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Ming Zhen Shakya

Thoughts on the War

by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

"My Country, may she always be right; but my country, right or wrong."

Naval hero Stephen Decatur, proposing a toast to American foreign policy, summed up the sentiments of his countrymen. Nobody knows the future - some government policies succeed and some prove disastrous, but our loyalty to the Union remains intact.

Perhaps because we never refer to the U.S. as the Motherland or the Fatherland, we have a strange sense of orphaned kinship - that lack of bloodline relationship - that allows us to share responsibility for policy: It's our country - our credit, our blame - the buck stops with the electorate and we are the electorate. It's that "of, by and for" thing that, despite all odds, has made us the oldest continuing democracy in the history of the world.

There is a maturity that comes with democracy; a reluctance to assume that the citizenry ought to be privy to all military intelligence. We understand the need for secrecy since every now and then a traitor surfaces and pains us with his deceit and the ease with which his betrayal has brought death and detriment to us and to our allies.

Trust in leadership is what counts, trust and the knowledge that when all the facts are known the system of checks and balances kicks in, we can remove from office anyone whose motives were less than honorable. Honest mistakes may or may not be forgiven- as the official will discover when he runs for reelection or is impeached.

This love we have for the land is proprietary: a person born on American soil is not granted citizenship - he automatically possesses it. It is his because he took his first breath on what we consider sacred soil. That may sound corny, but no one will care to object.

With the exception of other English-speaking countries with whom we share more than language, Americans don't change nationalities. Though nobody stops us from leaving, we're a nation of immigrants, not emigrants. We have our share of resentful "Remittance Men" - sons or daughters who receive a support check from Daddy providing they receive it through a foreign postal service, the farther away, the better. We even have a number of fugitive ex-pats who gravitate to countries with whom we have no extradition treaties. Usually we're just average Americans and the average American has no intention of being anything else.

As other nationalities do, we find humor in ethnic jokes. Oscar Wilde made a profit from telling Yankee anecdotes, culled from a visit here. We joined in the laughter when he said, "America was discovered many times before Columbus- but it was always hushed up." "When a good American dies, he goes to Paris." There is nothing mean-spirited about these witticisms. And we have our own ethnic, racial, and religious jokes, which, though they are fortunately rather out of fashion, are still occasionally told. Usually the joke is told about someone: "Did you hear the one about the Irishman and the Rabbi....?" But they are confided jokes, rarely told in public or to the person who is a member of the subject group, for when it comes to nationalities and religions, our mix of nationalities and religions makes such humor a tad risky.

And that is why it surprises us that we are so often insulted by foreigners who do not understand our diversity or who believe that they are delivering their insults to those of us who are descendants of their ancient enemies, or who assume that they have the right to say whatever they damn please. The only thing that is important is that the balance of payments is in their favor and that American tourist dollars are spent in their resorts.

So once again, over the Iraqi situation, it's suddenly open season on baiting Americans. Sometimes we do not suffer fools gladly. Lately we're beginning to suffer fools not at all.

Something happened to the national psyche after Nine-Eleven. We used to grit our teeth and remember our manners when listening to inane criticisms of the U.S. .but not anymore. I first noticed the change when Peter Jennings, the Canadian-born anchorman of the American Broadcasting Company's evening news, hosted a New Year's Eve international celebration party for 2001- 2. It was a bit awkward... the logistics of getting revelers in the earth's various time zones in a live broadcast are daunting. We heard some Nine-Eleven condolences and many happy predictions, and then Jennings spoke live to a TV man in Japan. The intended felicity nowhere materialized. The man seized upon the occasion to castigate, "you Americans have just got to realize that you're not very much liked around the world." He continued his impromptu tirade until, Jennings, the consummate professional, thanked him for his contribution and moved on to another country. But those of us who saw the program revived old and not so nice memories of Japan. Unit 731 came up. (Try researching that if you can stomach it.) Vietnamese-Americans recalled how their refugees were turned away from Japanese shores because they were 'racially inferior' and would never be accepted by the Japanese people.

The anger was still present when a naval incident led us to compare national responsibility for error. During WWII the Japanese had developed balloon-type weapons that went high into the atmosphere and carried bombs across the Pacific. One actually landed in the woods of Oregon, I believe. It had lain there undisturbed for years until some kids, playing in the woods, came upon it. It exploded, killing the kids. A Japanese woman who worked in the factory that produced the weapon apologized in what was clearly a statement of sincere regret. We understood. These things happen. But recently when one of our submarines surfaced without checking for other vessels in the area, it capsized a Japanese training ship and several students were killed. Naturally, our government apologized, compensations were made, the sub's Captain was correctly charged with negligence, his career was finished, and we heard endless Japanese criticism about American Cowboy militaristic bungling. We're getting a little tired of it. Even at the height of our conflict with Iran when we mistakenly shot down a civilian air liner, we accepted full responsibility, formally apologized, compensated the families of the victims and Iran for the loss of the plane, and held our negligent navy personnel to account. Iran, in its sorrow, understood. These things happen. Death by friendly fire is another regrettable fact of military activity.

But the unabashed insult from the citizens and news media of friendly nations rankles us now as it never did before.

Last year, at a reception, I stood in a small group of Americans and casually conversed with a very proper lady from China. Without the slightest compunction she explained that while China appreciated American technology, China found American morals simply unacceptable. She actually assumed that we would understand and sympathize with her. When someone asked for details, she sweetly said, "Your dress, your manners, your rock and roll music...it's all so ... sex obsessed." I had heard that "We want your superior technology but not your inferior culture" baloney many times before; but the insult was evidently new to the youngest of the group of Americans. "You arrogant bitch;" she said, adding snidely, "How did you manage to produce a quarter of the earth's population without....sex? Maybe we should be admiring your technology." Furious at such a rude remark, the Chinese lady turned away. But the rest of us turned to the girl and said, "Right on." It was the first time I ever heard an American object to this stupid insult.

A couple of weeks ago, our Secretary of Defense, on a diplomatic mission to Germany to discuss with his counterpart a new German proposal for dealing with the Iraqi conflict, was met by the German minister who had already released the text to the newspapers. The totally unprepared American was ambushed on an immediate televised news conference. The German minister, using an angry, dismissive tone that is usually reserved for disciplining errant schoolboys, aired his views on American policy. The diplomatic faux pas was bizarre. This was worse than "killing the messenger." Allies do not do this to other allies. But our Defense Minister sat there staring, bewildered "like a deer in the headlights" - and more than one American I've talked to about this incident has responded, "If anyone wants to buy a luxury foreign car (and can't afford a Ferrari) he ought to buy a Jaguar." (The parenthetical insert is mine.)

Recently I chatted with some Muslim businessmen who were visiting an electronics' convention. The subject of the Middle East Conflict came up. I allowed that it was no longer permissible for one country to retain the territory of another country even if that territory was won in battle. Clearly, the Israelis needed to withdraw from the West Bank. The businessmen were incredulous. "The Israelis are there because you Americans keep them there. You are the ones who support Zionism." Hello? Now we're responsible for the Middle East mess? I bristled, "Every square inch of the original State of Israel was sold to the Zionists by rich Arab sheiks. They took the money, and as the land was purchased, supply and demand pushed the price of an acre up - way beyond the reach of the average Palestinian. That was the start of the trouble." Everyone forgets how young Palestinians could not afford to buy homes for their families. I hissed, "Where was Bin Laden then? I wouldn't be surprised if his family was one of the ones that profited from all that Zionist money. Yes, Arab landowners sold Palestinian land to Israelis and facilitated the creation of the state of Israel. Live with it!" I left the discussion wondering if I should buy a guard dog,

What astonishes us is that often whole populations who have proven themselves totally incapable of ridding themselves of dictatorial regimes, who have been wretched cowards when confronting corruption and oppression inside their own country, whose press is a government rag, or whose own histories include a little too much sordid slaughter, will hit the streets running with anti-American slogans denouncing the slightest affront to their delicate political sensibilities.

Worse, there is a lunatic fringe in civilized nations that baffles us. There are intelligent people who believe that Neil Armstrong never set foot on the moon... that those moon-landings were Hollywood fabrications. Intelligent people read the list of victims of the World Trade Center disaster and still insist that American Jews were not among the dead because "none of them showed up for work that day, " the ludicrous assumption being that Jews knew in advance and therefore were a party to the terrorist attack. More recently, a suspected Al-Queda prisoner (turned in by his own countrymen) was released from Guantanamo Bay when it was established that he was innocent. He returned home and told newsmen how he was tortured by being put into a room in which icy cold air came out of a grill. (Call Amnesty International! Air conditioning is now evidence of American brutality.)

What is curious about demonstrations against American military action is that we never see Americans out in the street protesting somebody else's military action, while in too many other countries, we see anti-American protests every time a movie sergeant shouts, "Lock and load." And though we have no record of conquest, the charge is always that we are imperialistic and have selfish motives.

During the several centuries of our existence, we've seen Napoleon ravage Europe. We purchased Louisiana and other territory from France. We've seen Stalin subjugate and plunder Eastern Europe behind The Iron Curtain; but we purchased Alaska from Russia. Hitler overran Europe, and we didn't get a square inch of territory out of the huge expense of men and materiel we sent to help free the continent. The Philippines wanted and got their independence without bloodshed and we gave the Panama Canal - which we built - to the Republic of Panama.

A dozen years ago we helped to free Kuwait from Iraqi invasion. Despite the jokes about the unoccupied northern section of Kuwait, Kuwait did not become our 51st state. We and our allies left behind no occupying army. We helped put out the oil well fires that Saddam Hussein spitefully set as he was forced to retreat. Does nobody remember that hellish dantean vision of the Inferno?

We didn't invade Iraq at that time because the United Nations made a deal with Saddam Hussein: he would cease invading his neighbors, launching his missiles, and gassing his own people - an atrocity for which he was so proud that he let newsmen photograph the bloated bodies of women and children. He promised to destroy his arsenal. He didn't. And for years the U.N. did nothing but complain. We imposed sanctions and he staged a mock funeral of starved children while he constructed nine opulent palaces. (And our gullible critics called us barbarians.) He thwarted and mocked the attempts of the UN inspectors who were trying to monitor the destruction of his stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and he finally threw the inspectors out altogether. And then the UN complained again - but did nothing.

Tony Blair, John Howard, and George Bush had had enough. The U.K. knows the price of yielding to the whims of lunatic dictators. (I have no doubt that the last line of Blair's evening prayer is "Lord, never let the words, 'Peace in our time' come out of my mouth."[1]) Bush became a president the day he stood at the ruins of the WTC. And then had to deal with the Anthrax killings. Now it was personal.

Yet, the world's protesters against our stand on Iraq insist that the US is motivated by lust for Iraq's oil. Roughly, we import ten times more oil than we export. Only 10% of the oil we import comes from middle-east countries. Our exported oil goes to Asian countries. We don't hear many Asian claims that our interests in Iraq are oil-driven because we could make up a middle-east deficit by diverting Alaskan oil to our own ports. Most of our imported oil comes from geographically close Mexico and Venezuela.

Another curious element of all the international protesting is the charge that our sense of danger is skewed: we are stupid to worry about Iraq when North Korea poses so much greater a threat.

North Korea really does have starving children, but they have a million man army and an expensive nuclear weapons' program. President Clinton paid the North Koreans a handsome sum to cease nuclear weapons' production and to buy food. They spent the money feeding their army and refurbishing their nuclear facilities. So now they have missiles, atomic weapons and a lunatic at the helm who will no doubt sell them for the cash he needs to fulfill his military fantasies. Their warships have been harassing the Japanese Islands throughout the last year or so; but since we don't do Asian land wars well, we'll likely leave their bellicose dictator to Russia, Japan, China and South Korea. Since their land and commercial interests are most at stake, he is definitely their problem. Australia and the UN are closely monitoring the situation.

President Bush's response to all this was to recommend diplomacy and to reinforce Alaska with antimissile batteries - and in this Americans concur with relief. But notice how a nervous world wants the U.S. to solve the problem. Nuclear fallout does not respect borders.

England and Australia have stood up to their responsibilities as world powers. Tony Blair is always eloquent. George Bush is occasionally so. But for a clear, heart-of-the-matter analysis of the situation we need only read Australian Prime Minister John Howard's February 4th address to his nation.[2]

Many British, Australian and American citizens protest military action in the Persian Gulf. Free people have the right and the privilege to oppose government action if they disagree with it. The Loyal Opposition loyally opposes. That we can oppose without fear of reprisal is one of the freedoms we most cherish.

If the British opponents want to call this "Blair's War".... if the Australian opponents want to call this "Howard's War"... and if the Americans want to call this "Bush's War".... that's fine.

We know that the easiest course, the most economic one, the one that ignores the problem and lets it slide into the future is probably the smartest political course for Tony Blair, George Bush, and John Howard to follow. But we don't elect our leaders for the next election. We elect them for the present term. We expect that they shall have more information than is publicly known; and having it, that they will do what is right for now and for the future.

But when other countries want to call it "Bush's War" we need to remind them that those are our soldiers, our sailors, our marines, and our air force.... not President Bush's.

It's that "of, by, and for" thing that we intend "shall not perish from the earth." [3]  

Webmaster's notes:

[1] Reference made to Neville Chamberlain's address to his country after he agreed to appease Hitler. He stated that peace was more important than standing up to the tyrant. Shortly thereafter, Hitler invaded Poland.

[2] Australian Prime Minister John Howard's February 4th address can be read at

[3] From the Gettysburg Address: an address given by President Lincoln at the dedication of the battlefield of a Civil War battle


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Last modified: July 11, 2004
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