Tuesday, August 6, 2013

After almost half a century, we still don’t get it.

When I went off to college in 1967, I fully intended to become an elementary school teacher. It was a most appropriate vocation for young ladies in those days -- that or secretarial work, nursing or marrying and raising a family. Our futures were pretty limited.

First semester went well enough, taking core classes that all freshmen had to take. Luckily for me, I aced Spanish because my college class used the same book we had in high school. Other than that, I was a mediocre student more interested in sororities and social life.

Second semester exposed me to a rough gang: political science majors. Not only did they know how to party, but they were liberals! Coming from a long line of conservatives, this was quite an eye-opener. My liberal gene really kicked-into gear following the assassinations of M.L.King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

That was also an election year and we held mock political conventions on campus. The civil rights movement was very hot and growing stronger and more militant by the day. Dr. King’s message of peaceful revolution was pretty much abandoned after he was gunned down. All hell broke loose.

At the same time the Vietnam War was causing many of us to agonize over drafted friends who went off to fight a war they detested and either died far too young or came home terribly damaged.

I considered myself a Peacenik but felt helpless because I had no power -- not even old enough to vote. Protesting was pretty pointless in my college’s tiny, rural town in the middle of the corn belt. However, passions were just as strong as they were on larger campuses across the country.

The summer of 1968 is memorable because of massive and often destructive demonstrations of frustration over the national status quo. Our military seemed to be doing more harm than good in Southeast Asia with huge sacrifices of human lives and tax dollars. It was a no-win situation that kept writhing along. Television and print media provided a constant stream of graphic details.

That summer also brought my political-science-major boyfriend to my family home 30 miles outside Chicago. He was determined to join the protests at the Democratic National Convention. I was reluctant but gullible enough to take the train into the city with him. We visited Eugene McCarthy’s headquarters and bought campaign stuff. Then wandered around.

As we headed toward the convention center, BF was trying to find out where the action was. He was ready to jump in with both feet while I knew my dad would string me up if I got arrested. It took some heavy persuasion to get him on the train back north to my safe, quiet home town. We all know what happened later that day and night and BF was so disappointed that he missed the ruckus.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Today, in 2013, I came across a paper I wrote for my political history class in 1969. That is what triggered all of the above. It also struck me so true for our current status as a world power.

The paper was a comparison and critique of J. William Fulbright’s The Arrogance of Power and William Appleman Williams’ The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. I certainly won’t bore you with the whole thing, but a few paragraphs struck me as so relevant for now, in 2013. Remember I wrote this in 1969.

According to J. William Fulbright, America has reached a point in its history as have other nations, where it is in “danger of losing its perspective on what exactly is within its realm of power and what is beyond it.” He adds that American “power tends to confuse itself with virtue” and as a great nation it is almost a duty to remake less great nations “. . . in its own shining image.” Williams has basically the same attitude towards this philosophy. “This insistence that other people ought to copy America contradicts the humanitarian urge to help them. . .”

Both men agree that the American form of democracy and everything that it encompasses cannot work and cannot be justified in most other nations. The necessity for self-determination by other governments and people is often over looked by our basically well-meaning makers of foreign policy.

As far as foreign aid is concerned, Fulbright and Williams agree that the United States has overextended itself to the point that it is almost ignoring the domestic and economic problems within its own population by trying to be a ‘rich uncle’ to every poor, underdeveloped country it can find.

Will we ever learn?

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