Those of us older folk who lived through the Vietnam war remember well how the war and the casualties, both American and Vietnamese, continued on for years after President Johnson was forced from office because of growing public opposition to the war. Then, as now, most of the experts presented by the news media agreed that to give in to the public pressure for a quick end to the war would be a grave mistake.
A typical example of that opinion was a Sept. 21, 1970 New York Times article by Walt Rostow, a Vietnam war hawk from the Johnson administration: "Contrary to every short-run political and personal interest, three successive American presidents decided over the past decade that the events set in motion by a prompt withdrawal of our forces and commitment from Vietnam and the Asian mainland would risk a larger war there and create dangerous instability elsewhere."
Bob Herbert, in an article in today's New York Times, comments, "In other words, we have to keep feeding the flames of war with the healthy bodies of our kids because if we were to stop something bad might happen. Sound familiar?"
With the benefit of hindsight we now clearly see that all the talk about how, as bad as the war was, worse things would happen if we ended it, was completely wrong. Because of all the unnecessary deaths it was tragically wrong.
Iraq is not Vietnam. We cannot be sure that things would go as well for the Iraqi people if our troops left as they did for the Vietnamese after the Vietnam War ended. But one thing we can be sure of is that every day that the war continues is a tragedy. Another thing we can be sure of is that if we assume that "experts" in government and the media have some crystal ball that allows them to see the future more clearly than we do we will probably regret it.
One of the justifications our government offered for the war in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein was a terrible dictator who deserved to be overthrown. Many Americans were dubious about that as a reason for the war since there were many other dictators as bad as or worse than Saddam Hussein. Why Iraq? For it to be a reason rather than a justification it had to explain why Iraq and not, say, the Suddan, Zimbabwe or Kazakhstan? Some politicians are calling for increased security on our border with Mexico. There has even been talk of building a 2000 mile wall on our southern border. The stated reason is a worry about terrorists entering our country. But that strikes me as a justification rather than a reason. As far as I know no terrorists have been captured crossing our border with Mexico but several have been captured in recent years coming in from Canada carrying explosives. Why does our southern border need a wall but not our northern one? If the real reason is a concern about terrorism why not a 3000 mile long wall along our northern boarder? Again one suspects the actual reasons are not advanced because the public may not find them as compelling as the justifications. The real reasons for our invasion of Iraq, securing our supplies of oil, military bases in the Middle East, and unquestioning total support for Israeli foreign policy, do not sound as nobel or idealistic as the justifications. The real reason for a wall between our country and Mexico, fear that the unless more is done to reduce illegal immigration that Americans who do not speak Spanish will come to feel like foreigners in their own country, is a less enobling argument than the macho "secure our boarders." The fear that because of immigration the percentage of Americans not speaking English will increase is as pervasive as it is baseless. Many Americans have ancestors who came to America less than 150 years ago not speaking English. Almost all the immigrants who came as adults continued to speak their native language their whole lives. Leaning another language as an adult is very difficult. My father's mother's family came from Germany around 1870 and settled for a while in Davenport, Iowa. At that time (and up until World War I) there was a daily German-language newspaper in Davenport and many stores and whole sections of town where mostly German was spoken. My Grandmother was born in this country and was bilingual, speaking English without an accent but able to converse with her parents and aunts and uncles in German. The schools then, just as they do now, did an excellent job teaching the immigrant children English and how to be Americans, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, honoring American heroes and participating in American holidays. I keep hearing the claim that the situation today with Hispanic immigrants is somehow different than the 19th Century immigration from Europe. I don't see how. In all the Mexican immigrant families I know or have heard of the children who were under 10 when they came or were born in America speak perfect English without an accent and have been perfectly assimilated, for better or worse, into American popular culture, music, television, movies, etc. Often they are embarrassed by the ways their families are different than the families of their classmates and only speak Spanish if the person they are talking to does not understand English. This is different than the situation with Middle-Eastern or African immigrants in Europe where even the second and third generations are treated like out-siders and do not feel like they belong. The fact that America has never had riots like those recently in France by second generation immigrant teenagers shows how well the American melting pot works. The fact that people have come to America to live and do not speak English only means that they have come as adults. They did not come to America with a goal of changing it to be exactly like their native country. They came to participate in what we have. Their children are learning English and will act and speak more like native Americans than their parents. The parent's lack of English is simply a result of a childhood spent somewhere else. A wall built to protect America from the Spanish language would be a monument to ignorance and unreasoning fear. There may be legitimate reasons to increase security at our boarders or to take action to decrease illegal immigration but protecting the English language is not one of them.
Something is mighty fishy about this latest battle in the culture wars -- the claim, receiving a great deal of media attention, that saying "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" is somehow attacking Christianity. The latest polls show 84% of Americans agreeing that the courts are correct in ruling that "Intelligent Design" does not belong in the science curriculum and I suspect that a similar or higher majority think that saying "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" in public greetings addressed to groups that include Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and others is simply being polite, sensitive and inclusive. So why is the news media giving these fringe viewpoints such extensive coverage? For example, the "Quad-City Times" on Wednesday, December 21 published a front page story by reporter Todd Dorman that breathlessly reported that "Most of the nation's governors .... are wishing their constituents a happy holidays even if some were hoping for 'Merry Christmas'" and then going on to name the names, presumably so that voters could take this valuable information into the voting booth with them. At one point the article referred to the governors using generic holiday sentiments rather than the word "Christmas" as "trying to toe a neutral line" as if being inclusive and sensitive was not a natural and normal thing for an elected official. So what is going on here? I would appreciate any insight anyone could shed on this. It is not as though this is such a slow news period that they need to manufacture issues to report. Is the news media cowed by the religious right and fear a powerful backlash if they try to ignore these issues? Or, as implied by the wording of the article, do these reporters and the editors share this fringe viewpoint? From everything I know about newspaper people that seems unlikely. So what is going on here?
I am a part-time blogger and an occasional Democratic Party volunteer living in Moline, Illinois (part of the Quad Cities). My day job is as a computer programmer with a Davenport, Iowa company that provides software to automobile dealerships.