A Paper for Ryan: Assessing Lifetime Pros and Cons
September 2006



I am responding to your request to bundle up some of the major negative setbacks and positive advances during my life spanning nearly eight decades.

On a geo-political-strategic level, I regard as catastrophic the multiple large-scale military struggles during the period that have wrecked economies and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries for millions of people across the globe. Unfortunately billions of dollars in resources have been depleted to support warfare and rebuild shattered infrastructures that could have been invested in programs to uplift needy people worldwide.

A major disappointment has been the failure of regional and international leaders to resolve the dispute between Palestinians and Israelis following the 1948 establishment of the Jewish nation.

The outcome has been periodic wars and clashes between these two entities and their allies. Military involvement of Middle Eastern and other Muslim countries and political, arms and economic aid to both sides by world players weigh in as overall progress toward resolution of the basic dispute remains ephemeral.

As a result, angry and frustrated Muslims across the globe have grown much more critical of American policies, which they assess as pro-Israel, feeding an escalation of violence. The greatest threat to world peace emerged during the closing years of the 20th century with the launching of an extremist Muslim movement in Afghanistan conceived by wealthy former Saudi Arabian Osama bin Laden.

The most spectacular strike against American interests occurred when a group of bin Laden conspirators stunned the world in 2001 with aircraft crashes that destroyed the Twin Towers in New York and damaged the Pentagon, killing more than 3,000 people. Nearly that many American troops have died in Iraq since the Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq without United Nations approval on the basis of threats posed by Saddam Hussain's alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. A government commission has concluded that Administration claims about the WMD's and that the Saddam regime had pre-war links to al-Qaeda were false.

Coalition forces have been unable to quell an insurgency in Iraq fed by suicide bombers and widespread sectarian killing, especially in the capital of Baghdad, that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Iraqis in July and August of 2006 alone, along with American and allied casualties.

President Bush maintains that "we are winning the war on terror." However, an assessment by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies is that the invasion and war in Iraq have helped expand a new generation of Islamic radicals around the world as the Jihad movement expands. According to the analysis the Iraq war is "breeding resentment" in the Muslim world and the "Iraqi Jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operations" which inspires more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere in the world.

"U.S. officials are anxious for Iraqis to take a stronger role in their country's security because of mounting pressures to withdraw troops as soon as possible," the Los Angeles Times reported in a dispatch from Baghdad. "Rising public discontent in the United States with the war, tired troops on their third and fourth rotation in the Middle East and huge expenditures by American taxpayers are all driving U.S. officials to press the (Iraqi) government…to quickly take more responsibility."

Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton sees a political agreement between Israel and the Palestinians as the only alternative in the Middle East, stating that "consistent with Israel's security let's get back to work on the Palestinian peace process because that's…half the juice that's feeding terror all over the world."

(In late 2006, a ten-member Iraq Study Group authorized by the White House and headed by former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former Secretary of State Jim Baker similarly assessed the issue. "The United States," it reported, "will not be able to achieve its goal in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israel peace plan on all fronts.")

Previous major international bloodshed during the period considered includes American-backed coalition invasions to engage in conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. The Korean conflict at mid-century pitted United Nations forces against the invading North Korean army and also the Communist Chinese military when the American Commander, General Douglas MacCarthur, ordered an advance toward the Yalu River bordering China. Some 55,000 Americans died in that confrontation, along with many nationals on both sides.

In another major conflict, more than 50,000 American military were killed in a prolonged engagement in Vietnam, along with troops of allies and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. The rationale was to protect democracy and support the "Domino Theory," official Washington doctrine, which had predicted the collapse of Southeast Asia into communism without international intervention. The most powerful nation in the world had to retreat before the advancing North Vietnamese Army. The so-called "domino" nations remain free of communism, with the exception of Laos and also Vietnam, with which the United States now has diplomatic relations.

Earlier, during another chaotic period, the explosive fireballs of a pair of U.S. atomic bombs on Japanese cities in mid-1945 brought a terrifying end to Japan's holdout against American forces ending World War II. However, the horror of possible nuclear war led to fresh apprehension as the United States and the Soviet Union launched a nuclear arms race, and other nations proceeded to perfect such weapons, leading to worldwide fear of nuclear exchanges.

The Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and the later collapse of the Soviet communist system eased the nuclear arms standoff. But fresh concern has arisen over the threat of Muslim suicide bombers wielding suitcase bombs or planting chemical or bacteriological weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapon development programs by such belligerent nations as Iran and North Korea, as well as stockpiles already in the arsenals of neighborly foes like India and Pakistan also pose the danger of nuclear exchanges.

Aside from destructive wars, global warming is another international threat to mankind and the planet earth. Mounting scientific evidence has indicated precipitate thawing of icepacks and glaciers at record levels in the Arctic and Antarctic during the past few years. Scientific studies link the problem to expansion of clouds of pollution traced to emissions of industrial carbon dioxide as well as gases exuded by vehicular engines and other poisonous sources.
On the social front, a breakdown has occurred in family value levels in America and the concomitant coarsening of society. Permissive sexual themes, nudity and violence are common in various media like films and in TV broadcasts even during peak hours of child viewing. Cable networks in particular but also others feature programs that tend to focus on the worst aspects of criminality and human nature, such as grotesque murders, kidnap and rape. Obscene lyrics broadcast by popular radio stations negatively influence and desensitize members of society and the young in particular.

To make matters worse, single-parent families are increasingly prevalent but even in homes headed by traditional parents more moms are working, leaving insufficient time in harried households for the proper supervision, nurturing, education and disciplining of children.
Other major blows to morality include the Supreme Court legalization of abortion leading to the destruction of more than 13 million fetuses annually in the United States. Congressional corruption and kowtowing to the influence of lobbyists in return for political donations have caused the eruption of a cancer within the legislative process. The infusion of money shapes laws and warring lawmakers become more intent on party protection and feather-nesting of special interest groups than the welfare of the nation.

An obvious conclusion is that mankind is not only fouling the earthly environmental nest but in the United States the various social and political trends outlined have permeated the foundations of morality, partly due to acceptance of the status quo by an all-too-willing society. Polls demonstrate increasing concern over where America is heading and slipping trust in congressional and governmental leaders and the media, which presumably could lead to some housecleaning and changes in the party politic through elections.

Turning to positive developments, a paramount achievement toward the mid-20th century was the successful Allied military campaign guided by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill to defeat Fascist totalitarianism during World War II. The victory restored liberty, democratic governments and civil rights to vast multitudes in Europe and Asia.

With the end of the war, the establishment of the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization provided a diplomatic and military umbrella to vulnerable nations. Communist Moscow and Beijing moved onto the international stage in an effort to stuff aggressive socialist policies into any geo-political vacuum and had some successes in Eastern European takeovers. Moving swiftly, however, American assistance to Greece through the Marshall Plan and other actions, including a massive U.S. airlift over Soviet-closed borders around Berlin, called Moscow's bluff to ward off threats of the communist stranglehold. Later economic failures caused by the ineffective communism system in the Soviet Union and various Eastern European nations, glasnost and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall paved the way for initiation of democracy in former communist bastions.

In America, the civil rights movement took a giant step forward with a mid-fifties Supreme Court ruling that outlawed racial segregation in educational institutions. The Reverend Martin Luther King and other leaders launched a nationwide campaign, especially in the South, to further the constitutional rights of minorities. The policies of President John Kennedy and later President Lyndon Johnson influenced the approval of a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act and other legislation of a "Great Society" program that resulted in new opportunities for blacks and other minorities.

In medical, scientific and space-age fields, mammoth advances expanded life spans through improved health care capping government and private investment in research and development and the application of new technology. Dr. Jonah Salk virtually eliminated the scourge of polio by discovering a vaccine that was ultimately administered worldwide. Smallpox was basically wiped out across the globe as well, and medical research has led to procedures to curb cancer and other diseases.

Space exploration took off, spurred by the success of the Soviet Union in beating America to the punch and launching the first cosmonaut into earth orbit.
(I recall viewing from nighttime darkness the initial winking Soviet sputnik, caught in remaining high rays of sunlight as it whirled around the world, and wondering in awe and apprehension like many others whether America would be targeted by Soviet missiles launched from platforms in space.)

In reaction, President Kennedy prioritized the landing of Americans on the moon, a successful mission not yet accomplished by any other nation, which burnished the image of the United States. Today Russians and astronauts from many nations work together to man a space station and also cooperate in a variety of programs designed to explore the universe and add to the scientific and technological knowledge of mankind.

The space program and the computer and Internet era have spawned a telecommunications and educational revolution, which has exploded economies in many nations and has affected the work and pleasure habits of millions of people. It has enabled a digital time frame for swift delivery of a wealth of information with ever-cheaper and more powerful computers and has mounted a wave of gadgetry. The technological wave has had social implications as well, strengthening communications among families and friends who used to chat over backyard fences and at backyard barbecues but now stay in touch by tapping out dialogue on a keyboard.

Television and radio have been leapfrogged to some extent by digital links, which disseminate a wide range of news and commentary, blogs, data, movies, music and personal and business e-mail services. Profits and circulation of print media, for example, have declined since the computer-and-cell phone savvy can plug in constantly to keep up-to-date on what's happening in a world of constant change.

Such a stream of fast information is particularly invaluable during periods preceding national and regional balloting, in which enduring freedoms of speech, the press, religion and others enshrined in the U.S. constitution continue to serve the republic so well. Lawmakers, governmental leaders and even judges, being human, are prone to corruption, error and disastrous decisions. In the American system of government, however, the charter and Bill of Rights framed by the nation's founders provides a framework for justice and righting wrongs when leaders, consumed with hubris, arrogance and abuse of political power opt to drive the national vehicle into a swamp.

To the rescue comes a much-better-informed electorate marching to the polls to "throw the bums out" as necessary. Through the ballot box, a free choice and a wealth of information available for analysis of political platforms and personalities, there's always the promise of replacing the inept with lawmakers capable of ushering in a fresh start and a new day, America-style.