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Bearing many burdens

Paul Andersen

In 1961, John F. Kennedy outlined his approach to foreign policy with an idealistic inaugural speech. “We Shall Bear Any Burden” established Kennedy as a Cold War visionary who soon led us into Vietnam.Now that the United States is “bearing any burden” with domestic blunders and foreign imbroglios, it is appropriate to revisit JFK’s speech. His words from more than 40 years ago add a necessary historic and ideological perspective to our world.JFK: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”The success of liberty remains in serious question, here and abroad. With more than 1,000 U.S. casualties and thousands of Iraqi dead, the price for our quixotic quest for liberty is being paid in human blood and untold suffering. Meanwhile, constitutional liberties are being eroded at home in the name of patriotism. JFK: “To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do – for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.” Today, “Old Europe” scoffs at America’s ill-advised interventions. We are not united, but grievously divided, both domestically and internationally, and we are met by the powerful challenge of our own misguided crusades.JFK: “To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far greater iron tyranny.” Globally, the United States promotes colonial control through economic leverage. We establish iron tyranny in our tragic foray into Iraq, where we hope to quell an implacable insurgency.JFK: “We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom – and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”Freedom is subjective, and we are ill-equipped to judge the difference between terrorists and freedom fighters except by compliance with our parochial interests. We are the tiger on whose back potentates ride at their own peril.JFK: “To those people in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” The United States exports cheap labor jobs and imports sweatshop merchandise and undervalued natural resources. We are told that tax breaks for the “haves” and the “have mores” will help the poor, regardless of the growing gap between rich and poor in the world today.JFK: “To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support …” We scoff at the last best hope, bullying with sanctions, bribing with influence and coercing with flawed intelligence.JFK: “To those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge, but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity …”Force is our traditional strategy, cowing who we perceive as weak nations with inferior ideologies. We ignore their rights, their beliefs, their cultural histories while playing the trump card of death and destruction.JFK: “So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate …”Paul Andersen thinks rhetoric is cheap. His column appears on Mondays.


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