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America has no choice but to defend European Civilization--but first it must stop bickering and focus on the enemy

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Submitted by Ed Hubbard (United States), Nov 15, 2006 at 12:31

Not long after September 11th, 2001, I was reading my self to sleep one night with David McCullough's John Adams, when I started a short passage about the Barbary Pirates. McCullough recounted an episode that occurred shortly after Adams became Ambassador to Great Britain in 1785. At that time American shipping was being harassed by the pirates loyal to the Barbary States, and Adams was instructed to negotiate with their representatives. Adams engaged in discussions with the envoy of the Sultan of Tripoli, including a visit to the envoy's home one evening in London. During their fireside discussion, the Sultan's envoy told Adams that a state of war existed between America and Tripoli. This assertion took Adams by surprise, asking "how this could be, given there had been no injury, insult, or provocation of either side." The next day the envoy visited Adams and told him that if a treaty were delayed, "a war between Christian and Christian was mild, prisoners were treated with humanity; but, warned His Excellency, a war between Muslim and Christian could be horrible." In 1787, the United States signed a treaty with Morocco and paid protection money to the Barbary States to avert war, for, as Adams told Jefferson at the time, "[w]e ought not fight them at all, unless we determine to fight them forever." This passage kept me awake that night, and has caused a lot of sleepless nights for me since.

We live in dangerous and immoderate times. Like John Adams, our American generation is faced with a state of war that, prior to September 11th, we did not realize existed. Unlike in Adams' time, however, this is not a war that can be averted by paying a tribute and signing a treaty, because immoderation drives our enemies to demand our submission. Unfortunately, immoderation also divides us at home. We can not cure the immoderation of our enemies, and we may, indeed, be facing the long fight Adams foresaw, and feared; but we can, and must, overcome our immoderation at home if we are to have any hope of successfully defending ourselves against our enemies, or engaging them in the type of dialogue necessary to shorten this war. We must remember, as Shakespeare noted, "[i]t is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves."

Let's be clear: being partisan in a democratic society is not the same as being immoderate. Representative government works best when competing ideas about the direction and specifics of public policy are debated and tested vigorously. But, at some point, debate must lead to compromise and consensus, or else it devolves into mere noise and stalemate. Moreover, endless, partisan argument over issues that government has little or no ability to resolve creates needless discord that impairs our ability to find consensus on those matters that government can handle. It is not that such issues should not be debated, but continually injecting such issues into debates over governmental policy distracts our attention away from those issues that are properly within the government's scope of responsibility. Unfortunately, the cumulative noise created by endless arguments over the last few decades has become a nuisance to good government.

Our immoderation has evolved from our unwillingness to acknowledge those vast areas of public policy goals with which we agree, and then, to listen to, and frankly debate those issues on which we actually disagree. At the most basic level, regardless of religion or politics, virtually all Americans agree that individually, and as a community, our most important aspiration is to care for each human being as we would care for ourselves, and we want our government to reflect that goal in its policy choices. Virtually all of us agree that we want a secure and peaceful relationship among nations, and we share an aspiration that the blessings of freedom and individual participation in the political determination of nations be a right of all people. Why has it been so hard for us to acknowledge these agreements?

As we refuse to admit that we share the same broad societal aspirations, we run away from the culture from which we inherited these aspirations. As Thomas Paine noted over 200 years ago in Common Sense, "Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America. This new world hath been the asylum for persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe." Although, like Paine, we often see our struggle to make our experiment in self-government work as an example for "all mankind", our heritage and culture is distinctly European in origin. This European culture nourishes not just our aspirations, but also our competing ideas about how to pursue them—even the process of public debate that we so cherish. Moreover, our culture, though sustained and enriched by waves of immigrants from every culture on earth, has remained to this date distinctly European. As Pope Benedict recently noted in his speech in Germany, the shared aspirations that still bind us as Americans are our intellectual and moral inheritance from Europe.

Instead of building upon what we share as Americans, we obsess over our different views about how to pursue our shared goals to the point that we actually accuse each other of being against these same goals. Additionally, we strive so hard to find what we have in common with non-European cultures that we suppress any necessary recognition of what makes our culture unique and worth preserving. In the process, we demonize each other, just as our enemies demonize America. Remember, the person who lives next door, who works in the next cubicle, or who is driving in the car next to you is not your enemy because he or she may have different ideas as to how to accomplish society's goals. Only when we remember this basic point will we start listening and debating again; and only then can we achieve the compromise and consensus on serious issues that we sorely need.

Now let's put this problem in the context of the present war. The enemies who attacked America on September 11th, and those who have since aligned themselves with these enemies, challenge us because of our shared culture, and because of the spread of our culture through travel, business, mass media, and technology. Although the languages of their religions and politics use phrases that are similar to those we use to express our shared aspirations, they infuse those phrases with different meanings, which leads them to pursue a cultural order that is vastly different from our own. In turn, they resent and fear the spread of our culture. They are committed to fight us, to fight those societies that share our inherited European culture, and to fight the related modern culture that is quickly spreading around the globe, until they replace our culture with their own. They would rather kill each of us than to continue to see the spread of a culture they revile. If we don't recognize this fact, we will never be able to take the steps necessary to effectively negotiate, or fight to, a conclusion of this war that preserves our culture and modernity.

The foundation of our culture is under attack in this war. To defend ourselves, and to leave a better country and world to our children, we must recognize this fact. Then, we must re-dedicate ourselves to our shared aspirations. We also must accept that there are competing ideas in the public square as to how to pursue those aspirations, that the competition among those ideas is invigorating for our country, and that the competition must lead to an eventual consensus for action. Only when we acknowledge the rationality of our own competing ideas will we be able to engage in a rational dialogue with our enemies, and to defend our society from the forces of immoderation.

Our forefathers, like Adams, understood the challenge before us, but they tried to avoid the confrontation. Even they were unsuccessful in avoiding conflict, for the Barbary Pirates ultimately had to be defeated by our Marines and the British Navy 30 years after Adams was first confronted in London. The present times do not give us the luxury of 30 years to avoid the present confrontation, nor would we want to pass this conflict to our children to resolve; history puts the confrontation squarely before us. We not only must understand our challenge, we must face it.

Submitting....

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