I'm still celebrating Memorial Day, since the
official date is May 30.
This year I needed extra time to think about war; with the presidential
election it's important for ordinary citizens to try to understand
America's foreign policy, in order to vote intelligently. Here's my best
World War II is the easy one.
Only the most pathetic peaceniks deplore our fighting the Nazis, and I
think most people are glad we dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan
before more Americans died invading its shores. I never really
understood why it was necessary to drop the second bomb — it seems that
the point had been made — but don't really care.
My son's grandfather was a sailor in the Pacific who returned in one
piece. Then Japan, having been conquered, became a free and prosperous
country that today sends tourists instead of bombs to Hawaii. Defensive,
no-holds-barred war works, and the Americans who died in it created a
I'm not sure about Korea or Vietnam. World order strategists might show
what was accomplished in standing up to Red China and communism
everywhere, sending the message that we wouldn't allow statist ugliness
to take over the world one country at a time. This message culminated in
Ronald Reagan's powerful rhetoric about the Evil Empire, and the
policies, including Charlie Wilson's War (read the book) in Afghanistan,
which took the demoralized Soviet Union to the edge of bankruptcy.
The message got confused in Central America, where some of the
anti-communists were villains too.
It was also confused by the immoral use of the military draft, forcing
young men into combat with an ill-defined mission.
But in the end, the American military distracted the Soviets, who wanted
to dominate the world. We honor all the Cold War warriors who stopped
the spread of communism and kept the peace — until the Islamic threat
The question remains, as part of the presidential debate, should we talk
with our enemies? Some ridicule the very idea; others insist that
"talking can't hurt."
I think of Ronald Reagan, first demanding that Gorbachev "tear down this
wall," then meeting with him in Iceland from a position of moral
certainty. Eventually, they looked like friends. Perhaps it was just a
case of having the right leaders in the right place at the right time.
There was Northern Ireland, a seemingly intractable conflict, ending
after decades of negotiation finally led to a conversation that worked.
I recall South Africa described as white people holding a tiger by the
tail. Many experts thought the end of apartheid would result in
wholesale murder, following patterns in other parts of Africa. Instead,
an African nation was created that is more viable than most there —
because people from all over the world talked and assisted.
Clearly we can talk to our enemies under certain conditions. If the
conflict makes some sense, demands on both sides can be met with
compromise. When colonists wanted representation in Parliament, England
should have given it to them and avoided the Revolutionary War. But
after we fought hard and won, talking created a future good relationship
between our countries.
Some long-ago leaders got concessions from Alexander, Caesar and even
Genghis Khan. Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, after much bloodshed,
were successful at the negotiating table; as were Reagan and Gorbachev,
a matter of coordinated personalities and timing. It seems Saladin
didn't actually want to conquer the world; he was posturing for other
But if one side really wants to conquer, convert or enslave us all, or
engages in genocidal murder, or wants the Jews out of Israel, period,
there is no discussion possible because there is no possible compromise.
One can't talk with a Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin or Islamic terrorists.
To try would show foolish weakness, and give them credibility.
Two sides can talk if the original conflict, even if not rational,
occurred so long ago that new participants can get past the ancient
grievances. The new participants must be evolved human beings who have
moved past the predator stage of human existence, past a mindless
religious fundamentalism that knows God is on its side and wants to
destroy the other side, and past mindless revenge. In other words, the
participants must be sane.
The Irish finally seem to have achieved sanity. Those in the Balkans are
working on it too.
The genocidal maniacs in Darfur don't fit any criteria for conversation,
which makes one wonder what "not on our watch" means when anti-war
activists say it.
And what can we discuss with Muslim fundamentalists who want an
all-Muslim world? The last thing I want to be is a Muslim woman. This
Memorial Day week, I am grateful to all those who have fought to keep
that particular religious fervor far from me and my grandchildren.
I'm not an expert on foreign policy, and am also not terribly impressed
by many who supposedly are. But in a few months, we ordinary citizens
must choose a president who can tell the difference between those world
leaders who can be talked to, and those who want to destroy us no matter
what we say.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.