Letter to Great-Nephew, July 4, 2003
By Les Young
Jul 4, 2007, 00:00
Dear Big Ben:
Of our recent joys, you are our most precious - weighing in at two pounds, four ounces. What a wonder to behold – to look at that photograph of you wearing your father’s wedding ring around your wrist!
During your first weeks here, some of us were considering nicknames for you. None of them suited my mother, your great-grandmother. She proposed her own: “Big Ben.” I liked that.
As I write my reflections upon world conditions into which you made your appearance, you are nine months old. There is no doubt in any of us that you will grow into manhood and take your place as a leader in our family and in your chosen community. However, some of these conditions may create a difficult path for you, thus the reason for my writing.
In recent years, new and ominous issues confound our nation and our world – issues concerning war and peace, national interests, and security. We grew accustomed to peace and tranquility, safety and plenty. Yet, today, we fear the uncertainty of that security.
We Americans are a good and honorable people, for our history tells us so. Of our strength and righteousness as a nation, there is little self-doubt. Yet, there are those who sense a new and perplexing era dawning. Few among us, I suspect, are totally confident that our collective wisdom will serve us well, even as President George W. Bush and his foreign policy advisors appear fearless in where they lead us. Nonetheless, most Americans do support the President and his advisors, thinking they possess superior “intelligence” not available to the average citizen. Others remember previous adventures, ones that did not work out as advertised, and doubt that we possess the wisdom, courage, and perseverance required to prevail over the obstacles we will face.
To compound the issue, our government has not said, and probably does not know, how it is to achieve its goals in post-war Iraq. How will Iraq be governed? Are we serious about establishing an independent democracy there? Is privatization of Iraq’s oil-fields our real intent, as some people suggest?
Suppose a future Iraqi government, even a democracy, is unfriendly toward American interests and those of our friend, Israel. Would we then require another regime change? Are there other governments whose regimes must be changed - Iran, Syria, the Palestinian Authority, North Korea?
Opinions among Americans are strong and polarized. Some foresee a grand new day for America; others fear decline in our power and grace, even our prosperity. Who can know the future? Not I, although I do hold strong opinions about how we should behave as a nation.
I ask myself: “Big Ben, what will you think of our judgment?”
To help me describe what I think I know, let’s turn to some well-known literature. Each of these stories is told in a way that does not threaten the reader. One can read the story without being tempted to filter it through his own prejudices. By and by, upon reflection, he can evaluate the story as it may apply to his own life.
Consider this idea: Some truth can be so bright that it blinds us. This thought reminds me of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Let me explain.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain tells of a twelve-year old white boy and a runaway slave who raft down the Mississippi River together, seeking their freedom. Huck is fleeing from an abusive father, Jim from his owner, whom he’s overheard say that she’s going to “sell him to Orleans.”1 We know from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an earlier novel written by Harriett Beecher Stowe, that being sold down the river to New Orleans was the worst of all possible prospects for an American slave.
From the time Huck encounters Jim, he faces a vexing dilemma: Is he going to turn Jim in as a runaway slave? That’s the Christian thing to do, and Huck knows it - for slaves are the lawful property of their masters. Yet, for the most part, Huck puts this question out of mind to be dealt with later. Huck and Jim plan to sell their raft at Cairo, where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi, and get on a steamboat going upriver to one of the free states. There they would be safe and free.
Once, unburdening his thoughts on Huck, Jim reveals his plan. He’s going to work hard and not spend a single penny, and when he saves enough money he’ll return and buy his wife from her master. Then both of them would work and save to buy their two children, “and if their master would not sell them, they’d get an Ab’listionist to go and steal them.”2 Huck was shocked at this.
It most froze me to hear such talk… Here (was a slave) which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flatfooted and saying he would steal his children – children that belonged to a man I didn’t even know; a man that hadn’t ever done me no harm. I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him. My conscience got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last I says to it, “Let up on me - it ain’t too late yet – I’ll paddle ashore at the first light and tell.”3
As it turns out, Huck does not tell on Jim. They continue down the river.
It is some days later, when they discover they have floated past Cairo in the fog, that the odyssey assumes a frightening new dimension. You see, the Mississippi runs south, ending in Louisiana, the one place no slave would wish to be. No matter their success in navigating the river and in evading bounty hunters, their future grows graver each passing day. New Orleans is that much nearer. There, Jim would be sold to a Louisiana plantation or returned to Missouri for bounty, where his owner intends to sell him back down the river to New Orleans. As for Huck, he would be returned to his drunken father.
Twain’s metaphor is this. Just as Huck’s and Jim’s ultimate fates were dire and certain, so, too, was the fate facing the Union. The Union might avoid one crisis and then the next (such as with the Compromises of 1820 and 1850), but until the slavery issue was resolved completely, the Union would drift toward calamity. Slavery was real and would not go away. The Union had acknowledged slavery to be wrong as early as 1787, when the Continental Congress prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territories (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin). Yet the Union never resolved the question of slavery where it already existed. The longer slavery remained, the worse the dilemma grew.
In Huck’s Missouri, both man and church honored the property rights of slavery. How could Huck have thought differently? He knew right from wrong. Helping a slave escape was a sin. Yet, over and again, while struggling with this issue, Huck comes down on the side of standing by Jim, ultimately saying to himself, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”4
As did Huck, the real-life citizens of that day knew the consequence of ignoring their laws and customs, so America drifted toward its rendezvous with fate: “Bloody Kansas,” the Civil War, Reconstruction, “Jim Crow,” “Separate but Equal,” and “Affirmative Action.”
By way of his novel, Twain provides us a way to understand Huck and Jim and their time in American history. Twain also gives us a way to understand ourselves, and our parents and grandparents. The picture is not pretty, but it is recognizable.
If we give our minds half a chance, we can sense what Jim felt when he discovered they’d drifted past Cairo. We can feel Huck’s anguish, too, as he struggled with turning Jim in or helping him escape.
One may ask, “Why discuss The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a story not connected to present circumstances?” It’s to illustrate the point: Some truth can be so bright that it blinds us. We think we see it clearly, but we don’t. Literature such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn helps us observe that which we otherwise may not be able to see clearly.
Today, there are questions nearly as blinding as those concerning slavery and the doctrine of separate but equal. For example, if the United States is right about Iraq, must France and Germany be wrong? Must we consider the member countries on the United Nations Security Council that refused to vote with the USA on Iraq to merely be voting their narrow, selfish national interests? Must I blindly follow my President wherever he leads? This issue is not about patriotism, as some would have us believe. It’s about attempting to see clearly that which is so bright that it’s nearly impossible to examine. That’s why I’m reviewing this literature again. It may help me to see more clearly. Perhaps, by the time you reach voting age, Big Ben, this may help you see more clearly as well.
Herman Melville’s Moby Dick5 is a nineteenth century novel about whaling. Chapter after chapter, Captain Ahab and his crew search for Moby Dick, the great white whale. But on a deeper level Melville reveals to his reader a universal truth: The search for revenge results in pain and ruin - not only for him who seeks revenge, but also for those around him, especially for those who depend on him the most.
Captain Ahab possessed a proud, powerful, and selfish persona. Following the loss of a leg in an encounter with Moby Dick, Ahab recuperates to go forth “a-whaling” again, leaving behind a young wife and child. Unknown to the proprietors of his vessel and his crew, Ahab was resolved to find and kill the great white whale. Charting every rumor of Moby Dick’s whereabouts, Ahab sails his vessel from sea to sea in search of the mighty whale. Finally, halfway around the world Moby Dick is sighted. In that final battle Moby Dick prevails, and Captain Ahab, his crew, his ship and its whaling boats, and his proprietors’ fortunes all go to the bottom of the sea. Only one sailor, Ishmael, survives to tell the tale. Wounded, but whole, Moby Dick endures.
Almost immediately following the events of September 11, 2001, revenge was on the minds of many Americans. Let’s kill someone! They cannot be allowed to do this to us. As one serviceman lamented when interviewed from Iraq, “They came into our house, and hit us with our own stuff.”
It’s as if our honor were at risk. We must retaliate against all who were associated with the September 11th attackers, even if in spirit only. Just as Captain Ahab was hell-bent on destroying Moby Dick, we appear to be hell-bent on finding and destroying those we fear may attack us again. We now take unto ourselves the right of preemptive warfare. It has become our national policy to reserve the right to strike wherever we think may be necessary to protect ourselves from attack. And, amazingly, this warfare is waged in the name of world peace.
Are we acting as Captain Ahab did? Is it revenge that we seek? Just kill somebody! Does it not matter that those we attack did not participate in the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the USS Cole, the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam Embassies, or elsewhere?
Big Ben, what will you think of our judgment?
One day, I hope you will read Don Quixote and gain an appreciation of what Miguel Cervantes had to say to his generation, lessons which apply equally as well to us today.
This is a comical adventure about a man who lost his mind and began to live out his dreams. Quixote determines to become a knight and go forth to right the many wrongs that exist throughout the land. Upon his swayback horse, Rozinante, he journeys forth to earn his knighthood. Stopping the first evening at a country inn, he reveals his mission to the innkeeper and guests. During an evening of merriment and jest, they confer knighthood upon the valiant Don Quixote.
At dawn, Don Quixote and Rozinante depart homeward bound, to secure for himself a squire and certain items that the innkeeper told him were required of a knight. Not long into his journey, Don Quixote hears cries coming from the woods and gives thanks to heaven for the opportunity to help some poor man or women in distress, just what a knight’s business is about. Upon entering the woods, Quixote encounters a countryman flogging a fifteen-year-old servant boy. Recognizing the master was unjustly abusing the youth, Don Quixote challenges him to a duel. Astonished by the strange apparition in armor before him, the countryman meekly explains that the boy keeps his flock of sheep and is so negligent that he looses a sheep each day, and furthermore, when he punishes him for his carelessness, the youth falsely claims it’s because of wages due to him.
Don Quixote, recognizing falsehood when he hears it, chastises the man for lying, demands the boy be untied at once, and inquires of the boy the amount that he’s owed. Discovering the sum owed to the youth and that the countryman does not have that amount on his person, Don Quixote commands that he take the youth home with him and pay him in full.
The youth objects vehemently, knowing full well that his master would beat him even more severely. Don Quixote, secure in his newfound authority as a knight, assures the youth not to worry, that his master will carry out his every command; for if he doesn’t, he himself shall return and administer the punishment as promised.
Having completed his duty here, Don Quixote and Rozinante take their leave and soon are far away. With the knight safely out of sight and sound, the countryman grabs the boy and ties him again to the oak, this time beating him to within an inch of his life. Later, upon releasing the youth, the master laughingly implores him to go find his protector now.
Such was the manner in which the valiant Don Quixote undid that wrong. Meanwhile the knight was quite pleased with himself, for he believed that he had begun his feats of arms in a most successful and dignified manner, and he went on riding toward his village.6
Upon arriving back home, Don Quixote seeks out a certain laboring man and persuades him to join him as his squire.
Among other things, Don Quixote told him that he should be most willing to go with him because some time or another he might meet with an adventure that would earn for him, in the twinkling of an eye, some island, and he would find himself governor of it. With those and other promises, Sancho Panza left his wife and children and engaged himself as squire to his neighbor.7
So it is with this beginning that the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza proceed, Quixote seeking opportunities to undo all wrongs, Sancho Panza searching for his island and governorship.
Through this novel, Cervantes reveals two sides of the nature of man and of nations, ones that we rarely see in ourselves, yet they are there. The nature of Don Quixote is one of altruism, spiced with an insatiable desire for honor. He seeks to help others whom he perceives to be in grave need, even when they neither desire nor ask for his assistance. To magnify the folly, Don Quixote’s aid is usually a hindrance, not a help, something else he cannot see or comprehend.
A second side of man’s nature is illustrated in Sancho Panza - his greed. Dimwitted and gullible, Sancho goes forth with Don Quixote, hopeful of securing his fortune. Just over the next hill may lie the very adventure that yields him his island and governorship. Cervantes wrote of these adventures early in the seventeenth century, a time when Spain, his native land, had reaped enormous wealth from exploitation of colonies in America. No wonder Sancho dreamed of the wealth that awaited the governor of an island.
How often we, too, are motivated by both altruism and greed, never seeing the folly nor understanding fully the nature of our motives and desires. This applies personally and collectively. Today, concerning Iraq, we say we are there to liberate the Iraqi people and to help them establish a democratic government.
· Yes, the Iraqi people shall determine their own political future.
· No, there shall be no theocratic government in Iraq.
· Yes, the Iraqi people alone own the oil beneath their soil.
· No, they may not sell their oil through French and Russian companies.
· Yes, America is a liberating force.
· No, America is not an occupying force.
· Yes, the USA and UK are the occupying powers.
Confusing? Could Don Quixote and Sancho Panza be at work in Iraq today?
Big Ben, what will you think of our judgment?
Big Ben, what will you think of our judgment?
Aesop’s Fables: The Lion In Love
One thing is for certain; no nation wishes to be disarmed by its enemies. Imagine how the USA would react if it were asked to disarm against its will. Private citizens want to keep their guns for self-protection; so, too, do nations.
Big Ben, what will you think of our judgment?
Some History, Comments, and Summary
The history of warfare is filled with miscalculations and misjudgments.
· Didn’t the South think the bombardment of Fort Sumter and a few follow-up battles would convince the Union to agree to their secession?
· Didn’t Germany’s early successes with preemptive warfare in Europe provide Adolph Hitler with confidence to turn upon its ally, the USSR?
· Didn’t the Japanese presume their preemptive attack at Pearl Harbor would be a “knock-out” blow to the USA?
None of these plans succeeded. In September 2002, a year following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the USA issued a new National Security Strategy, parts of it known as the Bush Doctrine. Under this doctrine the USA asserts that it is lawful for us to preemptively strike any nation or people that we fear may be planning an attack upon us.10 Further, recognizing that the USA is today the most powerful nation on earth, the Bush Doctrine asserts that the USA will not tolerate any nation (or combination of nations) to increase its military strength to a level that can challenge ours.11
There is no doubt that our government considers the USA so powerful that no country will ever dare to challenge us, but didn’t Germany and Japan consider themselves invincible when they preemptively attacked their neighbors?
Today, the USA may bully, even conquer, one nation at a time, even as Japan and Germany once did. And, for a while, we may remain relatively unopposed, as were they. But conditions do not remain unchanged forever.
I fear, too, what the Bush Doctrine implies to other nations. If the USA can claim the right to preemptively strike a feared adversary, then would not other nations such as Israel, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, or North Korea possess the same right to, and justification for, such strikes against those whom they fear are planning to attack them? If so, are we not establishing a new world norm: “Shoot first; ask questions later”?
What’s difficult for us to see may be clear to others. Iraq was defeated in the Gulf War of 1991, and subsequently its defenses were systematically dismantled throughout the ensuing twelve years. Meanwhile, economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations prevented the re-establishment of normal health care services and commercial activities by the Iraqi public as well as educational opportunities for a generation of their youth. Afterward, impoverished and able to muster precious little opposition, Iraq was invaded by the USA and UK, employing the most formidable weapons technology the world has even known, to dismantle and remove its government and civil authority. Today, the USA and UK face the self-imposed and unenviable challenge of putting Iraq back together again. Doesn’t everyone know the nursery rhyme?
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Could not put Humpty Dumpty together again.
I suspect that many Americans, at first glance, might dismiss such a statement as foolish or unfounded. How could anyone consider the USA as a threat to peace? Let’s review some facts. Which nation is the world’s largest arms producer and arms merchant? Which nation first developed nuclear weapons? Which nation is the only one to have used nuclear weapons in war? Which nation has continuously led the world in nuclear weapons technology and deployment?
The USA is the answer to each of these questions. We Americans maintain, and rightly so, that such weapons are essential to our security and to the security of the world. Yet, others notice our enormous military capacity and no longer doubt America’s willingness to deploy it when our interests are threatened.
Consider, also, nuclear weapons are the most potent of all Weapons of Mass Destruction, a class of weapons we strive to deny our adversaries. The war we choose to fight is one that might be compared to a boxing match in which one opponent has an arm tied behind his back, an eye masked, lead placed in his shoes, and was starved for the previous month. The second opponent wears brass knuckles; and the referee, timer, and judges, as well as the announcer and sports-writers, are his brothers-in-law.
This is not to say that one should not want and seek every advantage when going to war. What I am saying is this: others witness how the USA dominates the “boxing ring” in every possible way. Therefore, we should not be shocked if some people fear us and question our intentions. Can there be any wonder why some of our adversaries choose guerilla and terror tactics to attack us?
Yet, we Americans are a good people with a long history of helping friends who are mistreated by our enemies. What’s more, we are the wealthiest nation on earth and its largest marketplace. An axiom of business is that the customer is always right. So, we might suppose, for as long as the USA remains a great and open marketplace, we’ll have our friends – our vendors. Long live the USA economy!
But, Big Ben, what about your future? What will you think of our judgment twenty years from now? - forty years from now? - sixty years from now?
You see, I’m sixty-two years old myself. Sixty years doesn’t seem that long ago to me. Back then, America was at war - a war begun by preemptive attacks in Europe and in the Pacific. For certain, those who initiated World War II - Germany, Italy, and Japan - did not anticipate the resolve, the mobilization, and the strength of the Allies. They most clearly over-estimated their own strength.
Do we suppose the Japanese and German people considered themselves evil? I doubt that. Rather, I suspect they viewed their leadership as intelligent and courageous, doing what was in their nation’s vital interests.
One must recognize that sometimes an act that is celebrated as pure and noble when conceived may contain within it seeds of transformation into something that appears destructive, even detestable, to future observers. Clearly, this happened to Germany and Japan, at least from the point of view of their citizens.
Another war you will learn about is the American Civil War. Some states grew increasingly disenchanted with the Union they had joined freely, less than a hundred years before. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, some of these states decided to secede from the Union. They had joined the Union freely, so they figured they had the right to leave it freely. The new president disagreed. He insisted that they had not seceded, but rather were in a state of rebellion.
In his first inaugural address, President Lincoln told the rebelling states, “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.”12
Within six weeks, the seceding states bombarded Fort Sumter, a Union-held fort in the Charleston harbor. The Civil War had begun, initiated by the South. President Lincoln called up Union troops to do battle with the rebels. Not long thereafter, our state, North Carolina, joined the seceding states (the Confederate States of America).
Do we not suppose that many, if not most, of the people in the Confederacy thought the Union soon would lose its will to fight and agree to a negotiated peace? (According to Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg, two prominent northerners, Wendell Phillips and Horace Greeley, advocated, respectively, at the time southern states began to secede, “All hail disunion!… Let the border states go,” and “Let the erring sisters depart in peace.”13) What interest did the Union have in the southern states? The rebels would learn. In less than four years, the South was destroyed, not to regain its strength for generations.
These examples of misjudgment might be classified under the Law of Unexpected Consequences, a law that’s been cited with increasing frequency in recent years. Today, in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in Israel and Palestine, the USA has assumed grave obligations, the extent of which is undervalued by most Americans. Unexpected consequences - some good, some bad – will flow, over time, from our decisions taken there.
A powerful nation may bully a weaker enemy with some desired effect. But, what favorable result can be gained by attempting to bully a friend and ally, such as France or Germany, who did not stand with us on our Iraq policy?
In this global economy, the USA depends upon exports to and investments from people all around the world. A trading nation cannot force its trading partners to purchase its products or invest in its stocks and bonds any more than can a salesman put a gun to a client’s head and demand, “Give me the order!”
For many years, the USA financial markets have provided a most attractive destination for capital. Recent low interest rates attest to this. But, what if one day foreign investors perceive our economy and financial markets to be less secure than those found elsewhere? Add to such a condition a perceived American insolence that asserts that America is more powerful, so our judgment must be superior. The unexpected consequences could be swift and unpleasant. For you see, capital flows instantly from one country to the next, by bank-to-bank wire transfer.
Big Ben, one thing that can be expected, for certain, is that nearly everyone honors his homeland and his own culture. Few people trust foreigners to govern their country as well as their own people, even when they know their own people do a poor job of it.
On September 11, 2001, foreign religious zealots, armed only with box-cutters and a keen knowledge of human nature, highjacked civilian airliners filled with aviation fuel, over-powered the captains and crews, and flew these airplanes into three of our most prominent buildings. This should have been no great surprise to us, yet we say it was. Less than ten years before, some of these same people tried to destroy one of the Twin Towers with a truckload of explosives. They damaged the building, but it did not fall.
In short, these September 11th highjackers, despicable as they were, chose targets with symbolic significance, targets attractive to many around the world. Were these attacks directed against the American people and our freedoms, or were they directed against symbols of American imperialism – economic, military, and cultural? For me, the answer is clear. These attacks were against symbols of power, and the highjackers expected their countrymen to approve of what they did. To that end, they may have been more successful than we might ever imagine.
How others ultimately view those attacks will be determined by how we Americans react. If we continue to exert military power to satisfy our own ego, to impress those whom we wish to bully, and to prove to our own citizens that we are not cowards, then the world will have its answer – America, the bully, the bully that the highjackers attacked in the name of Allah. Not one of those highjackers was a native of Iraq or Afghanistan, the two countries we decided to fight. Most of the highjackers were from Saudi Arabia, some from Egypt, both powerful allies of the USA. Therefore, the War On Terror that we wage is a most difficult one. Who are our enemies? Where are they? How can we defend ourselves?
Something we choose not to acknowledge, too “loudly,” is that we Americans - our CIA – trained many of these al-Qaeda leaders and operatives, including Osama bin Laden, during the decade-long Afghan-USSR war in the 1980s. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan tribesmen, as well as tens of thousands of religious fighters from throughout the Arab world, were armed with American weapons and trained by our CIA in guerilla and urban warfare. That’s terrorism! With covert USA training and weaponry, these freedom fighters, as the USA called them, prevailed against the formidable USSR forces.
When the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan, so, too, did the USA, leaving behind a horde of trained, armed, religious zealots and masses of weaponry. This was a secret USA war, waged covertly by our CIA, which our citizens knew precious little about. Those details being kept secret, how could the American public recognize the risks inherent in so many religious fighters remaining on the Afghan “street,” unemployed? Moreover, how could the American people and our democratic procedures acknowledge and summon responsibility for helping reconstruct Afghanistan, and for deterring the civil wars that soon erupted between the many Afghan tribal, ethic, and religious groups?
It was a decade later, late in the 1990s, when Afghanistan regained America’s attention with the emergence of al-Qaeda, the worldwide terrorist organization that found a haven in the Afghan mountains, protected by these selfsame religious fighters. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, we and our allies have made a good beginning identifying members of the al-Qaeda network and interdicting their operations. Yet, we may be doing so at a terrible cost to our integrity. For every member of al-Qaeda caught, how many innocent men have been detained? How many have been tortured by us or our surrogates? Are we abusing the freedom and liberty that are hallmarks of the USA?
President Bush tells us that by overthrowing the Iraqi government the world is a safer place. Many believe he is correct in this. Others predict that for every terrorist eliminated in a manner such as this, a hundred more will emerge from the street. They are referring to Arab youth whose minds and hearts are being molded today by what they perceive as American hegemony.
For most of the twentieth century, the USA’s love of liberty and compassionate acts reflected favorably upon us as a people. How could we have looked otherwise? Our opponents were brutal fascist and communist dictatorships. Now that they have fallen, for the most part, the USA stands alone as the world’s dominate super power. The Cold War-era reality of “mutually assured destruction” no longer restrains our use of military force. Undeterred by such threats, we now act as we choose. Just kill somebody! Consequently, the USA is fast losing the high ground of moral leadership. Surely, older generations will remember the generous spirit of twentieth-century America, but for younger generations, that period is fast becoming ancient history.
There’s a German folk tale about a certain Dr. Faust who desired supreme knowledge so intently that he bargained away his soul to Satan to obtain it. What frightens me today is that we Americans pursue security so intensely that we’re willing to bargain away our soul to obtain it.
I fear, also, that we may not only lose our soul in the bargain, but that we may be denied the security that we expect to gain as well. At a religious service in the summer of 2002, a North Carolina Baptist minister, Harold Miller, prayed at the conclusion of the service beseeching God to bless America’s soul. That was a defining moment for me. Reverend Miller was correct. What we need foremost is God’s blessings upon our American soul, not “God blessing America” as is called for on billboards and in song. God has already blessed America bountifully.
I pray that God will provide us the courage to search deeply within our soul, to its farthest limits, going beyond the brightness that blinds us, and grant us wisdom to value what we discover there and the moral strength to act upon it.
Big Ben, what will you think of our judgment?
In closing, I pray that you will neither be overwhelmed by the conditions you will face nor be dismayed by our decisions. I trust that you will be endowed with abundant wisdom of the ages sufficient to secure a just perspective for understanding, cooperation, and peace. For it is to you and your generation that this planet (and space beyond) will be entrusted.
May your life be filled with opportunity and gladness. May the sun shine upon your face and the wind be to your back. May worthy literature be your polestar, and may God be your guide and companion.
1 Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Airmont Books, 1962. p. 55
5 Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: The Modern Library, 1950.
6 Cervantes, Miguel. Don Quixote. Walter Starkie, trans. New York: New American Library, 1964. p. 77
8 The Book of Jonah, The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. p. 1188 OT, ch. 3, v. 4
9 Aesop. The Lion In Love (Aesop’s Fables), Folk-Lore and Fable. New York: P.F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1969.
10 United States. The White House. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America: September 2002. p. 15, sec. V. “To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.”
11 Ibid., p. 30, sec. IX. “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.”
12 Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and The War Years One-Volume Edition. New York: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1954. p. 214
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