The following is an excerpt from Andrew J. Bacevich’s essay. “The Old Normal: Why we can’t beat our addiction to war,” in the March 2020 issue of Harper’s Magazine. I hope you read the entire piece, but here is a excerpt:
“Addressing the graduation cadets at West Point win May 1942, General George C. Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, reduced the nation’s purpose in the global war it had recently joined to a single emphatic sentence. ‘We are determined, he remarked, ‘that before the sun sets on the terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.’ . . . .
“In our so-called Trump Era, freedom and power aren’t what they used to be. Both are undergoing radical conceptual transformations. Marshall assumed a mutual compatibility between the two. No such assumption can be made today.
Although the strategy of accruing overwhelming military might to advance the cause of liberty persisted throughout the period misleadingly enshrined as the Cold War, it did so in attenuated form. The size and capabilities of the Red Army, exaggerated by both Washington and the Kremlin, along with the danger of nuclear Armageddon, by no means exaggerated, suggested the need for the United States to exercise a modicum of restraint. Even so, Marshall’s pithy statement of intent more accurately represented the overarching intent of U.S. policy from the late 1940s through the 1980s than any number of presidential pronouncements or government-issued manifestos. Even in a divided world, policymakers continued to nurse hopes that the United States could embody freedom while wielding unparalleled power, admitting to no contradictions between the two.
With the end of the Cold War, Marshall’s axiom came roaring back in full force. In Washington, many concluded that it was time to pull out the stops. Writing in Foreign Affairs in 1992, General Colin Powell, arguably the nation’s most highly respected soldier since Marshall, anointed America “the sole superpower” and, quoting Lincoln, “the last best hope of earth.” Civilian officials went further, designating the United States as history’s “indispensable nation.” Supposedly uniquely positioned to glimpse the future, America took it upon itself to bring that future into being, using whatever means it deemed necessary. During the ensuing decade, U.S. troops were called upon to make good on such claims in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, and East Africa, among other venues. Indispensability imposed obligations, which for the moment at least seemed tolerable.
After 9/11, this post–Cold War posturing reached its apotheosis. Exactly sixty years after Marshall’s West Point address, President George W. Bush took his own turn in speaking to a class of graduating cadets. With splendid symmetry, Bush echoed and expanded on Marshall’s doctrine, declaring, “Wherever we carry it, the American flag will stand not only for our power, but for freedom.” Yet something essential had changed. No longer content merely to defend against threats to freedom—America’s advertised purpose in World War II and during the Cold War—the United States was now going on the offensive. “In the world we have entered,” Bush declared, “the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act.” The president thereby embraced a policy of preventive war, as the Japanese and Germans had, and for which they landed in the dock following World War II. It was, in effect, Marshall’s injunction on steroids.
We are today in a position to assess the results of following this “path of action.” Since 2001, the United States has spent approximately $6.5 trillion on several wars, while sustaining some sixty thousand casualties. Post-9/11 interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere have also contributed directly or indirectly to an estimated 750,000 “other” deaths. During this same period, attempts to export American values triggered a pronounced backlash, especially among Muslims abroad. Clinging to Marshall’s formula as a basis for policy has allowed the global balance of power to shift in ways unfavorable to the United States.
At the same time, Americans no longer agree among themselves on what freedom requires, excludes, or prohibits. When Marshall spoke at West Point back in 1942, freedom had a fixed definition. The year before, President Franklin Roosevelt had provided that definition when he described “four essential human freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. That was it. Freedom did not include equality or individual empowerment or radical autonomy.
As Army chief of staff, Marshall had focused on winning the war, not upending the social and cultural status quo (hence his acceptance of a Jim Crow army). The immediate objective was to defeat Nazi Germany and Japan, not to subvert the white patriarchy, endorse sexual revolutions, or promote diversity.
Further complicating this ever-expanding freedom agenda is another factor just now beginning to intrude into American politics: whether it is possible to preserve the habits of consumption, hypermobility, and self-indulgence that most Americans see as essential to daily existence while simultaneously tackling the threat posed by human-induced climate change. For Americans, freedom always carries with it expectations of more. It did in 1942, and it still does today. Whether more can be reconciled with the preservation of the planet is a looming question with immense implications.
When Marshall headed the U.S. Army, he was oblivious to such concerns in ways that his latter-day successors atop the U.S. military hierarchy cannot afford to be. National security and the well-being of the planet have become inextricably intertwined. In 2010, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that the national debt, the prime expression of American profligacy, had become “the most significant threat to our national security.” In 2017, General Paul Selva, Joint Chiefs vice chair, stated bluntly that “the dynamics that are happening in our climate will drive uncertainty and will drive conflict.”
As for translating objectives into outcomes, Marshall’s “great citizen-army” is long gone, probably for good. The tradition of the citizen-soldier that Marshall considered the foundation of the American military collapsed as a consequence of the Vietnam War. Today the Pentagon relies instead on a relatively small number of overworked regulars reinforced by paid mercenaries, aka contractors. The so-called all-volunteer force (AVF) is volunteer only in the sense that the National Football League is. Terminate the bonuses that the Pentagon offers to induce high school graduates to enlist and serving soldiers to re-up, and the AVF would vanish.
Furthermore, the tasks assigned to these soldiers go well beyond simply forcing our adversaries to submit, which was what we asked of soldiers in World War II. Since 9/11, those tasks include something akin to conversion: bringing our adversaries to embrace our own conception of what freedom entails, endorse liberal democracy, and respect women’s rights. Yet to judge by recent wars in Iraq (originally styled Operation Iraqi Freedom) and Afghanistan (for years called Operation Enduring Freedom), U.S. forces are not equipped to accomplish such demanding work.
This record of non-success testifies to the bind in which the United States finds itself. Saddled with outsized ambitions dating from the end of the Cold War, confronted by dramatic and unanticipated challenges, and stuck with instruments of power ill-suited to existing and emerging requirements, and led by a foreign-policy establishment that suffers from terminal inertia, the United States has lost its strategic bearings.
Deep in denial, that establishment nonetheless has a ready-made explanation for what’s gone wrong: as in the years from 1939 to 1941, so too today a putative penchant for isolationism is crippling U.S. policy. Isolationists are ostensibly preventing the United States from getting on with the business of amassing power to spread freedom, as specified in Marshall’s doctrine. Consider, if you will, the following headlines dating from before Trump took office: “Isolationism Soars Among Americans” (2009); “American isolationism just hit a fifty-year high” (2013); “America’s New Isolationism” (2013, twice) “Our New Isolationism” (2013); “The New American Isolationism” (2014); “American Isolationism Is Destabilizing the World,” (2014); “The Revival of American Isolationism” (2016). And let us not overlook “America’s New Isolationists Are Endangering the West,” penned in 2013 by none other than John Bolton, Trump’s recently cashiered national security adviser.
Note that when these essays appeared U.S. military forces were deployed in well over one hundred countries around the world and were actively engaged in multiple foreign wars. The Pentagon’s budget easily dwarfed that of any plausible combination of rivals. If this fits your definition of isolationism, then you might well believe that President Trump is, as he claims, “the master of the deal.” All the evidence proves otherwise.
Isolationism is a fiction, bandied about to divert attention from other issues. It is a scare word, an egregious form of establishment-sanctioned fake news. It serves as a type of straitjacket, constraining debate on possible alternatives to militarized American globalism, which has long since become a source of self-inflicted wounds.
Only when foreign-policy elites cease to cite isolationism to explain why the “sole superpower” has stumbled of late will they be able to confront the issues that matter. Ranking high among those issues is an egregious misuse of American military power and an equally egregious abuse of American soldiers. Confronting the vast disparity between U.S. military ambitions since 9/11 and the results actually achieved is a necessary first step toward devising a serious response to Donald Trump’s reckless assault on even the possibility of principled statecraft.
Marshall’s 1942 formula has become an impediment to sound policy. My guess is that, faced with the facts at hand, the general would have been the first to agree. He was known to tell subordinates, “Don’t fight the problem, decide it.” Yet before deciding, it’s necessary to see the problem for what it is and, in this instance, perhaps also to see ourselves as we actually are.
For the United States today, the problem turns out to be similar to the one that beset the nation during the period leading up to World War II: not isolationism but overstretch, compounded by indolence. The present-day disparities between our aspirations, commitments, and capacities to act are enormous.
The core questions, submerged today as they were on the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, are these: What does freedom require? How much will it cost? And who will pay?”
Banner photo: The Last Flag (Dedicated to Howard Zinn), a charcoal drawing by Robert Longo
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York City in Harper Magazine, March 2020, p. 25.
But we could change. We could admit that waging war on other countries doesn’t seem to be the best way – or a humane way – for other countries or for ourselves for sustainable peace.
Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others. . . .
On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. . . . [B]ut if we were only wretched. . . we’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple.
Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires; the other softens us. They go together,” writes Pema Chödrön.
From: The Sun, Issue 519, March 2019, p. 48.
In Hong Kong in 1981, Pema Chödrön became the first American in the Vajrayana tradition to become a fully ordained nun or bhikṣuṇī. She has written Start Where You Are, When Things Fall Apart, and No Time to Lose.
Chödrön says to lean into challenges.
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
Joy Harjo, “Eagle Poem” from In Mad Love and War (Wesleyan University Press, 1990). At: <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46545/eagle-poem>
Enjoy. Aloha, Renée
But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.
by Barbara Ras, from her exquisite 1998 poetry collection Bite Every Sorrow (published by Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Copyright © 1997) <poets.org>.
Banner photo: from my deck – RR
This small book, F**K Plastic: 101 ways to free yourself from plastic and save the world by Rodale Sustainability offers excellent tips to make us more conscious of what we are doing — and want we can do.
Recently, I bought new clothes pins to hang up laundry that wouldn’t be going into the dryer. Good, you might think. But I looked at the prices and bought the cheaper plastic ones. Many have already broken. If I’d read this book sooner, those plastic clothes pins would not have been my choice.
Some of the tips in this book aren’t a surprise: Tip #17, for instance, is “Pick loose fruit and veggies” – “Don’t bother with the avocados that come two in a pack, or the bell peppers the come in threes, or the shrink-wrapped broccoli. Especially don’t bother with the half portions of cucumber you now find in supermarkets which come shrink-wrapped and then packaged in another layer of plastic. Opt instead for the veggies that are loose in trays, and–if you can-also buy from places that shun sticky labels” (24).
Some of the tips are surprises: #26 Say Goodbye to Gum.
“Have a guess how many pieces of gum are made in the world each year.
If you happened to say 1.74 trillion, [www.chewinggumfacts.com – accessed on 05/23/2018] give yourself a pat on the back. Now have a guess what most chewing gum is primarily made from. That’s right: a type of plastic. Pass the mints” (p. 33).
Some of the tips are ways of looking in new ways: Tip #15 Swap potato chips for doughnuts
“Yes, we’re serious! Sure we all know avoiding both the doughnut and the chips would be better for our health (pft), but if you’re going to reach for a treat anyway, make it a loose baked product like a doughnut or cookie over a bag of chips or cookies. Many of the latter are packaged using layered plastic material, which theoretically could be recycled but a lot of the time isn’t due to the cost. Loose baked products on the other hand are totally fair game” (p. 22).
The book is filled with useful hints. The introduction asks: “Plastic, what’s the big deal?”
“Plastic still remains a pretty great invention–syringes, hip replacements, protective helmets, your laptop, my phone, that car. Let’s be honest–plastic ain’t going nowhere. But that’s the problem in a nutshell–all the single-use plastics we buy each day without realizing ain’t going nowhere either. A plastic carrier bag is used on average for 12 minutes [www.biologicaldiversity.org accessed on 05/23/2018] — but it’ll still be here in 100 to 300 years. The water bottle you picked up at lunch could still be here in 450” (p. 1).
Tip #89 Be mindful
“Look after your things! It’s as simple as that. Look after your phone; look after your headphones; look after your hair ties; look after your stationery; look after every item you own that contains plastic. The better care you give it, the less you will need to replace it and the less plastic that ultimately ends up bin a landfill or the sea” (103).
Read this book: There is lots to be done. We can each be part of the solution.
P.S. Thanks for lending me this book, Joy. N.
Again, we marched. Again, it was with a feeling of hope and joy. Again, I saw friends old and new. Again, the informational booths offered a variety of resources for Deaf Children, LGBTQ, Planned Parenthood, Citizens Climate Lobby . . . Again, we had an organized march, inspiring speeches, special guests, music, pule, dancing. The camaraderie, the energy of people – men, women, children, young and old, under a partly sunny Maui sky – all made for an excellent morning.
This, the fourth Women’s March, had keynote speaker Teresa Shook, retired attorney and resident of Hana, an isolated town on the East end of Maui. Her idea that we should march went viral after the 2016 presidential election and resulted in these Women’s Marches all across the country.
For the march this year, The Maui News estimated 1,000 participants, a smaller number than other years. Missing too for the first time was the man with the bullhorn who screamed that all of us in the march hated men. With him had been a young girl, wearing a bonnet and long dress, and another man. Have they learned that, of course, we don’t hate men? (Well, we do know that some individual men have a lot to learn about respecting others). Has the girl refused to come along? We want Equal Rights, Civil Rights, Equal Opportunities, Gender Equality, Choice, Equal Pay, No War, help for immigrants escaping political and/or economic oppression, respect for all people, Truth and Reconciliation; excellent public schools for all children, clean water, protected public lands, actions to mitigate the real damage humans are making everywhere, supports for the most vulnerable among us, leaders with integrity and compassion for those struggling the most . . .
Thanks to The Women’s March Maui Coalition, including its board members – Marnie Masuda-Cleveland, Kelli Blair Swan, Sherry Alu Campagna and founding board member Shook, the speakers, the musicians, informational booth attendants, food trucks, the marchers. Lei’ohu Ryder for the opening ceremony; Awesomystics, Skylar Masuda, Struck by Seda, Ono Maui Shakespeare, Deborah Vial Band, “Amazon,” Eliza and Shea Derrick’s Band, for the entertainment.
And what were friend Susan and I doing? We missed most of the speakers, the music, the dancing. We were happily sharing voting information and registering people to vote. For the first time starting with our primary election in August 2020, Hawaii residents will vote by mail. If you are a Hawaii resident, go to On-Line Voter Registration to register and/or check to see if all your information is up-to-date” <olvr.hawaii.gov>.
And what was I doing two days later on January 20, 2020? I went to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. March in Wailuku: good speakers, good music, good people.
Am I worried that the numbers to the marches are down. Should you be worried? Nope. We are busy people. We know that we must vote – and take action to change what we can.
Thank you to everyone involved in these marches – and in all the positive actions in our communities.
Vote wherever you live. Make you voice heard — and do more. You are needed.
“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry.
It merely astonishes me.
How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?
It’s beyond me.”
- Zora Neale Hurson, American Author and Folklorist
Thanks to Paula. Aloha, Renée
Banner Photo: Zora beating the hountar or mama drum. A 1937 photo- from the Library of Congress.
P.S. For other inspiring quotations by Latina women, go to: <https//patriciavaloy.com/writinng/welcome-to-our-blog-but-what-is-it>
BY JOY HARJO
Praise the rain; the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food—
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down—
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all—
Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we’re led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
From: from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo.
Praise it all. Aloha, Renée
“What You Missed that Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade” by Brad Aaron Modlin
Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.
After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—
something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.
The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person
add up to something.
From: Modlin’s book:
- Winner of the Cowles Poetry Prize
- Southeast Missouri State University Press
Go to “Poetry Unbound” from the On Being Studios to hear Irishman poet Pádraig Ó Tuama read and explicate from his own viewpoint “What You Missed that Day You Were Absent from the 4th Grade.” https://onbeing.org/programs/welcome-to-poetry-unbound/
Enjoy. Aloha, Renée
Cloud Over Hawaii: The Need for Truth and Reconciliation
Living under a cloud of resentment can never be good for us. In the end, resentment is self-destructive.By Paul Arinaga / January 27, 2015
There’s a cloud hanging over Hawaii – the weight of history. Over 100 years ago, the Hawaiian nation was subverted and destroyed. Hawaiian culture (not to mention Hawaiians themselves) was nearly wiped out and probably would have withered away had it not been for the Hawaiian renaissance of the late 20th century.
Native Hawaiians have not been the only ones to suffer in Hawaii, however. Asian immigrants later experienced their share of racism and social exclusion. Most of Hawaii’s Asian immigrants and their descendants were only able to improve their circumstances over the course of half a century.
Banner photo: Concerns are raised at Interior Department hearings on whether the U.S. should establish a government-to-government relationship with Hawaii’s indigenous community, June 2014.PF Bentley/Civil Beat
Why is this past suffering relevant? It is relevant because in many cases its effects are still with us today; they linger in the form of the relatively low socio-economic status of many Native Hawaiians, for example.
Past injustices are not only relevant for their direct economic, social and political effects, however. They are also relevant, in my view, because their effects linger in the form of resentment. Even some of the offspring of the purported perpetrators of past injustices seem to feel resentment; whether justified or not, they may feel unfairly accused.
Resentment feeds resentment. Yet we need to face the future squarely by dealing with the past, no matter how painful it may be. As Peter Apo says in a recent column in Civil Beat: “Until there is closure to the Hawaiian question, Hawaii can never be whole.”
The purpose of this article is not to find fault with any particular group or individual. Much of that ground has already been covered, even if redress has been incomplete, insufficient or non-existent, in many cases. The purpose of this article is instead to point out that living under a cloud of resentment can never be good for us. In the end, resentment is self-destructive.
That’s why I would like to propose that Hawaii establish a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” led by unifying figures and representative of all the people of Hawaii. Much as was done in South Africa and is being done in Canada, the purpose of this commission would be to unearth the truth, but to do so in such a way that there can be space for reconciliation, and perhaps even forgiveness.
This is not a New Age pipe dream. Reconciliation could have many tangible – and perhaps even immediate – benefits. It might lead to greater cohesion in our community, which in turn could enable us to solve practical problems such as the lack of affordable housing, limited economic opportunities and transportation gridlock.
On an individual level, reconciliation could release the huge amount of negative energy that I feel is currently locked away within many people, and within Hawaii as a whole. Harboring feelings of anger or resentment consumes enormous amounts of energy – energy that could be better spent in moving us all forward.
In proposing that people let go of resentment, I do not mean to dismiss the pain and suffering of any individual or group. Nor am I proposing that they give up their fight for justice, far from it.
I do believe, however, that we need to “clear the air” and try to work together rather than continually fighting each other. Truth and reconciliation could afford people a degree of closure and healing, and in the process release a wellspring of positive and creative energy. Given all the challenges we face, isn’t this exactly what we need right now?
About the Author
- Paul Arinaga Paul Arinaga is a writer, fundraiser, marketer and communication consultant in Honolulu. He is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys mountaineering, rock climbing, trekking, and hiking.
Why don’t we have Truth and Reconciliation Committees in Hawaii? Ask at your church. Ask your elected officials. Ask those running for office. Surely we can at least do that.
P.S. Update – 2/7/20
Please take an opportunity to be a positive voice. Help shed light on the issue of Truth & Reconciliation for Hawaiians (& non-Hawaiians). Support HCR37.
From Representative Tina Wildberger’s office: “HCR37- to convene a reconciliation commission – has been scheduled for a hearing on Monday 02/10 @ 9:00am. You can submit testimony online by following these steps: https://lrb.hawaii.gov/…/2019/12/How-to-submit-testimony.pdf
They will accept testimony until an hour before the hearing, but the earlier the better to give the representatives more time to read it. Even just clicking “support” without writing comments helps. You are welcome to share this information with your friends and family who might also want to testify.
Office of Representative Tina Wildberger, 11th District
Hawaii State Capitol”
Please add your voice. Aloha, Renée (from Kihei – on Hawaiian land).