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Commentary: Some thoughts as we start a new year

Admittedly, I have not read every newspaper and news magazine in the country, nor have I watched every news program on television, nor have I listened to every news broadcast and talk-radio program in the country, so it is possible that one or more journalists have raised or otherwise commented on some of the “news” items that have intrigued or interested me–or, downright vexed me.

North Korea

In all the early news about the death of Kim Jong-Il, leader of North Korea, there was the expected description of what a nasty he was, there was even a cutsey-poo lampoon of the man’s greatness, and there was the astonishment that Washington didn’t learn about the death till two days after it happened. Washington was downright angry that no one in North Korea thought to call the White House immediately after the “Great Leader” died, to say, “Hey, we thought you should be the first to know, our leader has died. Funeral arrangements, to come.”

No, it was an indignant Washington that was on the “Oh, by the way. . . .” list.

But, what intrigued me–and, apparently, no one else–was that in the recital of the man’s achievements, such as they were, is the fact that America had not invaded North Korea. No one seemed to note that by building up a nuclear arsenal (number and size unknown) Kim Jong-Il ensured that America had put North Korea on the “Don’t invade, but talk to” list.This lesson is not lost on Iran’s erratic president, who has certainly also noted that after Libya gave up its nuclear intentions at the demands of the West, it was attacked.

As the world knows, after having started and lost the Vietnam War, America’s foreign policy has been based on fighting against those who can’t fight back and talking with those who can. During the height of the so-called “Cold War,” America was talking with the USSR and the People’s Republic of China but fighting those glorious wars against Granada and Panama. The debacles in Afghanistan and iraq were miscalculations, since it was assumed that since neither had a nuclear arsenal, invading them would be a cakewalk and that the women would strew rose petals at the feet of the American Army and that fathers would offer up their virgin daughters to the troops.

Washington

It is a puzzle to me why no journalist has looked into the report that the U.S. State Department has a $770-million program to build mosques throughout the Middle East. And, for whatever reason (though I am sure I know), it has included the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus where more than 500 Christian churches, cemeteries, and monasteries have been destroyed or desecrated.

Apparently, there is no church-building program in the State Department’s plans.

It would seem to me that someone should be asking what business is it of America to build mosques in Muslim countries which should be building their own mosques.

I must add that I have written ten letters to the Secretary of State about this and have received no replies–not even “Go to Hell” letters, much less acknowledgment of receipt of my enquiry, “Thank you very much.”

At one time in American history, those in Washington were the servants of the people who sent them there. No more, obviously.

China

In all the reports about China’s ship-building plans to establish a credible blue-water navy–and the fear that it bodes ill for the security of the universe–no one seems to have asked “Why not? After all, the body of water where the ships will sail is called ‘The CHINA Sea.’” And, it should be noted, there is a huge carrier-based American fleet patrolling those waters.

Why, if it seems to be justified that American can have a fleet of battle ships 10,000 miles from home, why can’t China have ships in its nearby waters? Imagine what our cheer-leading journalists would be saying if China were to send a flotilla to patrol the Pacific coast of America. If, that is, the Chinese ships were permitted to get even remotely close.

But, to make the point that America is concerned about China acquiring and building aircraft carriers and other vessels, we are establishing a military presence in northern Australia–”So, you Chinese should better be careful what you do.” This makes, I think. the 159th country where America has a military presence.

Russia

In a brilliant and very informative and perceptive article in the December 19/26 issue of The New Yorker, David Remnick has a delicious paragraph that I had to re-read a number of times and which–though it is confined to Russia–touches on a subject that friends have asked but, alas, I don’t recall any journalists or commentators asking (with the caveat, as noted in my opening paragraph). Namely, what business is it of ours what other countries do within their own borders.

The paragraph concerns the reaction of a Russian “spokesman” to America expressing “its gravest concern about the policy in Russia toward the gays.” Describing the “spokesman” as being in stitches, Remnick quotes him as saying:

“I thought, What is the State Department of the United States doing? With their national debt! With their collapsing economy! With a leak of industry in the country because everything is in a financial bubble! With a nightmare in Afghanistan! With a nightmare in Iraq! With a nightmare in the global economy! And they have a deep concern about gays in Russia. . . .”

Recently, while talking with an old friend who is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and who has never voted for the Democratic Party (he may not even know how to spell the name of the party), he asked (and he was very serious) “Why do so many countries hate us?” I mentioned the paragraph and recited as much of it as I could. His pause was scary. Then he said, “A little bit of humility wouldn’t hurt this country.” There was nothing further for me to say, except “You are right.”

So, if he can see the problem, why can’t our journalists and those who have the good fortune of having access to the newspapers and news magazines and the electronic media?

When the First Amendment of the Constitution ensured the freedom of the press, it did not say “so that it will serve as cheerleaders for whatever the presidents want to do.” It had hoped that the media would be the spokesman for the people, would be the adversary [not enemy] of government.

Why do I have the uncomfortable feeling that our news media is failing the country?

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