Thursday, June 24, 2004

Our kids as hostages

I don’t know about you, but I am concerned about hostages. Being held hostage is a terrible thing. Several people have been held hostage in Iraq recently and some of them were killed – beheaded.

There are other American hostages over in Iraq, too. About 20,000 of them. They are the US Army reserves and National Guard members who have served their year and then had their tours in Iraq extended.

A regular Army unit, the First Armored Division, normally based in Germany, had its yearlong tour in Iraq extended for three more months.

I’d call all these young people hostage to a misguided idea.

They can’t get out. They are trapped. Imprisoned in a hell-scape of death and destruction among people who hate them. What do you do if you’re a kid from some little town in Florida who joined the National Guard and then you get shipped out to a place you never heard of to fight for a cause that seems remote from your experience? The rightness of the cause – if there is one – must seem to be an illusion.

All you want to do is come home because you can’t see that anything you are doing over there will ensure the preservation of the great American union, the safety of its people or serve as a deterrent to anyone who might want to do us harm on our own soil.

So, there you are: hostage to a cause that makes no sense to you or anybody else you know.
Are the Iraqis any better off now with our kids over there? Well, Saddam is out of the picture. That’s good. But some estimates suggest that as many as 60,000 Iraqis have been killed in the conflict. The dead may be happier now in paradise, but they didn’t volunteer to go.

Some of the still-alive ones might be better off, too, but remember there was an international embargo against goods going in to Iraq and oil coming out for 12 years. The economy was on its knees, so it’s possible that things are a little better for some now. The UN estimates that about 1 million Iraqis died because of the embargo – most of them children. It’s not hard to get better than that.

We’ve had hostage crises before. On November 4, 1979 (during the presidency of Jimmy Carter), Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and took more than 50 Americans captive. This triggered a crisis that lasted 444 days. The nation was upset about the hostage taking and the captors’ humiliating the hostages in front of news cameras. The country was frustrated by Carter’s apparent inability to free them.

This may have contributed to Carter’s defeat at the polls because we Americans don’t like our people to be held hostage. It was on inauguration day in 1980, incidentally, that a new president, Ronald Reagan, announced that the 52 American hostages had been released from Tehran and were coming home.

Coming home is a good thing when you are a hostage.

... kenmatthews@yahoo.com

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Bush and Reagan

In the past few days, there has been an attempt by some to equate the current president, George W. Bush, president No. 43, with the recently departed Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States.

History, perhaps, will recognize the following similarities:
Number of press conferences they allowed (few) and the number of vacation days they took (many).

Both their administrations have been rocked by apparent illegal goings-on abroad.

They both adjusted the tax system in a way that benefited the wealthy. And both greatly increased spending and the national debt while proclaiming a commitment to the opposite.

They both owned ranches and both of them liked to be seen clearing the brush that grows there.

The depth of each man’s intellect was questioned and laughed about.

Both liked to talk about evil: "axis of evil" and "evil empire."

As young men at different times, both served in the military on the home front even though other Americans were fighting overseas in a huge war.

Both ordered the military invasion of another country. Reagan: Grenada; Bush: Iraq.

Both seemed to find the Constitutional restrictions on presidential power irksome and out of date.

Historians might also conclude that both Bush and Reagan would have us believe that the self-centered life is the moral life.

Both presidents may have wanted us to forget that the proclamation of righteousness cannot mask hellish deeds.

On the other hand, by the measure of popularity, some differences may be noted.

Reagan, at times seemed to have doubts about his decisions, and at least once (Iran-Contra) admitted that big mistakes were made.

Bush said he has no doubts. If you want my opinion, a man without doubt is either a deity or doesn’t understand what’s going on.

Reagan won two landslide victories in national elections.

Bush lost the popular vote in his first bid for the presidency, but was proclaimed president by vote of the U.S. Supreme Court. Most of the members of the court who concurred in the decision had been appointed by Reagan or Bush’s father, president No. 41.

Any attempt to equate the two men’s ability to communicate would be unconvincing, of course, if you measure communication as a reasonable choice of words, a compelling way to speak them and a resulting understanding of an idea by the people spoken to.

Bush might be happy to be considered the successor (or stunt man) for the old movie star, riding the range in pursuit of pure thought and clean living, but thoughtful people probably don’t buy it.

When citizens think about these two presidents, they should not have to choose between a respect for the dead and a respect for the truth. The citizens also might do well to remember that governing is done best by people with aptitude and training for it. It’s not a job for people who simply like to be in the big spotlight.


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