Greater Freedoms

I wrote the following while on vacation a few years ago.

The backstory is: I was watching a movie about the holocaust, and the friend I was watching it with fell asleep. For some reason that triggered some thoughts that I like.

National Security Reform
July, 2006

In the Nineteen-Thirties and Fourties tens of thousands of Europeans moved to the United States (including my fathers parents.) In the late Fourties and Fifties those same immigrants worked to build secure lives, with money, influence, and power. As these individuals matured in accomplishment and age – and as their progeny followed in their footsteps – they never shed the drive planted in them by their emmigration.

In the Nineteen-Thirties and Fourties, whiles thousands of immigrants came to the United States, millions were killed, brutally and systematically. Many of those killed have relatives who survived them in the United States. I witnessed the guilt my grandfather felt for surviving. The only thing that we as survivors could and can do is to work every day to make sure history does not repeat itself.

Jewish support of a strong national security must be understood in this context. For decades, the conservative foreign policies of the United States have been heralded by otherwise liberal Jews out of determination to never again have to rely on other nations to save us. The cold war of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies was supported not simply from a “fear of communism.” The similarity between “the people” of the communist system and “the people” of the Reich (which excluded and exterminated Jews) was not overlooked by politicians in motivating immigrant leadership to support military build-up and intervention.

Strength over freedom equals ?
Our current true national security threats, and our response to them, deserve to be analyzed in light of this history. Our country has developed a strategic position – out of our strength – that we need not rely on the good will of any other nation. This is the logical conclusion of our forbearers desires to never again be reliant on the kindness of strangers. However, we live in an age where our security threats are diverse.

Last week North Korea tested long range ballistic missiles. The United States and others protested. But when the United States models for the world that one can only rely on ones own country, it is folly not to expect other countries to follow our example. We have created a world in which the ability to rely on only ourselves has become not a security strength, but a weakness. We set a bad example.

In honor of my grandparents, and also in honor of the relatives I never knew, we must consider a policy that relies on collective over individual strength. It is admirable, and understandable, to want to never be weak, ever again. But it is time we realize that our strength is measured not just by power, but by wisdom. Our wisdom is measured – unilaterally – by our ability to convince other nations to work with us on our security needs. For better or worse, perhaps if they do not understand, we are better off if we lack the power to act.

There is no power in the world that can not be vandalized by terrorism. There is also no single power in the world that will eliminate evil, or death. It is time we measure our strength by our power to spread freedom, not only our ability to enforce it.

For those unfamiliar with Jewish History, or Holocaust History, the mantra of the Holocaust education movement is ‘Never Again.”

That simple pledge can become perverted. Or rather, must be correctly interpreted by each generation to prevent abuse in its own name.

Here is a piece written in 1984 by Secretary of State Schultz about this. It includes the lines:

These brave men showed that the evil ever-present in mankind can be confronted and eventually defeated by an even more powerful devotion to justice and the will to sacrifice for a greater good.

We must never forget that lesson.

The principles that the rescuers upheld, and for whic many gave their lives, continue to animate heroic idealists of our own day, whose consciences will not permit them to acquiesce in injustice.

In preserving freedom, and security, it is critical – and unfortunate – that we not acquiesce to injustices. Who’s pumped for the inauguration?

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.