Just One Question

It’s time in this country for its citizens to ask – no, really demand, from their leadership – some straight up answers. No spinning or circumlocutions, just questions that require yes or no answers, or if necessary, a simple slightly more detailed explanation understandable by anyone with a fourth grade reading ability.

What is the difference between isolating a poor, backward civilization whose inhabitants have no recourse to a modern world and isolating our own citizens who have neither financial, moral, nor personal power but who are already, in theory, part of the modern world?

In both instances, degradation and poverty are the result.

Item One: Cuba, isolated for more an fifty years because we, the United States of America, decided to back another well-meaning liberal-sounding dictatorship that was crushing its own people.

Item Two: men, women and children whose skin is ever so slightly tainted with color.

Under Item One, let’s be frank and admit that over and over again we as a nation, or our leaders in our stead, have financed and upheld dictatorships around the world ever since deciding we were a world power. Think of Egypt. Think of Syria. Think of China. We have consistently chosen the wrong side of history because by doing so life on the planet was made to seem more balanced, safer. We could, we thought, somehow control other nations and their political systems by putting them under our umbrella and telling the rest of the world to stay away.

Item Two includes the very plain fact that we have tyrannized our own population of “different-looking” people and ignored every word of criticism that came our way from the family of nations internationally. No one can tell us what to do with our own people. We are what we are in order to remain balanced. But as the old Orwell saying goes, “Some is more balanced than others.”

This idea of balancing powers goes back beyond our own struggle for independence from Great Britain. It is the effort to maintain this precarious balancing act that lead us into World War I, made allies of very strange combinations. To oppose the powers of central Europe, we were forced to take shelter with as well as assist those nations on Europe’s perimeter. To balance the power of Germany and its less engaging pals who existed at the crossroads of the continent, we had to join up with Russia (as long as it could stand on its feet, which wasn’t consistent throughout the war) in the East and with France and Great Britain in the west. Had France become a war-monger first, rather than Germany, our “side” might have included Austria, Hungary, perhaps even Spain in order to wrap our international belt around the center of the hungry fat Frenchman. Balance as an idea was centuries old by that time and impervious to reason.

The “balance of power” is a seventeenth century concept, concocted by a series of would-be impressarios and their nobilities. No crowned head in Europe wanted anything less than complete safety and longevity, and in order to achieve this they made pacts with often unlikely allies via inter-marriage and trade.

This system of “checks and balances” crossed the Atlantic to become imbedded in our own founding documents. Although still teen-agers on the international scene, the US began treating instantly with France during the Revolution, not to mention the war of 1812, to balance and bulk up its own fighting force. Briefly, it seemed wise to have powerful allies who could assist when needed. (See today’s NATO.)

Within our own boundaries, a balance of power was also thought necessary by white, wealthy landowners who wanted neither competition nor anything approaching equality. Slavery was an economic issue as well as a moral one. “Owning” slaves bestowed status. Keeping slaves from learning to read and write assured safety. After the Civil War, depriving slaves of education, opportunity, and jobs (money) – whether they were “freemen” or not – cemented in place two systems of life within these United States. Even acceding to the Proclamation of Emancipation could be submarined by giving lip-service to what was supposed to happen but – without the means and intent to educate and allow the vote – guaranteed inequality for generations.

In place of Martin Luther King Junior’s non-violent crusade, we now face Raul Castro’s reasonable and pragmatic statement this week as diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US were reinstated: “We must learn the art of coexisting with our differences in a civilized manner.”

If only Castro had been at the side of Martin Luther King Junior we might not have suffered through so many years of false hopes and promises that have lead, as we know, to a complete breakdown in trust between Americans of all colors.

In its short history, The United States has had ample time to redress errors and mistakes, and often has done so. We can only hope that at this time we as a nation will be eager to act as tutors and mentors to both currently foreign populations. We have nothing to fear and everything to gain.


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