War and Peas

‘And also that we may beseech Him to pardon our national and
other transgressions…’
George Washington, from the 1789 proclamation establishing
Thanksgiving as a national holiday

Peace and peas. Many Americans will be praying for one this week
and getting the other instead. My guess is that few in America’s
current political leadership will even silently ask for the divine
national pardon envisaged by Washington in the original
Thanksgiving proclamation. And that’s precisely why peace isn’t
currently on the American menu and won’t be for some time.

So what should America be asking forgiveness for? Well, there
are a number of things that come to mind all of which fall under a
single catchphrase: ignorance at home, arrogance abroad.

It would be convenient for the more liberally inclined to pin
blame for these American attitudes entirely on Bush administration
officials. They are after all the chief architects of a war built
on ill-informed pretenses that has killed thousands of innocents,
weakened our key alliances, and emboldened our enemy. They are also
the ones who have backed out of and, in some cases, attempted to
scuttle a number of international treaties designed to make the
world healthier, more just, and sustainable. These acts alone would
seem to justify a collective ‘sorry’.

Yet, the roots of America’s foreign policy arrogance reach back
many years and enjoy fertile ground in both political parties.
Recall that it was President Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright who declared that the United States is ‘the indispensable
nation’ that ‘stands taller’ and ‘sees farther’ than the rest of
the world. You can guess how well that type of comment goes down in
diplomatic circles.

Clearly, our arrogance comes at an international price in terms
of lost credibility and damaged working relationships. So why not
dispense with it and replace it with a foreign policy based on
integrity and humility? That’s where the other side of the coin,
domestic ignorance, comes into play. Many, if not most, Americans
think that America really is superior in every way and want to hear
this opinion echoed by their political leaders, be they democrats
or republicans.

Yet, this commonly held opinion is both based on ignorance and
fueled by it. Those of us who have traveled or lived abroad know
that there are countries whose social and economic policies are
every bit as visionary and effective as ours, if not more so. I had
the good fortune to live in Europe for a number of years and was
very impressed by the high standard of living enjoyed by the
average European.

Unlike the US, Europe has been able to invest its post cold war
peace dividend in ‘butter’ rather than ‘guns’. Somehow, they have
managed to be active at the international level politically and
economically without engendering the same hatred felt towards the
US. In Europe, ideas like ‘low crime rates’, ‘universal
healthcare’, ‘affordable higher education’, and ‘living wage’ are
not goals, but reality. And everyday is ‘code green’ in the EU in
terms of potential terrorist threats.

It’s true that Europe’s tax rates are higher, especially for the
wealthiest segment of the population, but European citizens have
decided that public goods of these sorts are worth the price.
Although the US is desperately in need of some?fresh political
thinking, I don’t expect to hear any of the presidential candidates
lauding Europe for balancing strong economics with enlightened
social policies. Instead, I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more of
the usual chest-thumping, ‘we’re number one’ from both sides of the
political aisle.

Benjamin Franklin saw some of this coming a couple of hundred
years ago with the selection of the Bald Eagle as the national
emblem. He argued that the haughty bird was ‘of bad moral
character’ and that the American spirit would find a more suitable
representative in the humble and industrious wild turkey.

This week, the President made the press by rescuing the national
Thanksgiving turkey from the chopping block.? This got me thinking.
Instead of granting pardons, perhaps President Bush should use this
holiday to ask for one among those friends we’ve angered and
alienated in the past two years through our arrogant foreign
policy. Similarly, in place of apple or pumpkin, Americans might
try a slice of humble pie for a change. Although difficult to
swallow, it may be the only way of putting peace back on the menu
for next year’s Thanksgiving celebration.

Roger Doiron is a writer, educator, activist, and the
founder of Kitchen
Gardeners International
, a nonprofit organization promoting
home-grown, home-prepared foods in their many international
forms.

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