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