Saturday, September 4, 2010
Restoring America's Honor
Last weekend Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck managed to get tens of thousands of Americans to rally on the Mall in Washington in order to “Restore Honor.” Middle of the road reporters have, by and large, been content to make fun of this event but we must take serious all those fellow citizens who feel that we have lost our honor. You may not worry about honor, but in a democracy citizens must take each other’s concerns seriously. In politics we are supposedly all equal and that means that no one’s concerns may be ridiculed and put aside without being considered.
The rally itself told us little about what Beck and Palin thought needed to be done to restore our honor. Beck talked a lot about turning back to God. It appeared that he had no more idea about restoring our honor once again than anyone else.
But what makes people think that our honor has been tarnished? What does a nation’s honor depend on?
National honor is often connected with military might. A nation’s honor depends on winning battles and wars. The last few wars we have fought – Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – have, at best, ended in some indeterminate stalemate. We are now ending combat in Iraq but we can hardly claim a victory. In Afghanistan, the Taliban remain strong and we have certainly not brought Al Quaeda attempts on America to an end. Our enemies in Vietnam are still in power over there. Korea continues divided and North Korea threatens to acquire nuclear weapons.
If national honor flows from victory in war, our honor may well be a bit threadbare right now. But can we remedy this? After all, we are the most powerful nation on earth, we have enough nukes to wipe out human life on the planet.
But look, for a moment, at Russia. They also have a formidable arsenal of nuclear weapons. Their country, like ours, is very large with many natural and human resources. But they are no any longer a powerful country. The client states they had around the world 20 years ago have all disappeared. Russia today is struggling.
And so, of course, are we. The time for military glory is past. If we want military honor, we are going to be disappointed.
But our loss of military honor may well secure for us an honor of a different kind. Today the United States is unpopular in many parts of the world because, frankly, we have thrown our weight around in the past. We talked big about freedom and democracy while pursuing a narrowly self-interested policy designed to benefit our country and our corporations. Many of our interventions were (and are still) to our advantage but did and continue to do serious damage to the countries affected by our actions. We have not been good neighbors. We have misused our power to damage weaker countries.
Honor consists of being honored by others, of being well regarded and respected. We have forfeited that kind of honor through our narrow minded, selfish and exploitative foreign policy. Losing military as well as economic power may put us in a position where, no longer able to bully others, we will need to take a more cooperative stance and help others with our skills, knowledge and resources.
That may restore some of our honor.
Glenn Beck and Sara Palin are disingenuous and untrustworthy. But we should not be too hard on their followers. After all most of us have been followers of political figures who later turned out to be less impressive than we thought and to possess less integrity than we had ascribed to them. Very few of us can claim never to have succumbed to the temptation to exaggerate the merits of our leaders. We should not be too critical of those who exaggerate the integrity of Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin.
More importantly, the people who attended the "Restore Honor" rally do understand something important about America. We are not the all powerful nation we seemed to be 50 years ago. We are not the champion of free institutions, admired by all the world, we were at the end of World War II. The followers of Beck and Palin may well understand something that Obama and his administration have so far not recognized.