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Celebrating a golden anniversary reunion with classmates from Fordham College (class of 1961) on a perfect June day in New York should be a time of pure Gaudeamus Igitur and little or no stress.
I should have known better that to attend a long lecture by Jack Keane, a retired four-star general of Fordham Business School's class of 1966. Actually, I did know better; but I went anyway. I felt I could risk going to hear Keane's slant on the world because, prior to my upcoming Mediterranean cruise to Gaza, my cardiologist had pronounced my blood pressure under control. I felt as good, and energized, as 50 years ago.
Keane, now a member of Fordham's Board of Trustees, has been the go-to general for the neoconservatives in recent years. He indicated that he was about to catch a flight to Europe where he would lobby leaders of the 41 NATO countries who, except for three, have been "unwilling to ask their people to sacrifice" in places like Afghanistan. (It seems never to have crossed his mind that most Europeans have long since concluded that the war in Afghanistan -- aka Vietnamistan -- is a fool's errand, and that they are less susceptible to misleading rhetoric about the so-called War on Terror.)
Proceeding from general to specific, Keane mentioned that he had asked top UK military leaders at Sandhurst why even the British seem to be going wobbly on Afghanistan. He said that over cocktails British generals commiserated with Keane, asking him sheepishly, "Have you Americans lost confidence in us?"
"Yes we have," Keane said he answered. He told us he very much bemoaned increasing U.S. isolation -- even from its closest allies -- on crucial matters of war and peace, but assured us: "We're better." Keane said he was going to Europe to try to transplant some of the U.S. "strength of character" into European backbones.
Europe Unwilling to "Sacrifice" Like We Are
Keane suggested that the two world wars had weakened the moral fiber and resolve of most Europeans. He claimed that the "main ingredient" in the lamentable "unwillingness of European leaders to ask their people to sacrifice" was the prevalence of Social Democracy. At which point a Golden Jubilee classmate of mine threw up his hand in a vain attempt to ask what sacrifices most Americans have been asked to make during almost 10 years of war in Afghanistan -- especially relatively wealthy white Americans like, sadly, virtually all of us in the audience.
On such a beautiful spring day, only a skunk at the picnic would call attention to the reality that only a select few Americans are being asked to "sacrifice"; that is, are being sent off to kill and be killed.
Hundreds of Fordham alumni perished in WW-I and WW-II. During Korea and Vietnam respects were paid and prayers always offered for those fallen in battle. Not so this year. I found myself wondering if any alumni had died in Iraq or Afghanistan. (I should have asked, even at the risk of eliciting an embarrassed silence.)
I have felt from the outset that eliminating the draft merits a place toward the very top of the long list of President Richard Nixon's missteps. Would Congress have voted to launch war on Iraq, if "important" people -- like Representatives and Senators themselves and their children -- would have been at risk to be sent into battle? I don't think so.
Keane and his well-heeled Establishment colleagues are quite okay asking other Americans to sacrifice. Half of U.S. forces are drawn, via a poverty draft, from the inner cities and small American towns of less than 50,000 -- places with few jobs and even fewer educational opportunities. This is, in my view, an important moral issue, however painful it might be to examine it closely. It is avoided like the plague.
Highly Educated but Ill-Informed
I found the situation at Fordham as bad as what I observed during our last class reunion five years ago. Sadly, most of my classmates and many of my closest friends -- virtually all avid readers of the New York Times -- are malnourished by the thin gruel dished out by the Times and the rest of the Fawning Corporate Media.
Those willing to take the trouble to navigate the Web and look for alternative media for full and accurate information still comprise a distinct minority. Like me, however, they were deeply troubled that our alma mater would lionize Gen. Keane. "Thou shalt not kill" seems to have become as "quaint" and "obsolete" as the Geneva Conventions.
Those in that minority were all too well aware that Keane was a key figure in promoting the so-called "surge" of more than 30,000 U.S. troops in 2007 that helped the Shia complete the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad. In short, during the surge, the Iraqi capital of several million was transformed from a predominantly Sunni city into an overwhelmingly Shiite one.
I had expected Keane to echo Establishment encomia regarding the "success" of the surge -- and I had thought about what I might ask on that topic during the Q and A -- but his hour-long lecture on "Emerging Global Risks and Opportunities" had a more general sweep. If anything held center stage, it was the "threat" from Iran, which he portrayed as part of an "ideological" struggle to create an Islamic Caliphate by defeating America's moral fiber, with the first step in this assault being the attack on 9/11. See how it all comes together?!
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