Herbert J. HoffmanIndependent Candidate for the United States Senate (Maine)
Some startling contrasts have presented themselves the past few months as I have campaigned for U.S. Senate.
Last month in downtown Saco, as I was introducing myself to the local shopkeepers, the sun shone brightly, a soft breeze stirred the warm summer air. My feelings were running high as many citizens recognized me and expressed support for my platform – which includes bringing all our troops and contractors home now, implementing single-payer health care, working for energy and food independence, and holding this administration accountable, through impeachment or other means.
"Nuke Syria," he said emphatically, "Kill all the Muslims."
My spirit sank upon hearing such lack of empathy for another human being. I have had the same sinking feeling before, including another encounter about a year ago. At an art gallery opening a friend introduced me to a young woman. The war in Iraq soon dominated our conversation. This spirited discussion ended when she proclaimed her solution: "Bomb all the Arab and Moslem countries with nuclear weapons – wipe out all the Muslims."
Shocking as these two incidents are, I worry that they are reflective of views held by a large number of Americans. For a number of decades, our nation has been moving towards a more explicit aggressive posture in dealing with real and perceived conflicts as it relates to other nations and peoples. The United States has spread its military presence to more than 180 countries, with permanent military bases in more than 137 nations. Further, we continue to be engaged in two illegal and immoral occupations of sovereign nations at an ever increasing cost of life and limb to Americans, Iraqis, Afghans and others.
Clearly as military aggression has escalated under the Bush administration, the world has not become a safer place. In fact, it is potentially far more dangerous than at any prior time in our history.
It is my personal and professional opinion (I am a retired psychologist) that the emphasis of our federal government over the past several decades on solving conflict through aggression, intimidation, and threats has had a profoundly adverse impact on our national psychology, the way we think about and solve problems. How else do we explain the lack of outrage at the President admittedly supporting torture; the lack of outrage at extraordinary renditions, secret prison ships, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib; the lack of outrage at illegal wiretapping of American citizens, suspension of habeas corpus, denial of due process?
I worry that the genocidal aspirations expressed in the two conversations I mentioned earlier are simply a stark reflection of the erosion of morality that is now becoming characteristic of this country.
I remember vividly the revulsion I experienced during bayonet practice while undergoing basic training at Fort Dix many decades ago. To be an effective combat soldier it is necessary to insulate oneself from the reality of being responsible for the death of another human being – and I was unable to insulate my feelings about a stuffed dummy which represented a fellow human being.
I have to ask what happens to the psychology of the members of our professional armed forces who are trained to kill – some on the streets of Baghdad and Kabul, some by manipulating drones equipped with missiles from half way around the world, some who press the button that launches a missile, some who fly in the stratosphere and drop 500 lb. bombs on unsuspecting targets?
Is it possible to turn off this trained and indoctrinated indifference to the life of another human being at the end of a tour of duty? Does the euphemism of "collateral damage" wipe away, neutralize the feelings associated with the responsibility of taking innocent lives? Or is it possible that the prevalence of PTSD, suicides, homicides, assaults and addictions among our returning military is an index of the internal conflict generated by combat experiences and other war related experiences and finds expression in antisocial actions?
We, as a people, have just witnessed the application of military tactics as a means of suppressing dissent at the two conventions of the major national political parties. Protesters exercising their First Amendment rights were segregated to pens far from the delegates; preemptive raids were conducted and arrests made of journalists; police in riot gear aggressed on non-violent demonstrators; credentialed journalists were assaulted and taken into custody without apparent cause; in storm-trooper-like fashion police gassed and maced innocent citizens who were simply standing up for their principles.
Is this the Democracy that the Democratic and Republican Conventions so patriotically extolled? Are these actions not more representative of a fascist government? I am still waiting to hear from the national parties and from their respective presidential candidates a condemnation of such behavior by the Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul police and the Secret Service. Their silence is deafening.