Thursday, August 4, 2011

Walking the Walk

This week is the 66th anniversary of America dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It’s the 37th anniversary of President Nixon’s resignation. It’s also been about six months since the “Arab Spring” and three months since the assassination of Osama bin Laden. The U.S. came close to not paying its bills this week.  These seemingly diverse remembrances are intertwined. They are incident that are at odds with the narrative of American character.

At 8:15am on August 6 1945 “Little Boy” bomb was dropped on the Japanese city. Japanese officials determined that 69% of Hiroshima's buildings were destroyed and another 6–7% damaged. Approx. 30% of the population of Hiroshima was killed immediately. Over 90% of the doctors and 93% of the nurses were killed or injured. By 1950 estimates are that 200,000 people had died in Hiroshima from the effects of the bombing.  Three days later, America dropped a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki and Japan surrendered the War.

The use of atomic weapons was politically popular and is still considered necessary by many historians and war experts. It was demmed a great show of strength and military might. A member of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey documented the results of the bombings. The film crew's work resulted in a three-hour documentary that included images from hospitals showing the human effects of the bomb; it showed burned out buildings and cars, and rows of skulls and bones on the ground. It was classified "top secret." 90,000 ft. of footage filmed in 1945 has not been fully aired.

President Richard Nixon became the only President to surrender the Office of the Presidency. He did so at noon on August 9, 1974, two years after the arrest of five men for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex. Journalists and the FBI were able to connect the break-in to the President's reelection campaign. There were tapes to prove the President had knowledge. Facing near-certain impeachment in the House of Representatives and a strong possibility of a conviction in the Senate, Nixon resigned.

The American political system has never been the same. How Presidential campaigns are funded changed. Watergate was a driving factor in amending the Freedom of Information Act in 1974, as well as laws requiring new financial disclosures by key government officials, such as the Ethics in Government Act. The Watergate scandal left such an impression on the national and international consciousness that many scandals since then have been labeled with the suffix "-gate".

In February/March 2011 nearly a dozen countries in the Middle East experienced various forms of civil uprisings in an attempt to change the oppressive regimes that were in place. Jeffersonian-style democracy has not emerged as hoped for by U.S. politicians. 
  • Egyptian protesters attempted to congregate in Tahir Square this week and were forced out.  The military leadership that has helped rule the country for most of the past century is still in place. 
  • Nearly 2,00 people have died in Syria this year in conflicts. CNN reported that the violence continues: “bodies lay stuffed and tangled like garbage in the back of a pickup. Men lifted the bodies one by one and hurled from them from a bridge into a river below.”
  • Libya continues to try to oust Mummar Gadhafi with NATO forces leading the fight.  President Obama refused to obtain Congressional authorization for American military participation.

Three months ago Osama bin Laden was assassinated. The New Yorker this week has a comprehensive essay that leaves no doubt that there was only one mission all along: kill the target.

America lost its moral authority in 1945. Americans lost faith in political leadership and began to distrust government institutions in 1974. Confidence in Constitutional relevance is at risk when the President engages troops in military conflict and refuses to obtain Congressional authorization. The President’s choice to kill an enemy of the United States (instead of determining guilt and exacting punishment through a judicial process) undermines the entire concept of the Rule of Law.  The Rule of Law is the bedrock principal that distinguished the United States from any other nation on the planet.   The U.S. has never not paid its debts.  This week the message from Washington was that many political leaders were OK for the U.S. not to meet its financial obligations. 

America is more than a country. It’s an idea. It’s an aspiration that the world looks to. As the 2012 Presidential campaign kicks into high(er) gear (just 480 Shopping Days Left!) the mantra of America being the best will bang loudly in a misguided attempt at patriotism. Were it still so.

The self-inflicted wounds to the character of the country can be remedied. It requires humility, remorse and leaders with integrity to redeem and restore our greatness and so that we can live by the values we expouse. I love this country. I love what we stand for and believe in who we can be as a People. That’s talking the talk. It pains me that we’ve fallen so short of who we claim to be. When will be be #1 in walking the walk.

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