Slippery Slopes

Peering through a slit in the drapes hanging over her beachfront window, she whispered, “It’s a police state.”

What do you mean?”

The beach is infested with policemen!”

Why is that?”

There was an incident or two on the beach this summer, so my neighbors and I petitioned for police protection. Now, there are policemen all over the beach.”

Amanda’s disdain for the police is coupled with that of her negative feelings about the military. The fog of two World Wars was not as thick as the wars following them. Amanda and her generation came of age during the Vietnam War. That war was shrouded in the heaviest fog through which America has ever journeyed. Sadly, soldiers on leave did not wear their uniforms in public and veterans of Vietnam were given a hostile reception on their return to civilian life. Long ago, Amanda and her friends engaged in clashes between students and policemen. Age has not mellowed them. On the contrary, clashes in the Middle East have renewed their anti-military sentiments.

Public attitudes about policemen and soldiers are heavily and unfairly defined by political ideology. Significant factors in the shaping of political ideology include 24/7 all-news TV, radio broadcasts, and documentary specials. For most people, these media sources for political discussion are flawed by the distractions of home activities where TV or radio is vying for attention in the midst of noise, commercials, and the multiplicity of images as we switch from channel to channel and answer the doorbell.

It is films that make the greatest political impacts on audiences. A film is viewed in the dark. There are no distractions. Its message has been carefully crafted by the writer, director, and actors. If done by fine artists, it is enhanced by every basic aspect of communication, including the powerful language of music.

Films also have the tremendous advantage of poetic license. They do not have to strictly adhere to reality to effectively make political statements. For example, Avitar dazzles its audience with outstanding science fiction, spectacular color, and sensational visual effects to promote a green, communal Buddhist lifestyle and contrasting that world with the depiction of American soldiers as marauding barbarians. (An inter-planetarian Vietnam?) The realistic film, A Few Good Men, presents us with another of many films that portray the depravity of ‘loose cannon’ right wing military leaders. High powered producers, directors, writers, and actors are virtually assured of success with well-made films that bash our military.

The fundamental premise of those films is prejudicial. They reflect and reinforce the attitudes of zealots who believe that they must ‘save’ America from becoming a police state. They regard every legislative proposal that is not to their political liking as a ‘slippery slope’ leading to the death of our democracy.

On the other hand, the realistic masterpiece, Advise and Consent, exquisitely demonstrates the distinction between slippery slopes and the fundamental values that keep America on terra firma.

Many of today’s alleged slippery slopes are merely mud piles. For example, other than the print or engraving on our currency, nothing significant will change in America simply because our currency does or does not include the words, “In God We Trust.” Yet, this issue is rather high on the list of alleged slippery slopes.

Of course not all issues are as trivial as that. (At this point, I hear the shrill objections to my use of the word ‘trivial’ from liberals and conservatives alike.) Nothing is trivial to extreme partisans who are bent on ‘saving’ the United States from becoming a police state or theocracy.

Two major ‘slippery slopes’ in the view of some are the issues of America’s policies on home defense and on military vs. civilian trials for prisoners of war. These are not trivial issues, of course, but the fog of war has never been thicker than it is now.

[We are at war with backward regions engaged in religious, civil, and tribal conflicts. (And yes, I’ve consciously used the word ‘backward’ to describe most of those regions.) It’s time to shrug off false political correctness. When a woman is forced to live enclosed in a tomb of black cloth or is stoned to death for infidelity or must produce four witnesses to prove she was raped, she lives in a backward area.]

Home defense requires FBI and CIA activity, here and abroad. Muslim citizens usually feel badly about surveillance. So do I. As an American, I warmly welcome all people to this country. But, unlike our beachfront Amanda, I don’t expect policemen, FBI, and CIA personnel to do their job without surveillance. Muslim Americans need that as much as American-born citizens do. Without it, America would be on a slippery slope that leads to a cliff.

The concept of trials for prisoners of war is extremely complex. Civil or military trials will not in any way diminish our American Way. But legal mechanisms should be in place to stop repatriation of freed enemy combatants who are likely to injure or kill American soldiers or peaceful citizens. Now, there’s a life or death slippery slope.

In itself, the notion of trials is questionable. If we had pursued that course during World War Two, we’d still be fighting that war. Recidivism is a clear and present danger in a seemingly endless war. The notion that surveillance- – -here and abroad- – – is a slippery slope is unreasonable. Americans as a whole know that there is a clear distinction between slippery slopes and terra firma. 

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