Folk singer Phil Ochs (1940-1976) wrote a ballad about old people, mainly politicians, giving young people orders on how they should behave and believe. The closing verse is:
“So keep right on a talking
And tell us what to do.
If nobody listens,
My apologies to you.
And I know that you were younger once
‘Cause you sure are older now,
So when I got something to say, Sir,
I’m going to say it now.”
Ochs applied his sarcastic insight to the United States as well. In a song he wrote about American incursions from South America to Southeast Asia he criticized our government for interfering militarily when a country elected a leader we did not like and could not control:
“We’ll find you a leader
You can elect.”
Just based on media reports of our current actions in Venezuela and Iran, among others, Ochs’ message has had little resonance for our contemporary leaders. And hearing people on all sides of the military intervention issue from President Trump to each of the twenty-one 2020 presidential hopefuls and everyday folks from Maine to Monterey, perhaps Ochs might agree with Yogi Berra (1925-2015): “It’s deja vu all over again.”
That is not to say either Ochs or Berra or anyone else should encourage America to cease vigilantly preparing for danger. As our son, Jim Redwine, learned from personal experience while fighting on the front lines of the 1990-1991 Gulf War and in 2006-2007 in the Iraq War, we must not allow ourselves to fall behind the curve of military technology. Iraq’s military technology simply could not compare to ours. America must not allow itself to be on the weak side of the military equation.
What that concern does not require though is our penchant as the world’s preeminent military power to “Keep right on telling others what to do and whom they should elect.” Our power should remain potentially dominant but our desire to dominate other countries should remain in check. Our Constitution calls for “national defense”, not aggression.
With our current yearly national debt standing at 104.1% of our total gross national product it might behoove us to look to the source of this imbalance between production and debt. It began when we decided to drive the old Soviet Union into financial collapse via its military spending. Unfortunately our own spending rapidly increased from 30.9% of debt to GNP in 1981 mainly through our own massive military spending to where we are today. That is spending a lot of money we do not have. And it is always a good idea to learn from the mistakes of others. We do not want to become a broke and crumbling version of the old Soviet Union due to our own overspending on unnecessary world-wide military incursions.
Perhaps we should do what Russia should have done fifty years ago and concentrate on our domestic needs such as infrastructure, health care, global warming and our environment while continuing to keep pace, but not be profligate, with our national defense. A reasonable first step might be a policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries as long as they return the favor.
I know we often get legitimately upset with the behaviors and cultures of other countries. But countries are made up of people and we may want to step back from the dangerous and expensive practice of telling others how to behave and believe. It is analogous to how many of us view Freedom of Speech. We will allow others to say whatever they want and behave as they see fit as long as they say and do what we agree with. As that wise Hoosier war correspondent Ernest T. Pyle (1900-1945) observed during WWII:
“When you have lived with the unnatural mass cruelty that mankind is capable of inflicting on itself, you find yourself dispossessed
of the faculty for blaming one poor man for the triviality of his faults.”
We might want to consider a similar thought for other countries and other peoples.