Chemical Weapons in Syria? True?

“Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”

We, the American public, have already been fooled twice by our leaders about the truth on international incidents.  Both times, the resulting actions were disastrous. 

Now, we need to resist being “fooled” for a third time, this time by a claim that the Syrians, apparently with help from Russia and Turkey, have been using chemical weapons against the rebels.  Frankly, I don’t honestly know whether the Trump Administration claims that chemical weapons were responsible for 42 deaths at the former rebel stronghold of Douma are true or not.  Most likely they are true, but I still have lingering doubts.

The first time we Americans were fooled was when the Lyndon Johnson Administration claimed that two U.S. destroyers were attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin on

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USS Maddox,, one of the destroyers in Tonkin incident.

Aug. 4, 1964.  It later turned out the “attack” may indeed have never occurred as it was characterized.  Even though the reports about the incident were still sketchy, the next day President Johnson called upon Congress to enact the famed Gulf of Tonkin resolution that gave the President authority to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression. It also declared that the maintenance of international peace and security in Southeast Asia was vital to American interests and to world peace.  And within two days, Congress passed the bill with an overwhelming bi-partisan vote.

Presidents Johnson and Richard Nixon used that resolution to escalate the Vietnam War, and for years the American public supported that action, until eventually tiring of the War.  During that time, any of us who questioned the wisdom of our Vietnam experience were called “traitors,” “unpatriotic” or even “commies” by the many Americans who were duped about the realities of our engagement in Vietnam.

The second example of being fooled was in 2003 when the George W. Bush Administration claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  Again, the same scenario developed, although this time there was more skepticism throughout the country. 

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Secretary of State Colin Powell at UN claiming WMDs existed in Iraq.

Nonetheless, Congress with some opposition approved the attack on Iraq.  Throughout the debate, the Bush Administration provided “evidence” of the existence of WMDs; later it was learned such “evidence” was circumstantial at best.  No WMDs were ever found; yet the war began.

In both of the examples, we saw government propaganda at work.  Sadly, the American media largely went along with the fiction until a few more enterprising journalists began to look more closely into the government’s claims.  Yet, in both incidents, the damage had been done, bringing 58,209 U.S. casualties in Vietnam and nearly 4,489 in Iraq.  In addition, more than a million citizens of both countries were killed, coupled with terrible devastation to their infrastructure.  

It’s Sunday morning, April 14, as I write this.  It’s spring and the grass should be green and the trees filled with buds, but we have more than an inch of snow and more is coming.  To the north of us in Green Bay, there’s a foot on the ground.  I’m far from the Syrian city of Douma, so how am I to know about the truth of chemical weapons?  Must I take the word of our government?

President Trump ordered the attack two days earlier, even before an international commission had a chance to verify that chemical weapons were indeed used.  We’re told Syrian President Assad is an evil devil, and it certainly appears that way.  Assad and his Russian allies deny the use of chemical weapons.  

How am I to know the truth?  The government tells us the attack was a success in knocking out much of Syria’s chemical facilities with minimal casualties.  

President Trump declared “Mission Accomplished.”  Will that prove true?  Sounds familiar.   Didn’t President Bush declare “Mission Accomplished” just a month after we  invaded Iraq?   How true was that claim?

— Ken Germanson, Milwaukee WI, April 14, 2018

 

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A racist? Who? Me?

No doubt, President Donald Trump’s comments about “shit hole” countries is racist.  Whether he said them or not is beside side the point.  There have been too many Trump tweets and comments with racist overtones to overlook them.  The president is certainly racist, and the evidence was there long before his vulgar comment last week about Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador and some African nations.  NewYork Times Columnist David Leonhardt has compiled a list of Trump’s more notable comments, all of which drip with racism.

Yet, the president has said several times, “I am not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”  Perhaps it’s just Trump being Trump (he seems incapable to speak without exaggeration) and he might even believe it.

Certainly, Trump is not the first president who has used racist remarks, or may have even personally been racist. It is well-known that Presidents Washington and Jefferson owned slaves at the same time they were founding a nation based on the principle that “All men are created equal.”  The Great Emancipator himself, Abraham Lincoln, believed that Negroes deserved to be free, but that they were of a lesser people and should be returned to Africa.  President Woodrow Wilson was known to support the “Birth of a statue-of-liberty-new-york-ny-nyc-60121.jpegNation” movie that glorified racism.  President Harry Truman was known for his salty language and grew up in a racist environment and President Lyndon Johnson (whose language may have been even more salty) uttered the “n” word repeatedly.

Yet, there is a major difference between Donald Trump and the Presidents mentioned above.  They did not let whatever racism that was in their souls govern the actions they took on behalf of the nation; nor did they advertise their racism over and over again.  Instead, Lincoln freed the slaves, Wilson supported policies that helped the unfortunate of the nation, Truman desegregated the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, and Johnson pushed through both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts — perhaps the most far-reaching civil rights legislation since the Civil War.

In deep contrast, Trump uses racism to curry support among white Americans, to spread fear and to build divides among Americans that may never be healed.  His remarks, even more importantly, stir whatever racism may lurk in the souls of all of us.

Yes, we all are racist.  We can’t help it.  We weren’t born racist, of course, but we all grew up in environments that foster racism.  It’s universal.  I grew up during the Great Depression in a suburb that then was lily white and reportedly had an ordinance that banned “Negroes” from remaining in town from dusk to dawn.  I never went to school with students of other races.  I knew of only one Jew during my school years and later learned I was one of the few friends he had.  (Years later, I ran into him while shopping and he expressed his long gratitude to me for being his playmate in grade school. He  believed he had been shunned because of being Jewish. I was his friend — not to because I was especially moral — but because I had fun with him.)

Even after more than sixty years of civil rights advocacy, I find thoughts creeping into my head that could be considered racist, particularly when encountering a dreadlocked teen African-American boy and thinking he’s a thug.  Thankfully, my rational mind tells me otherwise, and I dismiss such negative thoughts about the boy.

Similarly, I learned that some of my black friends had resisted traveling into Milwaukee’s once all-white South Side because of their perceptions of all whites as being “honkies.”  For years, those fears were warranted, even though there were many South Side whites who would have been welcoming and friendly.

Yes, we are all racist.  What is important, however, is that we not let whatever latent racism exists within us become fueled by the thoughtless remarks from an unthinking President.  Some Americans, obviously, find that Trump’s dangerous remarks justify their own racism, making it right to act in ways that would injure or humiliate people who are “different” or of another color.

It’s right to denounce the President’s racist remarks and to remind ourselves how dangerous such remarks are to building a strong and just society.  We must also examine our own selves to assure that whatever racism may rest within us is forever buried. – Ken Germanson, Jan. 18, 2018.

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Time to be scared? Let’s hope not

 

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This photo appeared in 1947 Cardinal Pennant, the Wauwatosa, Wisconsin high school annual. These students had hope for world peace. Is that hope dead?

I am as scared today for the future of humankind as I have ever been in my 87 years.

Mind you, I’m not personally scared; I’ve far too few years left for that. My fright, of course, is for our children, grandchildren and the generations to follow.

In three weeks, President-elect Donald Trump will be inaugurated, elected on a wave of xenophobic sentiment that bodes ill for any form of peace in the world.  He wooed his crowds with promises of tough talk to destroy ISIS (the Islamic State) while welcoming an “arms race” that he says the United States could easily win.  Trump threatens to seriously decrease, and perhaps end, U.S. support and involvement in NATO and the United Nations.

Most seriously, he has called for beefing up our nuclear weapons arsenal, ending a process toward ending nuclear proliferation that began more than thirty years ago in the Reagan Administration and has been embraced as a bipartisan policy of this nation since.  Such action on the part of the United States would certainly lead other nations to do the same and eventually plunge the world into an “arms race” that no nation could win.

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To the present day, the nuclear nonproliferation treaties have stopped nations from developing these devastating weapons, a policy that led to the recent treaty that halted Iran from advancing its nuclear weapons program.  Such world-wide consensus on nuclear weapons (except for the outlaw nations like North Korea) has saved the world from nuclear devastation.

The president-elect further wants to spend billions more on the military and close our borders to all but white Christians and Jews, vows that won wide hoorays from his worshippers.  It appears his goal is to mold the United States into a bunker mentality – a situation of false security.  He’s too young to remember the Maginot Line created by the French after World War I to protect it against invading Germans; the fortress of cannons shooting from concrete bunkers failed miserably in World War II when the Nazis simply maneuvered around it to invade France and march triumphantly down the Champs Elysees in Paris.

Repeatedly, Trump blamed President Obama for creating a “mess” in the world, blaming him for weakness and indecision.

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In this old man’s view, President Obama has done remarkably well in maintaining a modicum of peace in an extremely “messy” world.  We need go back no further to President George W. Bush’s ill-advised Iraq war against non-existent weapons of mass destruction to see that Obama inherited a world in which terrorism would be nutured.  The invasion of Iraq helped to build a sentiment among many Muslims that the United States was engaged in a “holy war,” and became a rallying cry for those terrorists who wished to spread their hate and violence throughout the world.

One can argue with some of the tactics of Obama (his ill-advised drawing of a “red-line” in the Syrian use of chemical weapons, for instance), but if you believe in a peaceful world you can’t argue with his general strategy of building coalitions with like-minded nations to fight terrorism and by seeking to strengthen the United Nations.

Trump’s “go-it-alone” strategy would change all that, forcing this nation to bear even greater military and armament costs, possible loss of military lives and the ill-will of much of the world.

To be sure, Trump is an enigma and has a facile ability to do just the opposite of what he promised.  Maybe all of his bluster and braggadocio was merely campaign talk and he will become a more serious leader; so far, he hasn’t exhibited such a possibility.

Meanwhile, the Far East is in turmoil with a bellicose North Korea, a growing expansionist threat from China and unrest in Malaysia.  President Obama has been seeking to build up our presence in the area and it’s an area we can’t neglect.

On January 20th, our new president will inherit a tense world.  It is my hope for the coming New Year that he will shed his ego, his pettiness and tendency to act without thinking and listen to wiser heads.  In any event, it’s up to the rest of us to do what we can to sound off in the best ways we can to head off our new President from his worst nature.

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Seventy years ago, the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 – a date that has lived in my mind all these years.  The devastation to that Japanese city was unbelievable to my sixteen-year old mind.  It was then that the possibility of a World War III became unthinkable. In my junior year in high school I joined with about fifteen other kids to form a school-sanctioned chapter of the United World Federalists, then a popular movement that called for ending the nation-state that led to wars.  In its place we believed we should create a “United States of the World,” a one-world government.

While our idealistic dream never came true, it did form the basis for the belief that peace can only come by breaking down borders and by realizing that America may be a “great ” nation, but that it is not the only great nation and that we must learn to live with all the nations of the world.  Donald Trump appears to have different ideas.  I believe I am right to be scared for our nation and our world. — Ken Germanson, Dec. 30, 2016.