A Country, Its People, and Its Leaders
There was an interesting post made today and I wanted to respond to it. I think perhaps this reader hasn't yet discovered something very fundamental -- a country, its people, and its leaders are not a single entity marching in unison. You shouldn't judge a country or its people by its leaders or its government.
As I left Argentina, las noticias were reporting that the Boys of Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia invited Iran's (very nuclear) president for a little visit. If Kirchner kisses Iran, I will not travel to Argentina next year -- and neither will the folks on this blog.
An Interesting Flight
Several years ago, one of my American business partners and I were on a flight to India from Taiwan. Sitting next to him was a Chinese woman. After a little while, they each started discussing why their two countries were so aggressive with each other and always spewing rhetoric against each other. She just assumed that Americans must not like the Chinese people. By the end of the flight, the two of them came to the realization that the games leaders play between each other have nothing to do at all with the people in their countries.
Who Are The "Evil" People?
When Bush labeled Iran as part of the "Axis of Evil", I remember seeing a news segment a day or two afterwards, asking ordinary people in Iran what they thought about being included in this so-called axis. By and large they felt threatened and wanted to know why the Americans thought they were evil. They were ordinary people with ordinary jobs and families. They wanted to live their lives without the threat of B-2 bombers shock and awing them into submission.
Try putting yourself in the place of the Iranian government for one minute and see if you can see things from their perspective:
- The U.S. President thinks you are evil and your country is included in an alliance of evil powers that includes both Iraq and North Korea... and how has the U.S. responded to those other "evil" countries?
- The U.S. has launched a preemptive war against Iraq, which borders your country, and currently occupies it. The country did not have nuclear weapons.
- The U.S. has thousands of troops along the Korean DMZ but has not invaded and talks about working out its problems diplomatically with North Korea. North Korea is rumored to have several nuclear weapons.
If you are able think like the Iranian government, you'll realize what they have already figured out -- that having nuclear weapons is a strong deterrent to a U.S. attack, which is a very real threat to the survival of their government. Survival is the most basic human instinct and permeates everything we do. If someone feels their survival is threatened, they will do anything and everything to counter that threat.
The United States' Military Conflicts
But surely the Iranians have nothing to fear, since the American people are peaceful and not interested in wars of agression. While that is true, a country's leaders do not always share their perspective and many times try to solve their problems through armed conficts.
As much as Americans would like to believe that their country is a peaceful one (and most do believe it), that just isn't consistent with the facts. This is a list of militarized conflicts involving the United States, the dates show the years in which U.S. military units (primarily regular, occasionally irregular) participated:
American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)
Undeclared War with France (1798–1801)
First Barbary War (1801–1805)
War of 1812 (1812–1815)
Second Barbary War (1815)
Mexican-American War (1846–1848)
Bear Flag Revolt (1846)
Nicaragua Naval Battles (1854–1858)
Utah War (1857–1858)
American Civil War (1861–1865)
Occupation of Nicaragua (1867, 1894–1933)
Shinmiyangyo Battle in Korea (1871)
Spanish-American War (1898)
Second Samoan Civil War (1898–1899)
Philippine-American War (1899–1913)
Boxer Rebellion (1900)
Panamanian Revolution (1903)
Second U.S. occupation of Cuba (1906–1909)
Tampico Affair & Occupation of Veracruz, Mexico (1914)
Invasion of Haiti (1915-1934)
Occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–1924)
Pancho Villa Expedition (1916–1917)
World War I (1917–1918)
Polar Bear Expedition (Russian Civil War) (1918–1919)
Spanish Civil War (1936–1938)
World War II (1941–1945)
Korean War (1950–1953)
Cuban Missile Crisis (Oct-Nov 1962)
Vietnam War (1964–1975)
Invasion of Dominican Republic (1965)
Capture of USS Pueblo (1968)
Mayagüez Incident (1975)
Operation Eagle Claw (1980)
Gulf of Sidra Incidents (1981, 1989)
Lebanon Peacekeeping (1982–1984)
Operation Urgent Fury (Grenada) (1983)
Libyan Patrol Boats (Jan-Mar 1986)
Operation El Dorado Canyon (15 April 1986)
Operation Earnest Will (1987–1988)
Operation Prime Chance (1987–1988)
Operation Praying Mantis (1988)
Operation Golden Pheasant (1988)
USS Vincennes shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 (1988)
Operation Just Cause (Panama) (1989)
Persian Gulf War (1990–1991)
Iraqi No-Fly Zones (1991–2003)
Operation Provide Comfort (1991–1996)
Somali Civil War (1992-1995)
Battle of Mogadishu (1993)
Operation Uphold Democracy (Haiti) (1994)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (as member of IFOR and SFOR peacekeeping forces, 1995—)
Operation Infinite Reach (strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan, 1998)
Kosovo War (NATO operations, 1999)
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) (2001—)
Operation Iraqi Freedom (Second Persian Gulf War) (2003—)
Haiti Rebellion (2004)
President Eisenhower warned against the dangers of maintaining standing armies and the the military-industrial complex at the end of his term as president. You'll notice when looking at this list that the number of armed conflicts has increased dramatically after the end of World War II, when the decision was made to maintain a large military force. It makes our leaders lazy and dangerous, using the military as the solution to all their problems rather than working hard to negotiate peaceful solutions to our problems.
I hope this list serves to show the disconnect between a country, its people, and its leaders. I believe that the people of the U.S. and Iran both want peace. The problem is that the leaders do not. Throughout the history of the world, old rich men have had arguments with each other and sent young poor men to fight and die to force the other into submission.
If the rest of the world judged the American people (and many do nowadays, which is a shame) by the actions of their leaders and their government's foreign policy, we'd have the welcome mat pulled out from under our feet virtually everywhere. When dealing with the rest of the world, governments and leaders act selfishly, without concern for people outside their borders. Individuals, on the other hand, do not. Individuals care about their families, friends, job and just want a good life for them and their children.
That's why it is a shame that you'd consider changing your travel plans to Argentina because their president invites Iran's president for a visit. Who cares? What we need are more people traveling back and forth. We need more people from all over the world immigrating everywhere. We need to see foreign people in our communities and foreign children in our schools. We all need to relate to one another as human beings and not as collective entities who are trying to protect various "interests".
The fact is, countries that trade with each other and have travelers & immigrants moving back and forth will begin to understand and relate to each other as fellow human beings, not as adversaries. That will be a good thing for everybody. So, please, don't cancel your trip here. Come to Argentina and embrace the fact that the country welcomes all kinds of people here -- Americans, Armenians, British (yes, even British people are welcomed, despite the Malvinas war), Chinese, Koreans, Iranians, and more. So, despite what happens in the world of politics, I hope everyone out there continues to travel, see the world, and learn about all the different kinds of people out there.
Labels: Current Events