Thursday, August 31, 2006

It's long, but it's a must read

The demonization of dissent is tiring to me. Recently, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld carried on the political tradition of using ad hominem attacks against those who dissent.

Read his speech here.

I have no false image that this tactic is reserved to only Republicans. No, Democrats have been guilty of this poor behavior. But this administration has been particularly vehement in labeling dissenters as traitors.

It's one thing to agree with the Bush administration's policies, it's another to agree with their "below the belt" tactics of demonizing the alternative view. True learning and understanding can only occur in an environment that is safe and welcome.

Keith Olbermann recently wrote a piece about Rumsfeld's speech that is stirring. He emphasizes the importance of respectfully listening to the minority opinion and to beware of arrogance. To watch it, follow this link. The link also includes the full text of broadcast.

1 comment:

Cameron said...

I realise this is old news here, but I followed the two links in your post, and I read the two speeches. I have a few thoughts on the matter.

Kieth Olberman said,

"Dissent and disagreement with government is the life’s blood of human freedom...It is also essential. Because just every once in awhile… it is right - and the power to which it speaks, is wrong."

He is right.

But then he goes on to accuse Secretary Rumsfeld of being a fascist. Hardly the place from where to preach the "cast the first stone" sermon. But beyond that, I don't think he honestly critiqed the points made by the Secretary of Defense.

Now, I read Secretary Rumsfeld's speech as well. In the great wisdom of Anigo Montoya, "I do not think it means what you think it means."

I have read and heard of the hype surrounding the speech's alleged tone and substance. A part of me even agreed with the outraged masses. Obviously dissent is necessary and should not be demonized. However, now that I have read it, I don't think the speech does what has been said it does. Here are some excerpts:

That year -- 1919 -- turned out to be one of the pivotal junctures in modern history with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the creation of the League of Nations, a treaty and an organization intended to make future wars unnecessary and obsolete. Indeed, 1919 was the beginning of a period where, over time, a very different set of views would come to dominate public discourse and thinking in the West.

Over the next decades, a sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be accommodated, then the carnage and the destruction of then-recent memory of World War I could be avoided.

It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies. When those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored. Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated or that it was someone else's problem. Some nations tried to negotiate a separate peace, even as the enemy made its deadly ambitions crystal clear. It was, as Winston Churchill observed, a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.

There was a strange innocence about the world. Someone recently recalled one U.S. senator's reaction in September of 1939 upon hearing that Hitler had invaded Poland to start World War II. He exclaimed:

“Lord, if only I had talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided!”

I recount that history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism. Today -- another enemy, a different kind of enemy -- has made clear its intentions with attacks in places like New York and Washington, D.C., Bali, London, Madrid, Moscow and so many other places. But some seem not to have learned history's lessons.

We need to consider the following questions, I would submit:

* With the growing lethality and the increasing availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?

* Can folks really continue to think that free countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists?

* Can we afford the luxury of pretending that the threats today are simply law enforcement problems, like robbing a bank or stealing a car; rather than threats of a fundamentally different nature requiring fundamentally different approaches?

* And can we really afford to return to the destructive view that America, not the enemy, but America, is the source of the world's troubles?

These are central questions of our time, and we must face them honestly.

It's a strange time:

* When a database search of America's leading newspapers turns up literally 10 times as many mentions of one of the soldiers who has been punished for misconduct -- 10 times more -- than the mentions of Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Global War on Terror;
* Or when a senior editor at Newsweek disparagingly refers to the brave volunteers in our armed forces -- the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard -- as a "mercenary army;"
* When the former head of CNN accuses the American military of deliberately targeting journalists; and the once CNN Baghdad bureau chief finally admits that as bureau chief in Baghdad, he concealed reports of Saddam Hussein's crimes when he was in charge there so that CNN could keep on reporting selective news;
* And it's a time when Amnesty International refers to the military facility at Guantanamo Bay -- which holds terrorists who have vowed to kill Americans and which is arguably the best run and most scrutinized detention facility in the history of warfare -- as "the gulag of our times." It’s inexcusable. (Applause.)

Those who know the truth need to speak out against these kinds of myths and distortions that are being told about our troops and about our country. America is not what's wrong with the world. (Applause.)

One of the most important things the American Legion has done is not only to serve and assist and advocate, as you have done so superbly for so much of the past century, but also to educate and to speak the truth about our country and about the men and women in the military.
Not so long ago, an exhibit -- Enola Gay at the Smithsonian during the 1990s -- seemed to try to rewrite the history of World War II by portraying the United States as somewhat of an aggressor. Fortunately, the American Legion was there to lead the effort to set the record straight. (Applause.)

I don't think Keith Olberman, or this blog forum, answered any of the questions Secretary Rumsfeld asked. None of the points he made have been discussed. Instead, his entire speech has been too hastily dimsissed under the barrage of Olberman-like pride.

Secretary Rumsfeld further explains why he made the comparison to post-WWI world views,

And that is important in any long struggle or long war, where any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong, can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.

Our enemies know this well. They frequently invoke the names of Beirut or Somalia -- places they see as examples of American retreat and American weakness. And as we've seen -- even this month -- in Lebanon, they design attacks and manipulate the media to try to demoralize public opinion. They doctor photographs of casualties. They use civilians as human shields. And then they try to provoke an outcry when civilians are killed in their midst, which of course was their intent.

The good news is that most Americans, though understandably influenced by what they see and read, have good inner gyroscopes. They have good center of gravity. So, I'm confident that over time they will evaluate and reflect on what is happening in this struggle and come to wise conclusions about it.

I believe Secretary Rumsfeld is asking America what we believe. How do we want to wage the War on Terror? It is a war unlike any other the world has fought. The intentions of terrorists have been made explicitly clear: convert or die. What are our intentions?