Pick a Card, Any Card
When I was a child, it would not be unusual for anyone in my presence to suddenly find me standing before them with a deck of cards in my hands. They would soon be asked to "Pick a card, any card."
While my skill at prestidigitation never progressed beyond the basics needed to get my head patted on rainy days, other children have had great success in learning which card you were going to pick before you picked it.
Almost all of us seek to be free from disease, to be comforted from pain, to sleep snugly in a bed at night. To some extent, the political process is our attempt to insure in advance that the future will bring us those things. We seek to place the aces of health, wealth, wisdom and happiness in the deck and to remove from those cards which cause us harm.
Most of human history has been dominated by the few who have arranged events to further personal appetites. Modern history is the attempt to limit that power and the damage done by these narrow-minded autocrats. What was once hailed as glorious or divine, is now seen clearly as mental illness. We measure human progress by the success of these efforts. The struggle to assert the "common" interest over the personal is the noblest of all.
The goal of identifying war as an undesirable element has been given added impetus as our destructive powers have increased. Madmen can now end all life on earth. This realization has given urgency for the creation of institutions and organizations that seek to promote alternative behaviors. The carnage of the First World War, for which no rational cause has ever been found, may be marked as a milestone in this new consciousness because it spurred the idea of world peace and the creation of the League of Nations. The carnage of the Second World War and the Holocaust reinforced and accelerated efforts to institutionalize a new consciousness that peace was an essential object of civilized society.
However, this concept of a goal for civilization goes through cycles. When the concentration camps were fresh in our minds, and the mushroom cloud was still hanging over us, the clamor for sanity was widespread. But as those events become distant in our minds, we tend to forget and downplay the horrors of modern warfare.
Where the battles were fought, and the destruction was the greatest, an appreciation for tranquility flourishes and militarism has been in decline.
This is not the case in the United States. Those who promote peace are a distinct minority here. There is no objective statement by any serious political party which asserts peace as a goal. Our two parties, when taken as a whole, exercise a monopoly on political power in the United States. They both convened this summer to pick a candidate and produced a statement of values which they call a "platform." We need no sleight-of-hand to know that no leader has been selected who is identified as a "peace" candidate, and neither platform will include a strong "peace" plank.
That is not to say there are no candidates that seek the votes of those of us who seek peace. The trick is to get that support without actually having a policy towards that end.
The end of the Cold War represents a highpoint in the hope to re-direct human endeavor towards perfecting civilization, and away from the traditions of conflict.
People spoke openly of a peace "dividend," of once again returning to the saner pursuits of perfecting our society; of leading not only in arms but in health care and education, of ending the worse than Third World ordeal of our inner city poor, of enjoying the fruits of victory, our quality of life and the American Way.
At about this time, when Yeltsin stood on a tank and doused the last flames of Soviet Communism, a little remembered debate took place in the United States. It was between the late humorist and social commentator Art Buchwald, and a noted and distinguished member of the conservative cold-war press, Robert Novak. Thinking that peace was finally about to break out, Buchwald teased Novak. "What are you going to do now," he chided, "now that you don't have the Soviets to alarm us about?" Novak smiled, as if talking to a witless child and let Buchwald in on the new reality: "We have Saddam Hussein."
Commies? What commies? We have a new enemy. Simply cross out "Evil Empire" and write in "Rogue States." Without skipping a note, the beat goes on.
In the eight years of the new millennium we have been at war for seven. War reports are as regular as rain and less lengthy and detailed than the sports scores. Three wars do not command one-third the attention as the Olympics. The Olympics happen only once every four years; war is an everyday commonplace and an accepted part of our routine.