Ending the Wars
Dr. Walter Greason
Norristown Times Herald
29 April 2014
Baby Boomer mythology lionizes a “Greatest Generation” that never asked for the title. The shadow of this rhetoric is only beginning to recede as people raised by cable television and the Internet begin to assert themselves. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s incomparable presidency is the first lesson new leaders must engage in building a free world for the twenty-first century. Humanity has avoided global, nuclear conflict on the scale witnessed in the Second World War. This context contains a multitude of threats unimaginable a century ago, but it also presents unprecedented opportunities.
By the end of this year, the conflicts that symbolized the global War on Terrorism will be over. Withdrawal from Iraq was one of several major foreign policy achievements of the last decade, and the end of the engagements in Pakistan and Afghanistan allows the United States and its allies to craft a dynamic alliance to dismantle terror networks wherever they might rise. It is a chance to do the work that should have unfolded after September 11th, but this time to do it correctly. Instead of Cold War-inspired restrictions on global movement and communication through ominously titled bureaucracies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Safety Agency, federal and state governments can encourage expanded exchanges of information and people to demonstrate the freedom many praise so lightly.
This approach can go further. Reducing, and ultimately eliminating, the longstanding War on Drugs reverses one of the most destructive policy errors of the last thirty years. 2.3 million people now fill American prisons – the largest population of prisoners in the world. Most of the incarcerated live out pointless days for non-violent offenses that are more effectively treated with medical intervention. Each person represents lost innovation, business creation, and global competitiveness in the world economy. The covert languages of elitism and racism sustained these policies under the guise of being ‘tough on crime.’ Instead, the leaders who advocated these strategies did little except destabilize working families nationwide.
At the root of this politics of errors – both domestically and globally – is the facile notion that “war” represents a commitment of all resources to confront a problem. Hopefully, citizens worldwide have learned that war cannot solve the most complicated disputes nations face. Following Franklin Roosevelt’s determination to destroy the threats that Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany posed to human freedom, president after president framed their policy agendas in terms of wars on a resilient blight. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty built on the Truman and Eisenhower descriptions of a Cold War with the Soviet Union. In each case, the politics that powered the rhetoric needed to assure widespread compliance and to galvanize a sense of national community. War, however, does not solve poverty, addiction, or terrorism.
War is a short-term, disastrous intervention to resolve conflicts that have no other solutions. Poverty requires lifelong, multigenerational, daily interventions to educate and inspire. Addiction is only ameliorated by sustained, hourly, family and community engagement and backed by extensive, low-cost medical infrastructures. Terrorism stems from a profound sense of alienation and discontent, often twisted through a lens of irrationality and intolerance – affirmation, conversation, and inclusion are the primary tools to reverse its spread. President Obama and his broad coalition of global support have the opportunity to energize democratic compromise and unprecedented economic autonomy without relying on the privileges of empire that past Presidents have maintained. Any movement in this direction will evince an historic achievement over the next two years.
Dr. Walter Greason is the Chief Executive Officer of the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (www.icmetrogrowth.com) and the author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor1), LinkedIn, Facebook, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).