Saturday, July 29, 2006

Protecting liberty means more than just our own liberty

"He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."
- Thomas Paine, American writer (1737–1809)

Though this quotation was written in a style that would typically interest politicos and philosophers, it has a much deeper message for the rest of us.

First of all, it speaks of a duty, a duty to others than ourselves and those in our family. Duty is a subject only lightly covered in teaching children, as a general practice in the western world.

Paine says that we must protect our enemies from oppression, just as we would protect ourselves from it. To protect your enemies from oppression without saying anything is one thing, but to do so in a supportive and open way is quite another.

To support the welfare of another, openly, is a way of offering friendship. Only truly powerful countries can afford to offer support and friendship to their enemies.

If we take the US entry into Iraq as an example--setting aside the dubious reasons, which matter little today--it was to release Iraqis from the oppression of the Saddam regime. Iraqi supporters of the US invasion were and are still pleased that it happened.

The US had not reckoned on a religious civil war breaking out. All the original plans have been lost or abandoned, so that many Americans believe that the US should pull out of Iraq. That would result in mass slaughter, genocide on an unprecedented scale.

Does an obligation remain to protect Iraqis from oppression? To do that, the US must speak directly to Sunni and Shi'ite leaders in Iraq.

Does that sound impossible? Some would have us believe that. Yet the US has no trouble finding ways to bring the North Koreans to the table with the Chinese and Russians, as well as Japan and South Korea. What matters is will, not "can't."

Iraq's problems can no longer be solved with weapons. They can only be solved with words. The reason is that the religious civil war is being built and waged with words, words taught by Muslim leaders to their simple but devoted followers.

While this is going on, a defensive position can and must be maintained by the military.

Surely the country that claims to be the most powerful in the world today can develop strategies based on negotiations and diplomacy as well as it can based on sophisticated weaponry. It means that the US would have to recognize those with the power of words behind them to produce peaceful solutions, rather than violent ones.

It means that the US would have to make friends, not just allies.

Making friends is hard, as we all know. If the US is as great as its political leadership believes, then it must have the strength of words as well as of weapons.

Make time for the words. Only words can produce peace.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to make sense of complex problems so that solutions seem easier to reach.
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