The Rip Post                      

By Paul Weeks

Sunday, January 01, 2006

This is the day all of the media are full of prophecies for the New Year. Much of the comment is based, naturally, on what the events of the past bode for the next. No writer can fully ignore his or her own tendencies to be somewhere between hope and despair. It's a matter of degree.

I would like to start the new year on the side of hope, perhaps because that's of my mood today.

Democracy, surviving the ups and downs of more than two centuries in our country, will somehow slip through 2006 better than it did in 2005, but only if we realize how close we have come to giving away many of the rights of freedom in the past year.

To do so, we must have a broader definition of freedom, and how it is preserved. We are in a world of different cultures. If we could only define patriotism as loyalty to the whole world of peoples with the same needs as ours, maybe we could work to closer understanding of others, how we can help ourselves by being aware that respect and help for others serve our needs as well.

And don't define that in terms of considering ourselves the super country with the power to tell others how to govern by our exhibiting our sheer force. A poll of the nations today would find that more people than ever admire our successes -- but hate the way we have behaved in the world family. And that is dangerous.

Our own nation is divided more than it has in many years. We argue about "winning" a war we started ourselves -- without a clear sign that we had evidence to permit pre-emptive war in our own defense. "Winning" may be the most important thing to those who take us into war. But we are not polling the dead, the seriously injured, mentally and physically. Parades and patriotic holidays don't heal the scars for those whose families on both sides of the war have lost kinfolk.

Call me an idealist, but look at the realities of the past. Far outnumbered, we succeeded in asserting our independence against a superior power, the British. Could we have done it through diplomacy? Assertion of power motivated the British, but it failed them. We were becoming a homeland.

Only last night I heard a speaker talking about how the Civil War might have been avoided
had the first union of states called for the abolition of slavery. Georgia and another southern state, the name of which alludes me,(was it South Carolina?) were devastated by the Revolutionary War and might have been persuaded to go along for the abolition of slavery for the protection of federalized government.

Certainly diplomacy should have been given more importance in our early years -- understanding others, tuning in when we saw unrest growing to the proportions of outbreak of war. Europe was aflame in World War I. It was the first time we were taught that an ocean was not enough to save us from involvement in world affairs.

Woodrow Wilson recognized the need for a family of democratic nations and presented a League of Nations to the world after the German surrender. Still hiding greedily behind provincial thoughts of letting the rest of the world solve their problems, Wilson went to his death while Congress blocked our participation. The United States never became a member.

At the same time the so-called victors of World War I, elected to punish not just the Kaiser's circle but to punish the whole nation with sanctions so severe that they planted the seeds of Hitler in the years to come.

Warfare as a way of solving the world's ills has proved as temporary a method of preserving the peace as anything else. There is always another one on the horizon.

What has all of this to do with 2006? our internal quarreling has not been given rise yet to any leadership in any of the major parties. Patriotism always rises to fever pitch when we are shocked by others ready to inflict severe wounds on us. The emotion of fear always wins out over recognition of our own mistakes.

The call to arms doesn't mean "us or them." It means all of us.

I may hope for 2006, but I tremble.

Paul Weeks is a distinguished veteran journalist who worked for the Los Angeles Daily News, Mirror, Times, and later the RAND Corporation. He lives in Oceanside and works as a freelance writer and columnist for the Stockton Record.

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