A Quote to Note

William James

“A great nation is not saved by wars, it is saved by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans and empty quacks.” William James

The History Core

history-biographies

There are certain aspects in the study of History that are blatantly factual, but Histories and Biographies are primarily interpretations. The examination of historical events and the lives of individuals is more art than science, and the final product is more a tentative argument than a final conclusion. That doesn’t mean we should consider all historical analysis and scholarship as relative. That would be a mistake. Not all arguments are equally valid or probable based on the historical evidence. The tentative nature of historical knowledge doesn’t minimize the edification gained from studying history or biography, because this interpretive process sharpens critical thinking and evaluation skills. It forces us to judge, weigh, and consider. It exercises the very process of thinking that will guide most of the decisions in our lives. This is the core of what a liberal arts education is about: the making of an autonomous and free soul, able to make informed and un-coerced decisions.

A Harmless Annual Institution of No Use

Like many of you I hear the new year’s resolutions at every new year’s eve party. Very few people end up keeping those resolutions. Our resolve to lose weight, to work out more, to save more money, to do so many things we feel we need to do, falls victim to our lack of discipline and an easy retreat into settled habits.

It’s just pathetic.

In the January 1, 1863, edition of the Territorial Enterprise, the Virginia City, Nevada, newspaper that Mark Twain worked for, he wrote the following about the useless institution of new year’s eve resolutions:

Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. To-day, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient short comings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.

We Must Keep Our Presence of Mind

“…though embattled…we are [called] to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle.” — John F. Kennedy

The 130 people killed in Paris on November 13th and the 14 Americans killed in San Bernardino on December 2nd, are a malevolent reminder that we’re at war with Islamic militants. And while the attacks and senseless murder of these people was terrible, it wasn’t something any of us can honestly say we never thought would happen. We’ve been hearing from experts in the media for years that it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” attacks like this will take place inside Western nations. Of course this is not something experts had to tell us, we’ve always known this as a fact of life.

It’s not surprising that militants operating covertly in our open societies, on a mission to kill Westerners and willing to die in the process, will eventually succeed in pulling off high causality attacks. The critical question now is about how we respond. We can do many things, but what we cannot do is overreact. This is exactly what the forces of reaction across the West, especially in the U.S., will cause us to do if we’re not collectively determine to combat it. This leads to costly mistakes and it’s exactly what our enemy wants us to do. Like a good fighter, our foe prods his bigger and stronger opponent, hoping we will lash out and overextend ourselves–tactically, morally and financially–and make the foolish and costly mistakes that we’ve proved so willing to make. They’re playing the long game, and so must we.

For responsible, and I dare say sensible people, we cannot let fear and anger dictate our response. There is a lot of fear stoking going on, especially by certain cable news channels and politicians who spread mindless outrage and fear for shameless political gain. Just as we resist our enemy, we should resist these sirens luring us toward the rocks.

Out best weapon is our ability to keep our presence of mind.

In the aftermath of these tragedies, America and her Western allies will examine security policies and make some reasonable adjustments. European nations, specifically within NATO, need to come together and formulate a more comprehensive, active, and long term strategy for thwarting and defeating these militants. For the Europeans it will require, and America should demand, a much greater commitment in manpower, money, and materials abroad. The U.S. needs equal partners in this long war. This is a generational conflict and all Western nations should be actively committed–beyond mere rhetoric–to waging this long war.

With that said, President Obama is absolutely correct: “There is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.” A crisis, again, I remind you, that we Americans are partly to blame for creating by invading Iraq in 2003. Our invasion of Iraq destabilized the region. Let’s not add more fuel to the fire. Winning this long war will ultimately be about diplomacy, alliances, politics, and economics…not blood and iron. In the short term we must fight and defeat our enemy, but we must realize that the war of today is fought to win the peace of tomorrow.

Going forward our war against these terrorists should be a steady and ruthless counterterrorism campaign waged by air power, special forces, and intelligence operatives across the middle east. Along with that, we must have sensible policies at home that allow us to deal with enemies amongst us, plotting to kill innocent people. This is critical. This will include supporting laws like the Patriot Act, which are in-fact important in keeping us safe.

It’s my hope that Americans will be actively resistant to any large scale boots-on-the-ground action in the middle east. Another ground invasion will only create more terrorists, while needlessly killing and maiming more American soldiers and costing the American tax payer hundreds of billions of dollars we don’t have on another large scale misguided military venture we can’t afford. We need to focus our fiscal resources on rebuilding a stable American middle-class, not on invading and rebuilding Iraq or any other part of the middle east.

We need to fight a smart war, not one that exhausts us morally and fiscally.

What do you desire?

Some may find it easy, but many, I’ve found, have not. When we’re young it’s a faint question in the background; it’s a passing thought that’s constantly being put off until later, until we’re older and supposedly wiser. And then “later” comes and we’re older, in grad school or working a full time job, in a career and all grown up, maybe even married with a family, many years have passed, but still we have not answered that question. It’s still there, asking of us: What do you desire?

I know some people who seem to have answered that question. Some were very young and found their “itch” quickly and have pursued it all their life. But many, I think, are still trying to answer that question.

What do you desire?