by William “Duke” Smither
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana (from “Reason in Common Sense,” Vol. 1 of The Life of Reason, 1905; also, inscribed, in Polish translation, on a plaque at the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp, built and operated by Nazi Germany in WWII occupied Poland.)
It’s a long way from the American Revolution (1765-1783), when King George III was the King of England, until now. But, within the political turbulence which followed– the Boston Massacre (1770), the H.M.S. Gaspee Affair (1772), the Boston Tea Party (1773), the Battles of Lexington and Concord (1775), as well as the American Revolutionary War– the Continental Congress determined King George’s rule to be “tyrannical and infringing the colonists’ rights as Englishmen,” then declared the colonies free and independent states on July 2, 1776, rejecting monarchy and aristocracy and proclaiming that all men are created equal. This new ideological bond of the 13 Colonies created the United States of America within their newspaper announcements as the “Declaration of Independence” (as approved two days later on July 4, 1776). And, we’ve been proudly celebrating as our Independence Day, ever since.
But, the world has presented us many challenges within the 242 years which trailed in its sometimes violent and unstable wake. Toxic conflicts, political tussles, culture wars, civil war, global wars and more and more bloodshed. Along the way, diabolical despots and dictators have impacted, but not yet redirected, our collective thinking about what makes us the “united” nation we profess to be. We not only profess it for all to hear, we’ve proven as much around the globe, over and over… until now.
Now, in my opinion, we seem to be stretching in reverse our national ideology and principles emanating from the abstract thinking of English philosopher John Locke (democracy, limited government, self-determination, the rule of law, equal opportunity, free expression, etc.) more akin to openly courting autocratic and/or monocratic rule.
Interestingly, the world has been here before. Today’s caustic political atmosphere, especially the racialized component, is worrisome. In my opinion, it’s remindful of, and more akin to, the corrosive activities leading up to the American Civil War and the WWII dictatorships of Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany.
Before the War Between the States, the boiling pot of political discourse was stirred even further by rampant racial prejudice and fears of a rising black population, slave and free, as well as the rising competition for jobs between freed blacks and immigrant whites. In addition to the slavery issue, political parties in the United States (Whigs, Democrats, Republicans, etc.) splintered over territorial expansions and so-called states rights issues. Back then, even Mexico, after being defeated in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was part of the political quagmire, since it added more territory to the United States to fight over.
Yet, this Independence Day, 2018, the WWII-related dictatorships of Mussolini and Hitler, and events similarly associated with their steady rise to power, appears to be another shot-across-the-bow for the future of our nation. And, it bears further reflection, even as we celebrate our seemingly dwindling rights of citizenship within the bizarre behavior, befuddled thinking and bewildering actions of our own elected leadership and selected administrative cabinet. At least, for me, the apparent cozying up to and constantly defending of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is, indeed, bizarre, befuddling and bewildering. Furthermore, the tactical stoking of fears for groups of people convinced, rightly or wrongly, that their previously established rights were being usurped happened to be one of the many factors in the rise of violent, ego-driven, political shenanigans which helped consolidate the powers and fuel the engines of yesteryear’s Fascist and Nazis’ ideologies.
I’m young enough to still remember all the reasons why I solemnly but gladly took the Military Oath of Enlistment, when I joined the United States Navy during the Viet Nam Era, in October 1961, my vow of allegiance until the day I die.
Some of the words went something like this: “…I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” Even now, the words “foreign and domestic” means something. Yet, the allegiance was to the Constitution of the United States, not any one particular leader.
A year later, following boot camp and Radar ‘A’ School, I was smack dab in the middle of the U.S. naval blockade of Cuba, after U.S. intelligence found Soviet missiles in Cuba, with tensions so high that we simply assumed that World War III might jump off any day. I remained at sea, on an ammunition ship, the whole time, transferring the next year to a guided missile cruiser, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
I fully understand and appreciate the value of gathering military intelligence to protect our troops and citizenry. It’s why it’s so confusing to me how the current patriotic actions and reported results of our own intelligence agencies can be so profoundly rejected by the current administration, reportedly in favor of the words and promises from the mouth of dictators.
When President Kennedy was killed (November 22, 1963), I was at sea, part of an ASW task force (Anti-Submarine Warfare), working in CIC (Combat Information Center) and we were all darn near certain that WWIII would follow in the wake of the assassination. It evoked memories of the stunning events first brought to our attention the day we took the oath of enlistment: the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941).
Today, I also thought about the events of “9/11,” the 2001 terror attacks against the United States. It was long after my military service. But I remember it well. I also remember the intelligence gathering assistance we received from our allies, especially the ones associated with NATO, whose military forces I once worked with, heavily, on various joint military exercises.
During “9/11,” I was “on duty,” but as an investigator with a public utility firm with various assigned responsibilities for facilities in the Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia area, as well as on-going liaisons with area federal, state and local police groups and a limited number of military units. During the “9/11” attacks, worrying about America’s political and/or racial atmosphere was never a significant consideration, since those events actually seemed to bond or unite most everyone I came into contact with during that period. Even the mindboggling Holocaust deniers, who screamed that the Jewish Holocaust never existed (or, Slavery in North America), didn’t seem to scratch the surface of something to be bothered about.
And, it’s all worth noting, today, within the massive swirl of political lies and distortions, not to mention the continual open assaults on America’s freedom of the press and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as a feckless Congress grows increasingly silent and impotent.
After all, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We, as in “We the People,” ain’t perfect but it’s important that we keep on trying to improve, not corrupt, ourselves. That’s where most of my thoughts are today, this Independence Day, July 4, 2018, in the year of our Lord.