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
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
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
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.