Friday, November 6, 2009

The Myths of Peace

I’ve read a lot of books about Richard Nixon. He’s a fascinating character, intelligent, resourceful, and, ultimately because of his faults, one of the most human presidents the United States has ever had. But with “Real Peace,” I read my first book by Richard Nixon.

It’s an eye-opener, more fully cementing in my mind the drive Nixon had for world politics. Most importantly for our day and age, it’s a book in which Nixon deplores quick, political solutions to international problems that only benefit candidates seeking quick wins, and advocates a more long-term, paced approach to real peace through long, thought-out, deliberate action that takes place over decades, not necessarily during one president’s rule.

He writes:
Lenin was fully aware of how helpful naïve Westerners could be to the communist cause. He contemptuously called them “the useful idiots.” More out of ignorance than by design, the useful idiots uselessly plug ridiculously simplistic answers to our most complex problems. They are the sloganeers whose idea of thoughtful analysis is often limited to what will fit on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker. “Make love, not war.” “You can’t hug your kids with nuclear arms.” “Honk if you want peace.” Much of this fatuous nonsense is harmless, but unfortunately not all the useful idiots occupy themselves by marching and honking for peace. Some teach in our universities; some write newspaper columns; others pontificate on television.

The complexities of the modern world are so baffling to them they seek comfort in simple answers., What they fail to recognize is that for every complicated problem there is always a simple answer – and it’s usually wrong.

Building a real peace will be arduous, frustrating work, and it is not surprising that some fall for shortcuts that promise to get them what they want quickly, painlessly, and cheaply. These shortcuts never work, and we should not expect them to work.

In his heart everyone knows that the only people who get rick from the “get rich quick” books are those who write them. But just as there are countless “get rich quick” schemes there is also a wide array of seductively appealing “get peace quick” schemes.

These are the myths of peace.
Though this book was written before the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and is primarily centered on the Cold War conflict, Nixon’s thoughts easily and ably apply to our current state of international conflict between the West and the Middle East. Nixon goes on to advocate what he calls “hard-headed détente,” which, simply put, is a rephrasing of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Not a war hawk by any means, Nixon reveals himself in this book to be a hawk for economic assistance and military aid that falls short of war but goes a long way in assisting troubled nations to find their own footing. I’d be interested to see what he’d think, for example, of dealing with the Taliban or Iraqi opposition forces in our current conflicts. I’m sure he’d look at the application of military might and say, as he did of American interests in Latin America:
Meanwhile we have left the impression that we become actively involved in Latin America only when our interests are threatened by communist aggression. We must now develop policies which also address their interests. Even if there were no communist threat millions of Latin Americans would justifiably demand reforms to lift the burdens of poverty, injustice, and corruption that have been their lot for generations.
In other words, it’s time to end marching into countries because of what we want to do. We ought to be asking, and forming policies, that help the people in those countries decide what they want to do.

I, of course, am no genius at this. I’m very content to hide in my little corner of the universe.

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