The recent cold brought back memories of when I was a young boy growing up in Cumberland. We had a trash barrel in the backyard where, a few times a week, we would burn our trash.
I know this is giving the environmentalists among you nightmares, but it was a different time.
During the cold months, my father and I would stand close to the flames. He sometimes told me stories of the Korean War, fighting in temperatures of minus 30 degrees. He hated the cold.
I was thinking about this in light of some recent headlines.
In one headline, state legislatures want to eliminate funding for Advanced Placement History classes, because these classes are critical of America. According to one of the Oklahoma lawmakers, these classes only teach what is “wrong with America.”
The other headline is from Rudolph Giuliani talking about President Obama.
“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”
Giuliani believes Obama is too critical of past American policies and decisions.
How does this all relate to Cumberland, Rhode Island in the winters of the 60’s you ask?
It matters because our government made decisions, against the evidence, sending my then 18-year-old father to Korea. These decisions put him, and thousands of other Marines, at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea in November of 1950, surrounded and outnumbered by the Chinese.
General MacArthur ignored evidence of a sizeable Chinese presence on the border. He ignored his own intelligence reports that the Chinese might enter the war; in fact, they had already crossed the Yalu River.
The Truman administration ignored a message from the Chinese, delivered by the Indian Ambassador to China, that if the US crossed the 38th parallel, China would respond militarily.
The horrors experienced by my father haunted him his whole life.
I have another memory from those years; my father screaming in the middle of the night, thrashing around on the bed, my mother desperately trying to hold him until the nightmares, reliving the battles, drove him to exhaustion and he fell asleep.
I believe those experiences contributed to my father’s battle with alcoholism and death at the relatively young age of 65.
To argue that we need eliminate classes that educate our future leaders in critical analysis is ludicrous. This country needs more critical thinking, not less.
The decisions in Korea were not an aberration. In 1965, we did it again, sending American troops into the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons despite knowing the impossibility of the mission.
During WWII, we supported Ho Chi Minh against the Japanese yet, twenty years later, we sent our soldiers and Marines to fight him. It cost the lives of almost 60000 Americans, along with millions of Vietnamese. We failed to understand the nature of the conflict.
We did it again in Iraq, ignoring or fabricating intelligence, in pursuit of a doomed policy.
In each case there was evidence against the efficacy of those decisions, we knew it, we ignored it, and we did not learn from it.
Giuliani says President Obama does not love this country because he is often critical of it. Giuliani has it all wrong. No one demonstrates love of country better than through a willingness to seek the truth, no matter how critical or difficult, in pursuit of improving our future decision-making processes.
I understand sometimes going to war is inevitable.
However, critical analysis shows there are opportunities to avoid them. Perhaps, if critical thinking took center stage rather than blind patriotism or hubris, we might have found such an alternative.
The freedom to criticize government is the foundation of our political system. Freedom of speech is the First Amendment for good reason. The founders recognized the absolute necessity of open and free discourse without fear of governmental intrusion.
Critical analysis of past actions can lead to a better future. Many of the founding fathers owned slaves. It took almost 70 years after the creation of the Constitution before we abolished slavery.
“All Men are Created Equal.” When these words first appeared on paper, All Men meant white men. Black men were not included until the Civil War and women not until much later.
It was critical analysis of the errors of the past that righted those wrongs.
Legislative discussions should not be about reducing funding for advanced courses; it should be for increasing the funding.
Perhaps, with a stronger understanding of all the good this country does, tempered by recognizing our weaknesses and mistakes, future generations will not send young men and women into the nightmares of warfare absent full, and continuous, critical analysis.