Tag Archives: politics

Trigger Happy

We have all witnessed the instantaneous shifting of directions during the flight of a flock of birds. Triggered by the leader of the moment, the birds instinctively follow the leader’s instinct. The same is true of other animals. On the other hand, humans come up short on instinct. Our major engine for survival is mind.

Yet, we are not free from the herd instinct. How else can we explain one-and-a-half-billion hits on a single day for a glimpse of a Bantam Style video. Subsequent to that event, another demonstration of instinct was massively celebrated by a homemade video of an infant who—yet unable to walk—simulated the sustained jumping up-and-down of the adult Bantam Style performers. That’s as basic as herd instinct gets.

For animals, the herd instinct sometimes misfires, as in a stampede that drives them off a cliff. At other times, it saves the herd from certain extinction. So, for them, stampede results are something of a wash. But I never trust the herd instinct in humans. The larger the herd, the greater my mistrust, especially of political herds. 

An unthinkable event in a school occurs. One of the immediate results is a stampede for the abolition of the Second Amendment. Celebrated politicians and entertainers rapidly surface online, on radio, and on television. More often than not, they embarrass themselves with feelings about issues rather than reason. Political celebrities dust off cliché talking points; debaters argue in circles; and entertainment stars reveal their profound ignorance about history and politics. Chris Rock tells us that President and Michelle Obama are our ‘mama and papa,’ and that we should do what President Obama judges we should do about gun ownership. Tony Bennett cites the Nazi hordes as proof that guns should be banned. When we break down their remarks to fundamentals, we find that Chris Rock advises us to revert to the seventeenth century notion of “Mon Dieu et Mon Droit”; Tony Bennett is unaware that the Nazi regime banned guns whenever and wherever necessary to suppress insurrections, especially from Jews.

Both those celebrities spoke to their flocks. Many others have made pro and con statements about gun control and ownership. Virtually all of them lack a sufficient knowledge of history and the discipline of logic to support their views. The imperative public demand for celebrity appearances and their opinions, coupled with severely brief time allocations between commercials, is infertile ground for significant thoughts on major issues. Senators aren’t doing any better. Worst of all, for a species whose primary tool for survival is the mind, we are dangerously relying on political demagogues to lead the flock.

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Irreconcilable Differences

Last Thursday I watched a debate among seven republican candidates seeking the nomination for the presidency in 2012. In his response to a question about foreign policy, Ron Paul said that wars should be declared with the consent of congress; that there is no evidence that Iran has or is about to have a nuclear bomb; and that it makes no difference whether or not one more nation adds nuclear bombs to its arsenal of weapons. His overall position is that our perception of Iran as a danger to America is overblown.

I am generally more concerned about a president’s foreign policy than his domestic agenda. If we don’t have a sound foreign policy, domestic agendas will become academic. Since Mr. Paul’s views on foreign policy sharply differ from all the other Republican candidates and those of President Obama, I think we should think hard about his response to questions about foreign policy.

Declaration of War

When Ron Paul said that wars must be ‘declared,’ I instantly remembered that there hasn’t been a declaration of war from the United States since Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan the day after the attack on Pear Harbor. Several declarations of war between major powers followed within days after the attack, notably Hitler’s declaration of war against the United States four days after that attack. Declarations of war were still in style then. They have since been replaced by hostilities that simply erupt without formalities.

Atom Bomb Proliferation

Ron Paul asserted that Iran doesn’t have the bomb and that even if its intention is to have it, that’s only because Iran is “surrounded” (his word, not mine). Those assertions do not address the issue of Iran’s stated policy of wiping Israel off the map. Many ask the rhetorical question, “If we and other nations have the bomb, why are we concerned about Iran’s alleged development of it?” My response to that question is that there is an enormous difference between a bomb in the hands of a theocracy and those of a democracy. There is a much greater possibility that a totalitarian state will use the ‘final option’ than there is for a democracy to do so.

Overblown Perception of Danger

Ron Paul firmly believes that we are overreacting to Iran’s anti-American position. In that regard he is in accord with most American and Israeli liberals. Overlooked are the goose-stepping Iranian soldiers and ominous echoes of Hitler’s Meinkampf. World War Two was a secular war. This time we are dealing with a religious war as far as Iran is concerned. Western civilization played out its holy wars long ago. Theocracies are ugly relics of the past. Paradoxically, Iran’s secular leader denies the Holocaust but threatens the destruction of Israel!

Ron Paul should know better than to think that Iran is not a clear and present danger to the United States and ultimately to Western Civilization.

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Forensic Politics

It is often said, “If you are young and a conservative, you have no heart; if you are old and a liberal, you have no brain.” Implicit in the statement is its underlying reference to wealth. ‘No heart’ translates to an unwillingness to share wealth with other people. “No brains” translates to an inability or unwillingness to recognize that a good portion of taxation is theft, thereby supporting Robinhood Barons as opposed to Robber Barons.

On the surface, the adage appeals to individuals who attempt to infuse moderation to political controversy. That’s understandable. But beneath the surface, there are factors that weaken the statement’s validity.

To begin with, politics is inextricably bound to group thought and action. Individual thought and action don’t mix well with political movements, party platforms, and generalized ideologies.

The adage also neglects to acknowledge that there are many young and old individuals whose hearts and brains function at the same time. They are a distinct minority of course, so they get lost in the mix of large aggregates. Their objection to income tax is often based on the principle that one should be able to keep the wealth he earns or inherits, a conservative tenet. Others, support income tax because they believe that individuals are obliged to contribute to the general welfare of society, a liberal tenet. Whatever the thoughts and feelings may be at the individual level, government determines economic systems. However varied the definitions and specific details of economic systems may be, they are generally classified as Laissez Faire, Mixed, or Collective depending on the degree of governmental control over economy. (Of course totalitarian states obviate economic classification.)

Beneath the ponderous economic theories and complex layers of groups within whatever economic system prevails, there is the fundamental unit of politics: the individual. An individual’s impact on government is negligible apart from his vote. But voting is a classic example of ‘the whole being greater than its parts.’ The closer the results of an election, the greater the impact of the ‘whole.’ What goes unnoticed is that the winners and losers only appear to be motivated by the same political goals. After the election, voting results include precise details of voting constituencies in terms of age, gender, location, and so on. Wednesday Morning Quarterbacking includes detailed analyses of how and why groups voted as they did at the group level.

However, there is a microscopic level that goes deeper than that: the individual voter. Beneath the labeling of voting blocs and coalitions, there lies the character of the individual voter. Two voters within the same demographic bloc may vote the same ticket for totally opposite reasons. For example, one of them may be motivated to vote for higher taxes to help fund programs designed for the poor even though that help will be at his expense; the other may choose the same ticket because it is to his advantage, especially since the wealthy will pay the much greater percentage of taxes.

Johnny, the Plumber

When Johnny was young he was all heart. He voted for candidates who promised him that the wealthy would be required to pay a much higher income tax than he would have to pay. People who were at or below Johnny’s income bracket would not bear the burden of funding government programs designed to help people with incomes at or below Johnny’s income.

Now that Johnny is older, his income is in a higher bracket. Johnny is now all brain, but not as the adage meant him to be. “Why should I pay higher taxes for wasteful welfare programs.” As in his youth, Johnny also rants about being exploited by his employer- – -that habit never dies. Johnny also cheats at everything he does from playing at cards for money to overcharging clients for whom he works as a self-employed plumber. “Hell, she’s got the money, why not squeeze a few extra bucks out of her.” Of course Johnny also cheats on his income returns. The IRS will never know about the woman he cheated. When discussing politics, Johnny is still an outstanding champion for the poor, as he was in his youth.

Mary, the Senator

Unlike Johnny, Mary doesn’t cheat at anything. But, like Johnny, she was all heart in her youth. She volunteered or accepted pittance for social work while majoring in college courses that specialized in socio-economic classes. Despite her brilliance as a senator in her mature years, she doesn’t acknowledge- – -even to herself- – -that voting for every welfare program that comes her way amounts to a sort of extortion. As a senior senator, she is not concerned about the fact that many welfare recipients cheat, often in remarkably lucrative and ingenious ways. (I once knew a woman who traded food stamps for cigarettes and then sold them for a price lower than cigarettes on the market.) The senator rationalizes theft as marginal. She feels that the greater the welfare funds, the less important are incidences of cheating.


As we all know, corporations hire tax experts whose principal service is to get through every possible loophole in the tax codes. This skill enormously enriches the experts and the corporations they serve. One might irreverently quip that this is what Jesus meant when he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”

The Super Minority

Unlike characters from The Wizard of Oz, there actually are people who have hearts and brains at the same time, all the time. They are not perfect, but their psyche is such that they maintain a balance that belies the adage that separates heart and brain.

The cacophonous politics of our society is not the result of heart vs. brain. Rather, it is the result of a deep-rooted acceptance of the prevailing philosophy that individuals are politically interchangeable. That concept attains perfect realization in a totalitarian society. In effect, politics is dormant in those societies, sometimes through centuries.

In our mixed economy, politics is very much alive. It is also subject to storm and strife amongst competing groups. More often than not, groups have a way of wanting the same thing and consciously or unconsciously are at odds only in the matter of how to get what they want. This is blatantly obvious as the root of congressional deadlocks.

As I see it, the only way to ease class warfare without diminishing our inviolate form of democracy is to re-examine what issues should or should not be relegated to the custody of government. It makes me very uncomfortable to know that a significant part of my life is in Johnny’s control, whatever political flag he flies.

I’m sure that a re-examination of the function of government would be a daunting undertaking and that objections to specific changes would leap out of every corner of our society. After all, we already have a constitution. But the proliferation of issues- – -domestic and foreign- – -coming under the purview of government is alarming, especially so because even our foreign policies, for better or worse, are being influenced by globalization.

I am a minority of one. (Many would say, “Thank God.” And that’s okay.) But my heart and brain are not strangers to each other. They never have been. They agree that our current political discourse has descended to an irrational level. The principal cause for that is that emotions take their cue from thought, consciously or unconsciously. If our thoughts are nonlinear, our politics will reflect that. Hence the political gibberish in just about every form of communication, including comedy shows whose major agenda is political, e.g., Real Time with Bill Maher.

Politics is at best unreliable as a mechanism by which we can help decide the best course for our nation. Presumably, the laws of the United States are based on justice for all, even for Johnny, the senator, and corrupt corporations. But the fountain of justice is only as deep and springs only as high as the individual members of a nation allow. In that crucial respect, ethics overwhelmingly trumps politics.


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An Appeal to Youth

Republican comes in the dictionary just after reptile and just before repugnant.” This, from Julia Roberts, ‘America’s Sweetheart.’

Pat Robertson tells us that “Haiti made a pact with the devil when it broke away from France.” Hence, the earthquake. This, from a clergyman.

A face in a crowd, close to the burial services of a soldier, brandishes a placard: Thank God for dead soldiers.”

Liberals claim, “Bush is another Hitler.” Conservatives disagree with them and claim, Obama is another Hitler.” Both agree that America is not the America they once knew-but for different ‘reasons.’

A pundit sees racism everywhere. Another pundit sees racism nowhere.

And so on.

Opinions are like heirlooms. They are handed down from generation to generation. They die hard. Many, live-on for centuries. None are as recalcitrant to change as those about politics. The ‘common man’ and academicians often share the same opinion. For example, many educators are still focused on the evils of colonialism as the root of all geopolitical evil despite a half-century of the creation of sovereign states in Africa and Asia, along with sprouting island nations throughout the world. Occasionally appearing on television, there is a young college professor who teaches the politics of his grandfather, my contemporary!

Time-honored hatred for the wealthy also continues. It even takes the form of guilt among the wealthy. Rarely are distinctions made between earning money and stealing it. Many detractors of ‘the filthy rich’ enjoy a life that was considered luxurious when I was their age. That does not deter them from perpetuating the class warfare their fathers and grandfathers waged. Ironically, many of them share the same characteristic of dishonest businessmen that give trade a bad name: greed.

Politically, the “Little Guy” is still poster boy for just about every political party, especially at election time. Although ‘little guys’ (a.k.a. ‘real’ people) constantly exploit each other as they trade goods and services on a daily basis, they are one in their enmity against employers and corporations qua employers and corporations. They make no effort to distinguish between honest business and exploitation.

Youth is especially vulnerable to pre-packaged political opinions, including unrelieved skepticism. There is a fine line between skepticism and the responsibility of making a judgment. Skepticism is an integral part of the American way. That is as it should be. But skepticism is not an end in itself. It should serve as a filter for truth, not as a tool to avoid the responsibility of judgment. Skepticism often takes the form of propaganda. Comparing American presidents to Hitler betrays an inherited political prejudice, fueled by hatred. The same is true of people who display ugly placards to express their opinions. As with all types of prejudice, political bias severely distorts reality. Even sweethearts and clergymen are subject to delusions.

The quotations cited above, are all the more startling because they have been made by American celebrities! Given their access to education and broad exchange with other people, they should know better. It is mind-boggling to grasp the enormity of the gap between their opinions and reality.

The multiplicity of societal attitudes available to us on talk shows, documentaries, and other communication tools, can be better understood when we free ourselves from the illusion that current events are first-time events. When viewed from an experienced and informed perspective based on reason, seemingly new issues and heated controversies are revealed as recycled opinions. When debates disintegrate into hate-filled circular arguments, it’s time for Julia and Pat to examine the source of their opinions.

If you are young enough, you’ve probably noticed that debates tend to revolve rather than evolve into even the slightest resolutions. If you are young enough, you probably have noticed that during a debate no one says, “Oh, I hadn’t thought about that,” let alone, “You’ve changed my mind about that. Thank you.” If you are young enough, you may be able to distinguish fact from opinion. If you are young enough, you may engage in evolutionary debate in which debaters are seeking the truth together, not merely scoring points.

Remember, please, that minds close easily, but it is almost impossible to re-open them.

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Here We Go Again

Israel became a state within a week of my twenty-first birthday. I was a full-time student at NYU and worked part-time to pay for tuition. Too busy to closely follow world events in detail at that time, I was aware only of historic highlights. These included the jubilation of Palestinian Jews, and the attack on Israel by Palestinian Arabs on the same day that Israel was recognized as a state by the United Nations.

Listening to the radio just after the war began, I remember an ominous statement from a Palestinian top official who stated (I believe at the UN) that the Palestinians would never accept the UN resolution recognizing Israel as a state. So far, his warning has proved to be true.

Israel functions as a secular parliamentary democracynotwithstanding scholarly arguments that it is a theocracy. Its neighbors are an assortment of oligarchies, theocracies, and dictatorships, the antitheses of democracies. In tacit complicity with terrorist organizations, the official rulers of those countries help terrorists wage war against Western Civilization.

It is striking to note on the net that there is ‘no Internet consensus for the definition of terrorism.’ That’s one way to legitimize, even condone, terrorism. Only a political partisan would find it ‘impossible’ to define terrorism! Apparently, political partisans in the United States make no distinction between ‘terrorists’ and ‘freedom fighters’ or the difference between a battlefield and ground zero of the former World Trade Center or a marketplace frequented by civilians. Somehow, vociferous partisans, often exquisitely fluent in English, can find no words to define terrorism. At best, some of them are naive. Most are misguided by their partisanship.

Although oil factors heavily as the geopolitical source of conflict, Middle East turmoil is profoundly ideological. Theocratic Iran has a leader who claims the holocost is a hoax. Terrorist groups are being elevated to legitimacy as political parties within governing bodies of sovereign states. The United States is ‘the Great Satan, and Israel its whore.’ The militant cry is ‘kill all Jews and Americans.’ The leader of Iran openly states that Jihad’s principal intention is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth and establish Sharia Law globally. Echoes of Mein Kampf reverberate loud and clear on radio, television, and the Internet. There are disagreements and rivalries among Middle Eastern states, their tribal constituents, and terrorist organizations, but they are all one in their hatred against Western Civilization.

Although Americans have been attacked at home and abroad by terrorists, they are not faced with the constant threat of annihilation. Israel is lethally vulnerable to defense breaches because of its geography. Ideological sophisms and niceties have no place in the realities of the landscape of Israel. Relinquishing the West Bank and the Gaza strip is ‘national suicide,’ as Netanyahu puts it.

Given the circumstances, Pakistan’s indignant protests against taking out Bin Laden without deference to Pakistan’s sovereignty may have been necessary to avoid internal reprisals. Be that as it may, it is certain that if the Pakistani government had been informed of our intent, Bin Laden would have been moved out of the compound long before the arrival of a SEAL force.

There are those who argue that the Prince of Terrorism should have been captured rather than killed. Armchair strategy is okay for sports events, but it is unseemly when it is related to on the spot, real life or death situations. Besides, it takes an inordinately dull imagination not to have some sense of what a clandestine military operation is like.

At the official level, the United States violated international law. Israel also violated international law when it took out a nuclear facility in Iraq in little over one minute. Israel will soon take out another nuclear facility, this time in Iran. In the face of genocide, international law must be suspended, especially in the heat of a simmering third world war that threatens Western Civilization. 

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Conscience and Consequences

When the Lady in the Harbor invitedamong othersthe “wretched refuse,” terrorists were not on her list of those she welcomed. In her innocence, she thought that everyone yearned to ‘breathe free.’ That is not the case. She could not have known that freedom is not a global aspiration. She could not have known that her lamp would not illuminate the rest of the world. She could not have known that for many she would be just another photo on a tourist’s postcard.

For others, her image is anathema. For them, freedom is the root of all evil. The Lady witnessed their hatred on September 11, 2001. Once again, America suffered a sneak attack. Unlike the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, this attack was fueled by a vague entity without a flag. Like the Vietnam War, this war soon sparked a glut of controversial political views among Americans.

Did you know that the proliferation of new books is so rapid that if each of them were placed side by side on an imaginary track the moment they are published, their proliferation would match the speed of a train running at eighty miles per hour? I learned that fact about two years ago. Judging by talk shows peddling books on TV, I expect that the current speed now approaches the speed of light. Just about every guest on talk shows has written a book!

Most of us keep up with political views as best we can listening to the radio as we drive, or watching newscasters and commentators or talk shows on TV, or clicking those pop-ups when we are online. Keeping up with world events is something like being a hamster constantly running on a wheel. It’s time for us to sharpen Occam’s Razor.

I suggest the following:

1) Do not waste time on cliché partisan arguments. They are riddled with what I call ‘mind clots.’ Mind clots form when the flow of reason is obstructed by implacable partisan clichés. They paralyze the progression of thought and the development of coherent concepts.

I learned that the hard way when I was in my early twenties. I got into a discussion with a young black man who insisted that I had to be prejudiced because I am white. I offered every variation I could think of on the theme that I am not and have never been prejudiced.

After two hours or so of our tiresome ‘debate,’ I realized that reason was to no avail. He wanted me to be prejudiced, and there was nothing I could say to him that would make him feel otherwise (note that I use the word feel, not think). Since then, I have never attempted to prove that I am not prejudiced against anyone. In fact, for my own comfort, I never engage in circular arguments about anything.

Whenever I’m invited to engage in an unsolicited political discussion, I either respectfully suggest we do not talk politics, or (in rare instances) I talk politics until the first cliché rears its circular head. At that time (always early in political talk) I think, “Uh-oh, it’s time to move on to the shrimp salad.” I then politely end the dead-end ‘discussion.’

2) For political information, select the best sources. These do not include conspiracy theorists. Rosie O’Donnell claimed that the Twin Towers were destroyed by our own government (through the evil CIA, of course). When the Towers collapsed, Rosie, an entertainer, suddenly became a metallurgist and an expert on implosive demolition. When homosexual people in San Francisco demanded equal social rights, Anita Bryant, a fruit vendor, became an authority on morality. I ignore the rants of celebrity partisans like Jerry Fallwell, Michael Moore, Reverend This, and Reverend That. If you haven’t already ignored them, I suggest that you do. Militant liberals and conservatives alike, stifle reason.

3) Do not honor phantom issues. Debating Gitmo and Enhanced Interrogation (including water-boarding) is a political game that has nothing to do with human rights, let alone legal ones.

a) Rather than regurgitating the endless pros and cons about keeping Gitmo open, I think it better to simply accept the fact that what is done in a prison has nothing to do with where the prison is located in the free, press-sensitive world.

b) The decision to close or not close Gitmo should exclude consideration of what partisans here or foreigners anywhere think of us. I remember my experience with the prejudiced young man at a person-to-person level. At an international level, I’ve observed that people will think what they want to think of us no matter what we say or do. Let it go at that.

On a domestic level, President Obama thought he could close Gitmo when campaigning for the presidency. Being ‘inside’ now, he has learned otherwise. As far as I know, that is what happens to all presidents in reference to foreign affairs. In respect to foreign hostility, the Office of the Presidency makes the President.

c) Keeping prisoners indefinitely is a direct consequence of an undeclared war without specific leaders, clear boundaries, guarantees that freed prisoners will not fight again (there is a high rate of recidivism), and no end of war in sight. Unprecedented warfare creates unprecedented problems. We cannot allow prisoners to fight us again. That’s why prisoners in past wars were kept until the end of hostilities. It’s unfair to expect our soldiers to have to fight the same man twice or more. That’s stacking the odds against our soldiers.

War is rife with risks that include being captured, perhaps interrogated. Being released depends on the end of hostilities, not on the results of a trial. To exacerbate matters, prisoners at Gitmo were not part of a national army. More or less, they are freelancer hostiles. Unlike infamous criminals against humanity tried by an International Court after a war, our prisoners present a logistic dilemma. In the past, when a peace treaty was signed, soldiers simply went home. The war is not over. This ‘new kind of war’ makes repatriation virtually impossible. In effect, they are now men without a country.

Although some of them may be innocent of war crimes, they are all dangerous. Some of them openly say that if they are released they will kill again. In time, an individual may be reviewed for release even if the conflict has not ended, but a trial, whether in a civilian or military court, is at best inappropriate. Of exactly what may a prisoner of war be found guilty or not guilty?

Armchair Warriors

Obviously, there can be no hotter debate than there is about enhanced interrogation, especially water-boarding. Unfortunately, no distinction has been made between extreme discomfort and torture in the traditional sense of the word.

Before I go further, I’d like to address two personal experiences that have made the distinction between discomfort and torture quite clear to me. The first occurred when I was fourteen years old. I had an infected finger. It was swollen, it throbbed, and constantly delivered excruciating pain. A doctor came to my home, sterilized a dull pair of scissors, and proceeded to drive the steel into my infected finger. That’s torture.

The second experience occurred intermittingly for two or three years during late middle-age. It still occurs from time to time. It’s called apnea. In my sleep, I become conscious that I have stopped breathing. I am unable to move, let alone wake up. An instinct informs me that my life is being threatened and that I am about to die. I’m not afraid of dying, but I am suspended between ‘letting go’ or fighting hard to breathe again. There is no pain, but I’m terrified by not being able to breathe no matter how often I’ve had this experience before.

Now, to water-boarding. I’ve read widely disparate versions of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s water-board sessions. Some ‘reports’ claim there were none, others claim there were as many as 183. So much for ‘reports.’ So, I don’t know if Khalid did better than I at managing the threat of asphyxiation, but he had an advantage over me: he knew that he would not be allowed to drown. I didn’t.

As far as sleep deprivation is concerned, we’ve all been subjected to that at one time or another, usually because of injury or illness. When the waking nightmare is over, we quickly recover without permanent damage. The same is true of interrogation techniques like loud noises, uncomfortable temperatures, and being mocked. They are designed to break resistance, not bones.

I am disturbed by armchair warriors who sanctimoniously condemn ‘torture’ under any circumstances. In the comfort of air-conditioned TV studios or the embrace of living room armchairs, they self-righteously proclaim their moral superiority. Again, it is useless to argue in circles. Suffice it to say that abhorrence to torture is not limited to those who are passionately opposed to any form of coercion. I no longer make an effort to convince anyone that I am at least as compassionate as anyone else. That is a certainty deep within me that includes my concern for civilians and soldiers who are vulnerable to falling into enemy hands.

It takes denial, self-delusion, or dishonesty to attribute compassion as the sole reason for opposition to coercive interrogation. Blind opposition ignores a startling reality: In effect, those who oppose interrogation enjoy a clear conscience at the expense of soldiers, civilians, and their loved ones.

To be fair, I must add that most people consciously do not want to do that. Perhaps they are unable to imagine the consequences of their ideals. Perhaps they simply fail to make a connection between their ideology and reality.

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Selected Images and Sound Bites

For the first time in history, war was brought into our living rooms on a daily basis during the Vietnam War. Whatever our political perceptions of that war might have been, we were all haunted by the daily papers and nightly TV newscasts.

Television journalists and commentators reflected the deep split in public opinion about that war. In effect, Americans experienced a bloodless civil war. Arguments were intense and hard feelings cut deep. The basic argument for the war was the ‘Domino Effect,’ a term coined by Dwight Eisenhower meaning that the adoption of communism by one nation, precipitates the spread of communism to its neighboring nations. The basic argument against the war was that America’s entanglement in Southeast Asia to prevent the spread of communism demanded too high a price, or that a communist Vietnam was not a threat to us, or even that the expansion of communism was a good thing.

In sharp contrast to World War ll, the fog of war was thick during the Vietnam War and its immediate aftermath. The chaos of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos is well documented and requires no additional exposition from me. But I’d like to draw a parallel between the Vietnam War and current events in the Middle East and North Africa.

Enveloped in the fog of the Vietnam War, there was a newspaper photo and caption that epitomized the bias of purportedly objective reporters. The photo vividly depicted a Vietnamese man at the instant he was shot in the head, execution style. Absent were any details of the personal events that led to that execution. We were led to believe that the execution was part of a military action. When I saw the photo, I couldn’t help thinking that this was not the way to treat any human being whatever his political affiliations.

Years later and entirely by chance, I learned that just moments before the man was executed he had killed an entire family except its father. It was the father of that family that killed the man. The original caption made no mention that he was killed by a distraught father in the heat of extreme rage. I doubt that the reporter had been unaware of the whole story behind an incident that transcended the expected horrors of military conflict. It is very likely that he deliberately omitted details in order to characterize the incident as the mindless act of a man who executed an innocent civilian only because he was a communist sympathizer.

Time erodes the impact of events that happened long ago. But I haven’t resurrected this ghastly memory to impugn either of the two men caught up in the fog of war or, for that matter, the reporter who may not have known the ‘whole’ story, as unlikely as that may be.

What disturbed me then was not the media’s opposition to the war but rather its partisan bias. I believe that the depersonalization of the event was designed to lead us to believe that the murdered man was brutally killed because he was a communist.

Biased reports affected critical military decisions, especially during the Tet offensive. Perhaps worse was its effect on American soldiers who didn’t wear their uniforms on leave and were at best ignored when they came home from that war. Fifteen years of an ‘unpopular’ war stigmatized soldiers who, after all, don’t choose the wars they are required to fight. The same is true of the Gulf Wars. A select few ‘anchormen’ became superstars during the Vietnam War because of their less than objective commentaries. Does that sound familiar? It does to me.

History repeats itself. Current technology provides us with 24/7 sound bites and images at a global level. There is a constant flow of military and political news. There is an unprecedented proliferation of radio and television commentators. But the fog is as thick as ever in reports of the conflicts in the Middle East, in Southwest Asia, in Indonesia, and wherever ideologies clash. A tsunami of hastily mounted newscasts and verbal dogfights are no substitutes for political information.

Yet, despite the amazing technology of the Information Age, major media continue to slant global events. To a significant extent this is the result of journalists and commentators who are overworked, underinformed, too old to shed bias or too young to know any better. I can’t help but notice that what is being said receives far less attention than the grooming and makeup of the newscasters and commentators. I realize that my assessment of the news business seems like a rant, but I recognize exceptional journalists and commentators who are in a distinct minority but a credit to their profession. Rants and a balanced view are a contradiction in terms.

I have learned to see through the fog ever since I experienced the execution story and hundreds of others like it through the years that followed and continue to this day. I have learned that the flow of sound bites and flash images mislead listeners who are without an ideological base to make judgments about what is being said. I have learned that hosts and guests on talk shows are basically peddling each other’s careers. I have learned that ‘debates’ are designed to be full of ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ They are staged for entertainment, not information. I have learned that the pen and the tube are mightier than the truth.

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