While millions sleep, history’s greatest single nation edges nearer an awful chasm. Drained by war, torn by crime, sick with drug abuse, ridden with immorality, driven with lust, stricken with senseless procrastination, lack of purpose, fading loyalty, economic sickness and spiritual poverty, a great nation looks over the edge into chaos.
We don’t know why we are, the United States of America has no great cause. There is no great goal toward which we unitedly press. There is no great single unifying bond, no common spiritual dedication, and no deep, transcendental purpose for which we strive.
We are sick. And our greatest sickness is our stubborn refusal to acknowledge our own moral and spiritual poverty. To diagnose our many illnesses is to invite snorts and sneers from a rising number of “super patriots” whose stock-in-trade is the big-business, chamber-of-commerce attitude of “let’s talk about what’s right about America”.
We are the greatest single power the world has ever known. We have risen to dizzying heights of technological development and scientific achievement. American footprints dot the moon. Our language, our culture, our products have girdled the globe. We have been blessed with the most fabulously rich piece of real estate on the good earth. Our standard of living has risen to opulent heights never imagined in the science fiction of yesteryear.
And, given all this, we are very sick. Sick with our own affluence, with crime, pornography, disease, unemployment, inflation, divorce, massive urban crises, racial inequality; and our most precious national resource, our youth, is sick. Today, our nation’s youth spurns and rejects almost every facet of all that can be called the “status quo,” achieved by the older generation.
They’re sick to death of lying, cheating, and double standards. They’re sick of the “don’t do as I do, do as I say” hypocrisy of a generation of used-up self-seekers whose goals of materialism have resulted in the conditions all around us. They’re sick of useless wars, undeclared, unnecessary and unfinished.
But one sickness doesn’t heal another. Two wrongs never make a right. America desperately needs a great cause. She needs a vital, living, noble, just purpose. Maybe it’s not too late for the younger generation to succeed where their elders have failed. Maybe they can yet catch the vision of a great cause, a dynamic goal which calls for, and is worthy of, great sacrifice.
Former President Nixon said in his inaugural address: “We find ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit.” He said ours is a “crisis of the spirit,” and added that, to solve “a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit.” But what has happened to the spirit of America? Where is our pride?
Never before has there been a time when Americans can argue by merely mentioning the name of their country. Today, Americans disagree about America. They’re not sure what America is.
Great voices of protest are heard from every conceivable source. Sneers from young, would-be revolutionaries are answered by hoarse shouts from hard-hats and super-patriots. The “America, love it or leave it “bumper sticker is answered by the “America, change it or lose” slogan.
Incisive analysis of society’s ills has always brought rebuttal and disagreement. But now it brings angry shouts of “If you don’t like it, why don’t you get out?”
What happened to our patriotism? Did something kill it? Did it just gradually die? Patriotism is, after all, a deep, prideful love of one’s father land, a thankful appreciation for the freedoms and liberties bought at such a dear cost by the tens of thousands who paid the most horrible of prices. Patriotism is love of country. And its love, within a tight-knit family, a completely patriotic American can become very, very angry at trends within his country. Why is it parents, who dearly love their children, can become angry when they witness the child making a decision they know will harm him?
Patriotism can never be blind flag-waving, a flag-shrouded refusal to admit family difficulties, a blind determination to remain studiously ignorant of deep family sicknesses.
But there are reasons for a decline in patriotism. There are reasons for our spiritual poverty, our moral sickness.
To understand what’s been happening to us, you need to look back as far as 1950, in Korea. We lost in Korea. Since then, we have lived through the Gary Powers incident, the Bay of Pigs, the Hungarian revolution, the Pueblo, the years and years of the Berlin Wall (the wall finally came down in the 90s.) Then in the 60s America almost collapsed because of the Vietnam War.
Remember the days when leaders were applauded? It was just barely before Korea. Remember the times when Americans remembered their own past history with pride?
But since then, we have lived through the assassinations of a President and his brother and the attempted assassination of two other Presidents. We have seen dozens of American cities aflame, with tens of thousands of youthful soldiers and national guardsmen confronting their own peers with loaded rifles and bayonets. Since Korea, we’ve seen American cities become steeping, seething centers of great turmoil and crime. America’s campuses have become hot spots for riot, murder, drug abuse, and centers for the fomenting of violent revolution.
We have seen pictures of burning buildings and firemen fighting fires raging in their own truck. We have seen pictures of the many young American policemen shot down in the daily combat in which they engage, and the battlefield is America and its cities. We have all seen it, and it has taken its toll on us.
Since Korea, America has not had a victory. Her sons have fought in far corners of the world in undeclared wars for limited political objectives, led by civilians. The one bright moment in a tiresome series of humiliating defeats, stalemates and docile subservience to piracy was the Cuban Missile Crisis. But even that was short-lived. We lost in Korea, and Vietnam, and will not win in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Don’t write history unless you wish succeeding generations to learn from it. Don’t read history unless you wish to learn from it. America wrote history in Korea, in the blood of her sons, husbands, and fathers. But she failed to read that lesson. After the tens of thousands of rotting corpses were buried, or left to decay on the rugged, icy slopes of Korea, after a major war had sapped American military and economic strength, the world had learned only one significant lesson: that the United States’ will could be challenged, that the pride in her power was flagging, that fourth-rate countries with vastly inferior industrial, economic and military strength could test America’s will, time and time again, and find that will weakened, unsure, and super-cautious.
It was in 1950, that the Russians exploded a hydrogen bomb. And from that time to this, there has always loomed the specter of a nuclear armed Soviet Russia to haunt the minds of American leadership. Each incident, no matter how seemingly trivial, in no matter how seemingly insignificant corner of the world, was viewed in the perspective of the Soviets and the bomb.
And so, for the first time, Americans tried to fight a conventional war for limited political purpose, for limited military objectives, with conditioned response and the piecemeal contribution of military hardware and personnel. She did this, in spite of the warnings from such battle-hardened Generals as “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell, who urged that Americans never get involved in a land war with Asia.
But American soldiers had never been, prior to Korea, treated like foreign legionnaires. They had never been asked to die for limited political objectives. They had never been ordered up frozen hills to die, only to demonstrate a point to an imperturbable, tough, patient enemy. Wars of attrition, they thought, died in the trenches of France. To fight to make the world safe for Democracy was one thing. But to fight to demonstrate U.S. policy of “containment” of Communism in a far-off, foreign land was quite another.
So, in Korea, America ignored the lessons of history, and wrote yet another bloody lesson which, when viewed in retrospect, makes the grisly agony of Vietnam ever more ghastly.
But the hard-earned lessons of World War II were not heeded prior to Korea. And the doubly-hard lessons of Korea were somehow ignored prior to Vietnam. Make no mistake; Korea was an absolute turning point of recent history. It was the first big growing crack in the pride of America’s power.
Take a look at the ironic parallels between Korea and Vietnam, and what they have done to the American spirit at home.
In Korea, as in Vietnam, Americans were fighting side by side with Oriental peoples who were, in turn, fighting against their own kind. To Americans in Korea “all Koreans looked alike.” Similar problems and their ultimate repercussions in the inevitable Anti-Americanism have come out of the battle stories in Vietnam.
In each case, they were fighting in a narrow country, divided North and South by a purely imaginary political line. That is, it was merely a line drawn on a map by politicians. It followed no particular chain of mountains. It followed no particular river, or valley. It respected no particular roads, canals, bridges or villages. It was, in short, utterly devoid of any essential military characteristics. It was, then, completely impractical from a military point of view since it ignored militarily defensible territory, or strategic political or topographical features.
In Korea, Air Force and Navy pilots flew missions against bridges, roads, tunnels, trains, ox carts, trucks, columns of troops, and hamlets. They were not allowed to carry the war to the enemy by bombing his airfields, or his rear supply bases, since these were carefully hoarded in Manchuria.
In Vietnam, pilots fly missions against carefully specified targets chosen, as often as not, by officers or the President thousands of miles from the battle.
The parallels between the air war over Korea and North Vietnam are inescapable. In each case the enemy enjoyed safe sanctuary. He could pick and choose when he wished to send up his MIG fighters to contest Americans in the air. He could carefully pick and choose where and when to place his air defenses. And he could learn where his military supplies were safest on the ground. All this led to a rather unhealthy attitude among American military personnel.
On the ground, the parallels are slightly different. In Korea, U.S. soldiers had a front. They knew the enemy was “up there,” in the North, and that their rear area, the PX, a cold beer, letters from home, and maybe a chance USO show, were all “back there.” If battle lines can ever be said to be “tidy,” then the war in Korea allowed “tidy” lines where possible.
But in Vietnam, there has never been a front. The enemy is everywhere. On all sides, in the jungle, in the rice paddies, selling you a beer in a bar (sometimes with broken glass in the beer) at noon, and donning his guerrilla uniform and equipment to attempt to kill you that night. The enemy could be that beautiful Vietnamese girl inviting you to buy her a drink (so she could inform her friends in the Viet Cong of all you said), or that little boy herding the water buffalo along the way.
A map of South Vietnam, showing enemy strongholds, appears to be leprous. The enemy is everywhere, and nowhere.
In Korea, there was a front, and a rear. But in Vietnam, there has never been a front, nor a rear, not even a home front.
Something was happening too, to the minds of American soldiers. They could fight tenaciously, ferociously, and they could win, they had proved that. They could fight like no other soldiers when it was for victory, when it was to conquer, to enforce a surrender upon a hated foe.
They could fight for girl friends, and Mom and Dad, they could fight to stay free, or to protect their country. But could they fight with the same spirit for limited political objectives in a strange country to carry out their part as functionary of worldwide geological considerations?
Could young Americans be called upon to become Legionnaires? Legionnaires are professional soldiers who fight because they are told to. They were the Romans, who fought to keep a vast empire together, and their mercenaries, who fought for the love of fighting. The famous French Foreign Legion was always known to be a sanctuary for criminals, sadists, and men whose only satisfaction in life came from fighting. They were paid to fight, and so they fought.
A great blow to the American fighting spirit was dealt during the “peace talks” at Panmunjom. Exactly half as many men were killed and wounded during the long peace talks at Panmunjom as were lost during the violent war that surged up and down the peninsula earlier.
Commanders began to experience something new in the American fighting spirit. Once the talks began, every common soldier knew in his heart his commanders, all the way to the highest diplomatic levels, did not want victory, they did not want North Korea, they wanted truce. Each fighting man knew in his heart he would never see the victory, that he would never drive the enemy from North Korea.
He learned, quickly, that the enemy seemed perfectly willing to fight to the death for a small piece of ground, seemingly forever. Tiny knobs and hills assumed enormous propaganda value out of all proportion to their military worth. Massive struggles over utterly worthless territory assumed huge importance. Whoever lost a hill lost face.
The ensuing months and years which began the peace talks at Kaesong and Panmunjom were no doubt the most frustrating years for the American people in their history, but nowhere near so frustrating and debilitating as for the American army. The continued failure to achieve either tangible political results or definitive military victory at huge expense and terrible sacrifice wore thin on civilians and the military alike.
Not only were men in uniform being killed, a people was having its will, its resolve, its imperturbable belief in the right slowly killed.
To kill a people, you must first break their spirit, and then give them too much. Make their purposes only selfish, personal ones. Make life and peace and the materialistic goals of an affluent society more urgently important to them than sacrifice for transcendental cause.
To kill a people, you must first have them greedy, sick with lust, insatiable with desire for orgiastic abandon. You must continually wear down their national pride, their God-given purpose, their deep loyalty to the whole family living within one concept of government, one blessed land they call home.
Beginning with Korea, not only young sons and fathers were being killed, a people were being prepared for death. Great leaders innovate. They create. They plan, they have vision and imagination, they move. Weak men strive for solution to problems as they arise, rarely preventing problems before they arise.
Once America was deeply committed in Korea, and once America illustrated she was willing to negotiate at the conference table with an unyielding, crafty Communist foe, and once America had committed herself to a policy of “conditioned response” to force in battle, she now offered temporary solutions to problems already set in motion through earlier lack of innovation. Political leaders, just as in the case of the past three administrations in Washington, fretted and worried over public reaction to such a costly and unvictorious war, and attempted to react accordingly.
History had proved to the armies of all nations that he who hesitates on the battlefield is usually lost. Yet, somehow, the United States in the early 1950’s decided that battlefields were no longer separate from civilian political offices. General Douglas MacArthur, relieved of his duties as supreme allied commander in Tokyo, was brought home as a direct result of his insistence upon using America’s nuclear arms or whatever arms necessary to achieve a complete victory, and doing so by attacking Communist bases in Manchuria. The United States Government was forced to seek some acceptable substitute for MacArthur’s proposed victory, and this resulted in a gradual build-up of armed strength at huge economic cost, and the forcing of millions of young American into long, hard and painful service which they despised.
The armed forces of every country have experienced their traditional amount of griping and fretting over the life of the “GI.” But in the early 1950’s the rumblings heard from the rank took on a far different note. The American public learned with shock that Americans would, and did, betray one another by giving information to the enemy.
The Gary Powers “superspy” incident, the failure of a highly-trained, extremely capable and presumably dedicated “spy pilot” to follow through on his grisly task of taking his own life and the shocking aftermath of the admission by the American President of having stated a repeated untruth, all this, too, wore on the American spirit and the American pride in her power.
Still, the American public was left with no deeply ingrained impression of either unwillingness or inability on the part of America’s fighting sons, fathers and husbands in the Korean War. It was quite patently the anguish of the U.S. Government, finding itself politically unable to withdraw or disengage, which led to deeper anguish and frustration in the general public.
Search your history books, and you will find a dramatic shift in American leadership right in the midst of the Korean War, just as you saw a dramatic shift in American leadership during the Vietnam War and the same is true during the war in the Middle East.
A new feeling of futility gradually crept into the American mind as a result of the terrible stalemate of Korea. This was the beginning of the breaking of the pride of our power. It was that moment in history when we floundered, indecisive, lacking clear-cut purpose, and proved our will could be tested by tiny, fourth-rate powers, with vastly inferior equipment in the hands of ignorant peasant boys who were largely illiterate.
While nothing can be said, which in any way could take away from the fighting spirit, in general, of the American men in Korea, nor no serious criticism offered of the job most of those men performed in that war, that subtle weakening of the American will was nevertheless a real product of our lack of victory in Korea.
The point is that, in Korea, just as in Vietnam and the Middle East both a Democratic and a Republican administration lived with the war “on their hands” and both learned that there were no easy solutions.
While Americans had begun to learn of such a thing as a “limited war” with “limited objectives,” the American servicemen could scathingly note that there is no such thing as a “limited bullet” and that once you’re in the front lines a battle is a battle and you can be killed, regardless as to how limited it may be labeled by a politician
Following the Korean debacle, Americans entered into a new age of affluence such as they had never known before. Around the corner was the decade of the “soaring sixties” along with the many sore sickness which were partially the direct result of our increasing wealth.
President Eisenhower said, in his State of the Union message, January 7, 1960: “American did not become great through softness and self-indulgence. Her miraculous progress and achievement flow from other qualities far more worthy and substantial: adherence to principles and methods consonant with our religious philosophy; a satisfaction in hard work; the readiness to sacrifice for worthwhile causes; the courage to meet every challenge to her progress; the intellectual honesty and capacity to recognize the true path of her own best interest.”
And it was only a few days previous to this outstanding speech, which seems in retrospect somehow prophetic, that the late economist Roger Babson said: “The test of a nation is the growth of its people, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Money and so-called ‘prosperity’ are of very little account.”
“Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Spain and France all had their turn in being the richest in the world. Instead of saving them, their prosperity ruined them. Our nation is now rated the richest, but it could easily become a second-class nation and head downward. Money will not save us. Crops will not save us. Stock exchanges and banks will not save us. Only a sane spiritual revival which changes the desires of our people will save us. We must be filled with a desire to render service, to seek strength rather than security, to put character ahead of profits. Even the democracy for which our fathers fought and bled could result in our downfall.”
The American spirit took a definite nosedive in the beginning of the 1950’s. Somehow a gradual disintegration of pride in American power, a gradual flagging of patriotism, and a gradual willingness to do business with one’s own enemies crept into America.
Americans were building their businesses and their homes, but they weren’t building pride. They were making money, but they were growing spiritually poor. Their will had been tested, and had been found wanting. And the spirit of a nation is measured by its national character.
A book by Andrew Hacker entitled, The End of the American Era was reviewed in the book section of Time magazine for June, 1, 1970 (it still applies today what he said). “A willingness to sacrifice is no longer in the American character,” and went on to say that “what was once a nation has become simply an agglomeration of self-concerned individuals.”
“We are in a stage of moral degeneration; we are no longer capable of being a great power, because we lack the will.” A large portion of Americans hold the view that the United States is a sick society.
The causes for this sickness are listed as lack of sufficient law enforcement, riots and murder, laxity of courts, breakdown in morals, shunning of religion, poor upbringing, lack of individual initiative, and general selfishness.
Those who disagree, including the super-patriots who want to hear nothing except “what’s right about America,” insist that only a small number of individuals are really sick, that too much publicity is given to the evils in society, and that society is really no worse than it has ever been. They see America as only a little “confused,” perhaps temporarily procrastinating but not really sick.
But America is really sick, the diagnosis is spiritual cancer, and the disease is fatal!