Points to Ponder: I saw “Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers,” a documentary narrated by an older Daniel Ellsberg which I recommend for those who not only love documentaries about the Vietnam era but who also love to think about the challenging moral questions presented. They are questions which confront our politics to this day. Maybe they are even questions with which mankind has had to grapple since man could conceptualize right.
What does it mean to be a moral person? What does it mean to be a patriotic person? What does it mean to question one’s government in the face of its perceived immorality? Does one have the moral obligation to do so despite the risk? Did Nuremberg stand for anything? Is this country an exception to universally accepted behavior during war time? Are the government’s lies as expressed in the Pentagon Papers about the justification of the Vietnam War, first published in the New York Times, the same as the alleged lies perpetrated to justify the Iraq War or do the events of 9/11 change our moral compass? How important are the dictates of the international balance of power when it is part of the justification of foreign policy?
Does our government require the individual to accept its foreign policy without the questioning of one’s own personal dictates of conscience especially when one is employed by the government? What is freedom of speech and does it apply when a country wages war? Are our government and our nation the moral yardstick by which the world should measure itself or are we, really, in our own mind’s eye, the exception to the rules by which moral men and nation states should live?
These are important questions for one to ask and these are the questions which have plagued me from the moment I first became politically aware as a child of 9 viewing the documentary footage of the Camps of Europe Eisenhower and others liberated in May, 1945. Those actions of a supposedly “civilized” German nation state shaped my political philosophy to the present day. In light of that as I matured it became monumentally important for me to answer the questions of what constitutes moral right? Who is morally right and who is not?
Subsequently, the Vietnam invasion, its attendant Mei Lai massacre, the invasion of Cambodia, the Iraq War with its accompanying atrocities at Abu Grahib, to the present day bombing of civilians in Afghanistan, suspension of civil liberties including the admitted use of torture by the former Vice-President of the United States make me stop to ask those important questions. I need answers.
Would I follow an order which I believed to be immoral? I truly do not know. I hope, though, the answer to that question would be no. No, I would not do simply anything because my government told me to do it nor would, I hope, I commit acts outside the internationally set legal boundaries of wartime behavior. Our Founders KNEW the frailties to which power was heir. They KNEW what government possessing that power was capable of doing but they could never have known the ENORMITY of that power and our capacity to destroy the earth with us in it many times over.
How do we differ from our perceived enemies or, perhaps, we truly do not differ once the facts are exposed to the light. Do our own people really care if international law was broken? 2 MILLION Vietnamese died, 58,000 American soldiers died, the earth of Vietnam was covered with Agent Orange a defoliant and burned. As stated in Wikipedia, “According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, a cancer causing defoliant resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.” Congress, because of intense popular protest, finally, would not fund the Vietnam War any longer. It spanned four presidencies.
Is history always written by the winners? What do I owe my brother and if I am not my brother’s keeper who is? Points to ponder.