June 6, 1944. The beaches of Normandy.
On a Paula Priesse post on FB today I saw a quote today attributed to Colin Powell:
Colin Powell once said, “The United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond its borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.”
As always, I do some research to confirm accuracy and I found more than I expected. Colin Powell did indeed say this. There is obviously an email circulating attributing it to a context that was inaccurate. However, what “Truth or Fiction” did share was a number of quotes that I thought worthy of sharing on this anniversary of D-Day.
In a question-and-answer session afterwards (during which the phrase “empire building” was never mentioned, incidentally), the secretary of state was asked by former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey if he felt the U.S and its allies had given due consideration to the use of “soft power” — promulgating moral and democratic values as a means of achieving progress towards international peace and stability, basically — versus the “hard power” of military force.
Here, in part, is how Colin Powell actually responded to Carey’s question:
There is nothing in American experience or in American political life or in our culture that suggests we want to use hard power. But what we have found over the decades is that unless you do have hard power — and here I think you’re referring to military power — then sometimes you are faced with situations that you can’t deal with.I mean, it was not soft power that freed Europe. It was hard power. And what followed immediately after hard power? Did the United States ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe? No. Soft power came in the Marshall Plan. Soft power came with American GIs who put their weapons down once the war was over and helped all those nations rebuild. We did the same thing in Japan.
So our record of living our values and letting our values be an inspiration to others I think is clear. And I don’t think I have anything to be ashamed of or apologize for with respect to what America has done for the world. [Applause.]
We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own, you know, to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace. But there comes a time when soft power or talking with evil will not work where, unfortunately, hard power is the only thing that works.
It wasn’t the first time Colin Powell had used the figure of speech. During an “MTV Global Discussion” on February 14, 2002, he was asked how he felt representing a country commonly perceived as “the Satan of contemporary politics.” Here is the relevant part of his reply:
[F]ar from being the Great Satan, I would say that we are the Great Protector. We have sent men and women from the armed forces of the United States to other parts of the world throughout the past century to put down oppression. We defeated Fascism. We defeated Communism. We saved Europe in World War I and World War II. We were willing to do it, glad to do it. We went to Korea. We went to Vietnam. All in the interest of preserving the rights of people.And when all those conflicts were over, what did we do? Did we stay and conquer? Did we say, “Okay, we defeated Germany. Now Germany belongs to us? We defeated Japan, so Japan belongs to us”? No. What did we do? We built them up. We gave them democratic systems which they have embraced totally to their soul. And did we ask for any land? No, the only land we ever asked for was enough land to bury our dead. And that is the kind of nation we are.
That is indeed the kind of nation we are.
So, say thank you to a veteran or member of our armed forces today and remember our history.
Here ends the history lesson for today 🙂
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Yes, the American people are altruistic at heart and willing to fight to secure freedom for ourselves and others. Unfortunately this idealism on occasion has been exploited by the power elite to support military actions which were unnecessary and unjust.
War sometimes is not about acquiring territory but about establishing or maintaining hegemony to exploit territory economically. My Uncle Pat fought as a Marine in Haiti and Nicarauga, where he saw captured comrades who had been skinned alive. It is tragic these brave men suffered and gave their lives essentially to protect the business interests of the Grace family and other wealthy fatcats. There are numerous other examples where we militarily have supported oppressive regimes because their leaders “play ball” with our corporate exploiters.
More recently, we have the war in Iraq, which I believe was unnecessary, and waged mainly to bolster security for the Saudis and other oil providers in the region, as well as to try to gain control of the Iraqi petroleum resources (to be exploited for the benefit of the Big Energy oligarchy). A secondary motive likely was the funneling of many dollars from our treasury into the pockets of contractors who were corporate cronies and financial supporters of the Bush administration.
In this case, the strategic miscalculations and cultural misunderstandings rendered the Iraq enterprise a shameful waste of brave young patriots, as well as the nation’s financial health.
I understand there is an argument that our freedom is somewhat dependent on our economic well-being, hence we need to secure resources and markets in proactive strategic defense of liberty. That is a matter for moral debate.
Keep in mind that most Third World nationals, bearing the scars of European colonialism, view our economic and political interventions as imperialism rather than altruism. The American citizenry in our naivete think we are acting to bring aid and promote freedom, and are outraged when we are viewed as enemies and attacked.
Personally, I’d rather pay $20/gallon, ride the bus or walk to the store before I’d ask someone to risk sacrificing a parent, child or sibling for the sake of cheap gas. I know only too well how great such sacrifices are.
So, as we honor the heroic citizen-soldiers of D-Day, it is our duty to hold our leaders to close scrutiny and fierce accountability, that our soldiers’ sacrifices truly are to defend our freedom, and not to promote some economic agenda.
A good start would be to get your Tea Party minions to pester their Congressmen to pull the plug ASAP on our adventurism with respect to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere. Militarily, we need a lot more “Horse Soldiers” and a lot less “Fiasco”.
A better start would be to restore the integrity of our Constitutional Republic so that whoever attains political power is restrained from interpreting our Constitution in whatever way they wish. There are principles and values to which we need to return; values and principles that don’t “change.” Mistakes have been made partly because we are human and that’s what we do 🙂 And partly because many have lost any sense of a moral compass.