty-four years old. The industry had a dubious reputation. The term “head hunter” was generally applied with derision. My concept was simple. If I treated my clients, applicants and employees fairly, this would give me an edge over the competition. Perhaps this stemmed from a sense of “morality” – or perhaps it was just simple common sense. In any event, it worked very well. Sometimes, that meant offering a refund of our fee after the guarantee period had expired. That immediately affected my profits. But in the long run, I know that the good will of doing the right thing brought in far more business than I otherwise might have enjoyed. It’s very hard to build a good reputation – but very easy to lose one.

      Thanks again for your comment. I hope to hear from you again.

  3. Yep, although I do see a case for “just war” this is not it.

    Some have said that lobbing a few cruise missiles is not an act of war. My response to them is that if we are not trying to accomplish something worthwhile with that action it is simply an act of terrorism. Far worse than Dresden, or Hiroshima, which had an objective. Not to mention that the definition of war in this case lies in whether any of Assad, Iran, or Russia consider it an act of war. It ain’t up to us, we’re the agressor here.

    • I realize that we do not live in a “fairy tale” world. There is an abundance of evil – and moral people do have a responsibility to fight against it. Perhaps my greatest reservation about this potential escapade is that I do not believe the motivation behind is necessarily as stated. Most of us who are willing to admit to the truth have seen far too much deception from this administration. Unfortunately, that plays a large part in my making the judgment to which I have come.

      • Mine as well, I would give some Presidents, Eisenhower comes to mind, a large amount of slack. A politician from the south side of Chicago, absolutely none, he’s already gotten rich by using poor people without giving the slightest impressions of trustworthiness. In truth, Hizzoner would have despised him.

    • “Some have said that lobbing a few cruise missiles is not an act of war.”

      May we then presume that those who say this would not consider it an act of war if Cuba lobbed a few missiles into our country?

      “. . . moral people do have a responsibility to fight against it.”

      Unless we consider that we are the only moral nation on earth, we should reflect very carefully on the fact that VERY few countries are displaying the same moral compulsion. What are our so-called moralists missing in all this? I suspect that most nations consider themselves to be every bit as moral as the U.S.

      • I agree, the example I used is the Russians using a cruise missile to take out a Minuteman silo covered in civilians. Whatever else it is, it’s damned well an act of war, in my opinion.

        I think the problem is that our moralists are missing in inaction. This administrations definition of morality ins Charlie Sheen’s “Winning”.

        I think they do, and some are right, some may well be more moral, at the moment I’d say the Brits are.

  4. “This is not a declaration of war. This is a declaration of our values to the world.”

    What happened to our value that recognizes the sovereignty of nations?

  5. Interesting perspective. I agree that it’s asinine to wage violent, military actions in the name of peace.

    I’m curious: how would your essay differ if you compared the Syrian situation against Hitler’s actions in Europe instead of the spread of Communism?

    • As I said in another comment, I do not live in a Polyanna world. There are times that we have no choice when confronted with an evil that is so pernicious that there is no choice left but to oppose it in a war. Hitler was one of those evils.

      The reason that I do not put the Syrian situation in the same category does not relate to the evil that emanates from both sides of this civil war. It stems from the believability of the evidence that the administration is putting forward as justification. In my memory, there has not been an adminstration that has been so fraught with scandals as this one. That makes me question not only the evidence but the motivation behind a Syrian advnture.

      In the unfortunate event that a moral nation finds that it has no choice but to engage in a war, then the objective always should be to win that war and to minimize the amount of damage that is done while pursuing it. The almost puerile attitude of our CIC, announcing our plans in advance, then suggesting that he wants the concurrence of Congress, then waiting a week to get around to that while playing golf, does not suggest a vision that is determined to do little more than attempt to repair a battered ego. That, notwithstanding, the alleged Assad attrocities, are not sufficient to begin a war – which might well grow into a much larger conflagration involving the entire region, thus violating my principle of minimal damage.

      Thanks for taking your time to express your opinion. I appreciate your readership.

  6. You have certainly nailed our political leaders around the world. They need to have lives that actually demonstrate the principles they would like to see in the rest of the world. Quite often we don’t see those moral values.

    • All of us who have values transgress against those at some point in our lives. That is the nature of being a fallible human. But those of us who realize that failing will hopefully have the consciencee to amend our ways.

      Frankly, I question whether many of those in political power are even aware that there are values which they should observe. Certainly, their actions don’t suggest that is the case.

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