|America Versus Americans
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America Versus Americans
by Leonard Peikoff
Running Time 59 Min.Description
Dr. Leonard Peikoff, intellectual heir to Ayn Rand, explores the unlikely tension between a democratic nation and its people. Peikoff claims that, from its beginning, America has stood for the ideals of the Enlightenment: reason, individual rights, capitalism, and the pursuit of happiness. He asserts that the dominant trends in America today, trends endorsed not only by our leadership, but seemingly by the general public, represent the opposite of these ideals. Dr. Peikoff, considered the foremost philosopher of objectivism, explores this contradiction, along with what he calls our current moral cowardice, with special emphasis on US foreign policy.
In this talk, Peikoff analyzes and rejects the Bush administration response to the terrorist attacks on the U.S., from 9/11 until today. America, he says, should have reacted to 9/11 as it did to Pearl Harbor by declaring war not on Afghanistan or Iraq, but on Iran. The public's approval of Bush's policies, he argues, indicates the tragic deterioration of the American mind in the last 60 years, owing to the influence in our schools and colleges of Progressive educators and intellectuals.
[Dr. Leonard Peikoff:] Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
I chose the topic for my lecture today many months ago -- long before the war against Iraq. Now, however, given my announced subject, I'm in the unenviable position of criticizing our Iraq policy in the very midst of the fighting. So before my criticism, let me tell you up front what I do agree with, in this regard. Iraq, as ruled by Saddam Hussein, is, or was, a brutal dictatorship and an enemy who had to be stopped. Hussein was ominously armed, and the country did have some actual ties to the terrorists. I also agree that it is very much better to wage war on Iraq than to sit on our hands and do nothing. So, of course, I am 100% behind our soldiers, and it is obvious that we will prevail and defeat this enemy of ours.
But none of this changes the fact that I am a philosopher, not a journalist or a politician, and that it is my job to identify the basic principles governing our citizens and our foreign policy; the principles and their long-range results on America. From that perspective, as I will explain in due course, I have many criticisms of our war in Iraq. Now, that's a prefatory comment to my lecture. Now I would like you please to put Iraq aside for half an hour and on the public reaction to them. I want to look at the whole picture of America versus the terrorists in the last 19 months, and I want to start back in the 18th century with about 60 seconds on the founding of America, the greatest country in history.
Our founding fathers, champions of the Enlightenment with individual rights, were not only outraged at the abuses of a tyrant, they knew they were absolutely right to be outraged. So they had the immense self-confidence, the moral certainty, and the physical courage necessary to declare war against the most powerful empire in the world. The Americans of that era were innocent and benevolent. They were uplifted by the prospect of breaking with the corruption of the past and starting a rational country for the first time in history and they knew what had always been the top enemy of their new, rational world. I quote Elihu Palmer who said, 'It has hitherto been deemed a crime to think, but at last, men have escaped from the long and doleful night of religion with its frenzy, its fanaticism, its mad enthusiasm.'
On 9/11, the long and doleful night once more entered the scene of western history. The frenzy, fanaticism, and mad enthusiasm finally went to war against America with the declared purpose of wiping out everything our country stands for. On some level, President Bush seemed to understand the uniqueness of 9/11. He has compared it validly to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But 9/11, he has suggested, is worse; and even in purely quantitative terms, he is right about that. 9/11 killed hundreds more people, wounded double the number of Pearl Harbor, and caused massively greater destruction -- $40.2 billion worth, not counting all the economic losses and bankruptcies it has caused since that date.
No there is no powerful British empire for the U.S. to fear today. There is no military capability anywhere on the globe that would dare to challenge the United States, which is recognized everywhere as the world's only super-power, who can squelch any nation or coalition we choose to target. So what has our answer been to 9/11?
I want to review some key points in chronological order, not just of our government's policies against terrorism, but above all, of the American public's response to them, and the comparable policies in response of World War II, which was fought just 60 years ago by our grandfathers. My real purpose in discussing foreign policy here is to form a hypothesis about our countrymen as a whole today. Who is the American public now, and what do they think about world and moral issues? Are the men walking the streets and answering the opinion polls since 9/11 the posterity of the founding fathers? Is this what is left of the noblest experiment in history?
On the day of Pearl Harbor, Americans were stunned and enraged. On December 8, 1941, the next day, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, of whom I am no admirer, gave his short, famous, Day of Infamy speech promising absolute victory over the Japanese. At first, when 9/11 occurred, the country reacted in similar terms; disbelief and rage. There was grief for the victims, admiration for the heroic police and firemen, but above all, there was the desire for self-defense, retaliation, revenge. There was a surge of patriotism. American flags appeared everywhere. The national atmosphere was solemn, tense, funeral. Hollywood cancelled programs that seemed insensitive. The left was scared stiff and kept silent. There was no more business-as-usual. The country was gearing up psychologically for a battle of life and death. On September 20th, in the midst of the national fury, President Bush gave his famous speech to Congress.
Like Roosevelt, he sought to rally and inspire the country. He, too, pledged a militant response and the destruction of our enemies. The biggest difference between the speeches, however, is what FDR did not say that Bush, by contrast, insisted upon. Bush's speech is worthy of attention. It foretokens the whole response to terrorism of patriotic Americans ever since. Along with his vows of retaliation, Bush's speech is brimming over with appeasement of the very nations and institutions that created or feed the terrorist axis. Our President, not to put too fine a point on it, sucked up to virtually every enemy in sight.
He told us about his gratitude for prayers to us in Arabic, about the 'sympathy offered at a mosque in Cairo,' about the Pakistanis and Iranians killed in the explosion, about 'our many Muslim friends'. He boasted that we not only respect Afghanistan, but are currently its largest source of humanitarian aid. He offered his gratitude for support from the Islamic world. The terrorists, he stressed, are 'a fringe form of Islamic extremism that perverts the peaceful teaching of Islam. We respect your faith. It's teachings are good.' Now Bush, being deeply religious himself, did not even hint at the truth that religiosity is the indispensable background and driving force of 9/11. Everyone knows the role in the anti-American Jihad of Islamic faith, from the mosques and seminaries in Iran and Saudi Arabia all the way to the crazed suicide bombers hurrying to meet their 72 perpetual virgins in paradise.
Now, I do not need to demonize Islam. The Islamic world enjoyed a high civilization, during the very Middle Ages when Christianity was making the West, just about as barbaric as the Middle East is today. The issue is not Islam versus Christianity. Every religion by its nature, by its injection of reason, is compelled to turn to force and violence ultimately. Every religion is a threat to civilization as soon as it can get its hands on political power, just as Christianity was a threat and the malignant force for 1,000 years after Rome fell. So let us grant, in principle, that Islam is no worse than Christianity, and that there is a large, moderate wing within Islam that is not the initiator of the Jihads against us. My point is that it is irrelevant, any of this, to a discussion of 9/11 because, even so, Islam is still the enemy.
In every war of aggression, there are within the territory of the aggressors a large group of moderates. These are the vast hordes of Peter Keatings, who initiate nothing but merely watch silently or follow the latest trend. These types would never start any kind of crusade on their own. It is only a small, militant minority with access to political power or colluding governments. It is only the activists at the top that initiate atrocities. And this was just as true in Japan in the '40s as in Islam today. In both cases, vast groups of men were innocent of any plans for aggression and wanted to live in peace with the United States.
But once the activist leadership has acted, the moderates no longer count in history. They either go along passively, becoming mere ciphers of history, or they come to endorse emotionally what they see their leadership doing. This kind of capitulation is what happened to the people of Japan, and this is what is happening in the Arab street today -- where, since 9/11, we have seen massive Muslim hatred of America, even among crowds who are not Islamic fundamentalists. Now, if there were a vocal Islamic movement attacking the fundamentalist Jihad and championing America's self-defense, that would make a big difference here. But, to my knowledge, there is no such movement, neither here nor abroad.
In a speech declaring war against a vicious enemy, it is a moral crime to distinguish between the active instigators and their passive legions. What you must denounce in such a speech, if you are a proper patriotic leader, is the essence of the threat. Philosophically, on the deepest level, what Bush should have said was some equivalent of the prayer which Moreen Doud, herself, by the way, a religious woman, saw scrawled on a wall in Washington soon after 9/11; 'Dear God, save us from the people who believe in you.' (Laughter and applause from the audience)
Of course, we could hardly expect Bush to say, or even think, such a thing. But he could, at least, have said that the enemy was a major and widely popular wing within Islam. Instead, he brazenly pretended that, apart from a handful of lunatics, the whole world of Islam was our friend. What would the country have thought of FDR if, in his December 8 speech, he had expressed gratitude for prayers in Japanese, adulated 'our many Japanese friends', denounced the bombers as perverters of Shintoism, and classified the attackers as a fringe form of fascism? Do you think Americans would have stood for this in 1941, or would they have cried out in protest because of the shame to them of displaying such national weakness and cowardice?
But what was our country's response to Bush's speech? It went wild with praise. Commentators across the spectrum, speaking in an atmosphere of national adulation for Bush, thanked God for having a true leader in such perilous times. In the polls of October, 2001, primarily on the basis of this one speech, almost 80% of the country approved of the way Bush was handling foreign affairs, which is an extraordinarily high figure. The American rage over 9/11 lasted about 3 weeks, as against the angry militant resolve during the long years of World War II. There was a gradual but easy transition in the nation back to psychological business-as-usual. The cancelled shows were cautiously reinstated, the left was noisy -- it was normal life again. The public seemed to think it had done its part since it had plastered the flag everywhere. The enemy after all, Bush had said, is not a major world force but a mere lunatic fringe. And Bush had demanded patience and told us to expect a long war, which had overtones of Vietnam. And who can live with a permanent emergency? And most important and most gruesome, it had been a month--2 months--6 months since the bombing. So it was starting to feel to a great many people "That's mere history." The cries for vengeance died down. The President was in charge, people said, "Who am I to make foreign policy?"
The emotional focus at home, nurtured by a relentless journalistic campaign, changed from rage to grief and praise; grief for the victims who were methodically eulogized, and praise for the domestic heroes of 9/11. Now, of course, it's proper to grieve for the victims and admire the courageous heroes who tried to rescue them. But if your country is at war with a mortal enemy, these issues should not be the major focus of your emotion. Your whole passion must be on destroying the enemy. If what dominates you is grief rather than anger; the victims, not their killers; the tragic past, not a smashing victory in the future; that is a sure sign of people starting to withdraw emotionally from the world and give up the battle internally.
The same psychology continues to this day. Witness the battle over whether Ground Zero is sacred and the indignant anger against the idea that is should become the site of new life, of new American self-assertion in the form of gigantic new skyscrapers. Instead, we are told, the land should become a barren tombstone, a symbol of a nation nursing its wounds, more concerned with remembering pain than pursuing happiness or self-defense.
The topic of self-defense brings me to the war in Afghanistan. The first code name for the military operation was 'Infinite Justice'. This name was dropped to avoid, believe it or not, to avoid offending Muslims, who were objecting to the name on the grounds that only God can mete out infinite justice. 'I understand,' Mr. Rumsfeld, the leading hawk, replied. America went into Afghanistan filled with ambivalence, uncertainty, and even guilt. Our leadership was afraid of Afghan civilian casualties, afraid of American casualties, and afraid, in general, of being hated in the Mid East as infidel imperialists. So they settled on a pitiful proxy war in which we were not combatants, but merely advisers. What we advised was warring tribes open to bribery from all sides, catching prisoners and then letting them escape, often en masse as in the worst incident of that war, Tora Bora, while the U.S. looked on, helplessly wringing its hands. The Americans sent not many soldiers to that war, but a great many incredibly expensive bombs and missiles, which achieved numerous and mostly useless holes in the ground. They did not dare bomb population centers where Al-Qaeda and the Taliban promptly hid out, thereby eluding capture.
Now along with the bombs, needless to say, we covered the country with care packages. Was this a war or a pretense and a charade? A war in self-defense must be fought without self-crippling restrictions placed on our commanders, and it must secure victory as quickly as possible, regardless of how many innocent civilians are caught in the line of fire or are deliberate targets of that fire. (Audience member yells something inaudible) These innocents suffer and die... Can you remove that man, please? (Crowd cheers and applauds) These innocents suffer and die because of the action of their own government in sponsoring the initiation of force against us. Their fate, therefore, is their government's moral responsibility -- not ours.
If you want to know what a real war would be, I'm going to quote a brief excerpt from a book entitled The Soul of Battle, by Victor Davis Hanson. On one day in March, 1945 -- an extreme day, granted, but still only one day, and I quote "334 B-29s left their Marianas bases for Tokyo. 500-pound incendiary clusters fell over Tokyo every 50 feet. Within 30 minutes, a 28-mile per hour ground wind sent the flames roaring out of control. Temperatures approached 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. The general in command, Curtis Lamay, wished to destroy completely the material and psychological capital of the Japanese people on the brutal theory that once civilians had tasted what their soldiers had done to others, only then might their murderous armies crack. Over 80,000 Japanese died outright that day. 40,918 were injured. Over 267,000 buildings destroyed and 1 million Japanese were left homeless."
That is how we fought World War II, and how we deterred future attacks on the U.S., and how we defeated fascism. Now how do you think the American public would have reacted in the '40s if the war against Japan had been conducted like the war in Afghanistan, or in Iraq for that matter. I was only a child at the time, but my guess is that were would have been riots in the streets, and FDR would have been impeached. What the war in Afghanistan did is send a message to the world that we are a self-made paper tiger to scare no one. In practical terms, all the war really accomplished was to scatter the enemy, including most of its leadership to other countries, mainly Pakistan, leaving the threat to the U.S. from Al-Qaeda as bad as ever. That war was not only a colossal defeat for the world's only super power; it was a joke.
Now what was the American public's response to this debacle? 'We won the war,' the President and the press said brazenly, and people en masse bought it. They were still passionately for Bush. There was no challenge to his leadership except from the far left. But from the Republicans in Congress, and from the Democrats too, we heard only that Bush had conducted exactly the right kind of war and how marvelously he led us. There was a virtual hysteria of patriotism surrounding Bush at that point. Patriotism seemed to be defined as "rally around the leader blindly," seemingly "no matter what he does." In effect, to challenge Bush's foreign policy in any way is un-American and almost treason.
But despite all their excitement, people seemed to realize on some level that the war had solved nothing. Our leaders kept stressing that the problem of terrorism was nationwide, virtually intractable, here to stay for a long, long time. So people felt helpless and afraid. 66% of American said that they looked to the future without hope; that they believed life would not be better for their children than it was for them. You could see it gradually happening all around you. People were slowly giving up on the attempt to eradicate terrorism. They were learning to resign themselves to it, to adjust to it, and accept it as a normal part of life which is here to stay.
'"What lesson did you learn from 9/11," people were asked continually by the press. I read the answer dozens of times -- "I learned to hug my children. I learned not to take my family for granted. I learned that life is ephemeral, and we must enjoy the moment because who knows how long we have." At the time of Pearl Harbor, no such sentiments were voiced. The attitude then was not it is American lives that are ephemeral, but the lives of the Japanese, and we are going to make damn sure that they are ephemeral, that they're over as fast as possible.
The university professor at Columbia University writing in the New York Times was elated by the new American sense of helplessness and hopelessness, He titled his article, "A Whiff of Dread for the Land of Hope." Now, this new dread was metaphysical, not practical. It was the fear and helplessness that people experience no matter how rich and militarily strong they are, when they renounce the possibility of acting to end the threat and, instead, accept evil as the norm. So the fact that America is the only super power has virtually no effect on people. They remain afraid of the rest of the world, even without any practical reason for it. Regarding the war on Iraq, for example, a retired nurse speaking for a large segment of Americans said before it started that she was afraid "that the rest of the world might turn on us if Mr. Bush failed to pursue his goals with patience."
Emotional state of permanent dread is unbearable. So a great many people here simply wanted the crisis to end somehow. Many started talking about healing and closure despite the facts, and many took to stating that, after all, there are other concerns besides terrorism to worry about such as the economy. Confronted by the possibility of the ultimate downfall of western civilization, Americans, in a poll last January, said they were twice as concerned about the economy as they were either about the pending war in Iraq or the war on terrorism'. That indicates just how short-range our country has become.
Afghanistan was Wrong War Number 1 in the fight against terrorism. Obviously, it's proper to retaliate right away against the specific thugs who perpetrated 9/11, but terrorism is an ideological phenomenon; the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism, the ideology of burning religious hatred of secular western values, and you cannot stop or even wound such a lethal ideology merely by chasing after some of its thugs in their hiding places.
To defeat Nazism in World War II, nothing less than a massive assault on its home base-- Germany--on the country at the heart of Nazism support and export was necessary. And the same principle applies to Islamic fundamentalism. The Germany of Islamic fundamentalism is not Afghanistan or Iraq, it is Iran, as I will discuss shortly.
Now let's jump to November 2002, when the Republicans surprised the country by winning both houses of Congress. They won, apparently, because people, despite everything they had seen, still regarded Bush as a strong leader. A poll taken during the midterms showed Republicans beating Democrats by 30 points on the question, "Which party is tough enough on terrorism?" The Democrats are not tough enough, of course. But the Republicans are? Give me a break. Now, the pro-Bush attitude extended not merely to conservatives, but apparently to the last real hope of this country, I mean the men on the street; not the elite with their corrupting college education but the workers unpolluted by attendance at the Ivy League.
After the elections, a blue-collar New Hampshire man who unloads delivery trucks at Home Depot said of Bush, "I like his hard nose." As they say in law, res ipsa loquitur -- the thing speaks for itself. Now, of course, you can say the people are at the mercy of the intellectuals who bear the fundamental blame here. True. But the intellectuals are not all-powerful and beyond a certain point, the people, especially in this country, which still has the best people on earth -- the people are responsible regardless of what they have been taught. Even non-intellectuals still have their powers as human beings; the power of observation, of thought, and of righteous indignation. If they do not exercise their powers, they cannot be excused, romanticized, or white-washed. They must be judged morally for their passivity.
Now this brings me to the present, Wrong War Number 2, in my opinion -- Iraq. The first thing wrong with this war, I believe, was the 6-month long spectacle which preceded it; the spectacle of the United States on its knees morally, grovelling, practically begging enemies, neutrals, friends, everybody in the UN and NATO to approve it. If Bush's argument is correct, and Iraq was a mortal threat to the survival of our country, how could we have given up the moral prerogative to take immediate, unilateral action against it? How can we allow months to go by because of the whims of France? President Bush finally gave up on the UN and came out for unilateral American action, while stressing that it wasn't really unilateral since we had a large coalition with us. But he and Powell hastened to make clear the vital importance, so they said, of UN approval and its significant involvement in Iraq after the war. The implication seems to be that we are not a sovereign state any longer with the right and the autonomy to defend ourselves; but only a fragment of a world body over half of which hates us passionately. Nobody dreamed of wheeling and dealing with any international committee in regard to whether it was all right to respond at once to Pearl Harbor.
Yet Mr. Bush's popularity was still strong this year despite everything that the country had seen. As of January, 59% of Americans approved of the way Bush is performing his job. In the same poll, believe it or not, 52% of the public said they believed, "The government has done all it can be reasonably expected to do to protect the country from future terrorist attacks." So in Iraq, too, it is and remains, follow-the-leader. And, mind you, this is true even though the majority understands that there are great flaws in our foreign policy. In January, for example, 55% of Americans said "the administration was reacting to events as they occurred abroad rather than having a clear foreign policy plan."
And yet, despite this, people remain largely happy with the President and his so-called hard nose, observing his deference to the UN being minuted even when he personally was growing impatient. In February, an astounding 59% of Americans said they believed 63% said that Washington should not act without the support of its allies. And in March -- last month -- nearly two-thirds of the country said that Mr. Bush should take into account the views of anti-war protesters before he acted.
And if you need to know even more about the public mind on this issue, people were asked in February about their attitude toward the Iraqi war -- if substantial Iraqi casualties were involved. When faced with this question, the 66% pro-war majority collapsed. In other words, a huge number of Americans do not want a war with casualties. An almost identical change from pro-war to even split occurred when people were asked about a war with Iraq, if there were substantial American casualties.
So, on the one hand, Americans claim to believe, by a sizeable majority, something like two-thirds of the country, that the war in Iraq is an issue of national survival against an enemy who can help to annihilate us with unbelievably horrible weapons. Yet, on the other hand, we are not to be in any particular hurry about doing something, and certainly there must be no substantial casualties on either side.
The public was, and still is, following the leader obediently -- 2 leaders in this case. The state says war, and Bush's leader, the church, says no casualties. So the American pragmatist on the street says, "Okay, I accept all of it. Everything. Whatever I'm told. Who am I to decide on morality or foreign policy?"
Now a look at the war itself, and first, our choice of countries to attack at this point in history. I've already... I'm running late, but you started late, so. I've already told you on what counts I agree with Bush in regard to Iraq. But the obvious question in all of these very same accounts is -- Why Iraq and not Iran? Iran, as everyone in Washington knows, is the birthplace, 1979, and the center of the modern Muslim fundamentalist movement. That is why Iran has much greater ties with all the terrorist groups than the secular Iraqi regime ever did, and why Iran is incomparably more active in turning out, supporting, arming, and exporting terrorists. Iran, too, is a brutal dictatorship, and it, too, is working feverishly and even more effectively, in some respects, than Iraq to stockpile nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Even Bush himself included Iran in his Axis of Evil along with Iraq and North Korea. But he does nothing to single out Iran as, by far, our gravest enemy; gravest in the context of the terrorist crisis.
Iran is the only religious nation of those three, and Bush does not want to name this fact; i.e. to have to reveal the ideological reason why Iran is our supreme enemy because his whole world view is tied to the virtue and alleged peacefulness of religion as such, of any variety. By the way, if we are short of any countries to target militarily, what about such obviously eligible places as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Syria; all incomparably greater strongholds of terrorism than Iraq. Bush evades all of this. He even regards Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as allies.
As to Iran, he tells us we need not take any action because we can now count on its civilian student unrest, its internal ferment, and possible change on its own. Now, in fact, its pro-western unrest and ferment, which are real, makes it obviously the logical place for us to begin. Let me add here that if we did take on Iran or Saudi Arabia, and did so seriously, using all of our powers; overthrowing its corrupt government; wiping out its terrorists, armaments, and anti-American agitators, whether inside mosques or outside them then Iraq and probably North Korea too would be no further threat to us.
Even if left alone with no war declared against him, a thug like Saddam Hussein would have run for cover if he had believed that the U.S. really meant business. A war against Iraq, however, is the easiest war for Bush to have picked for many reasons. Among them is the fact that many Republicans are eager to erase the black mark of Bush Senior's disgraceful flight from Iraq in 1991; they want to finally finish that war properly. But the major reason the choice of Iraq is easy for Mr. Bush is that Iraq under Saddam Hussein is a secular, non-religious country. It is not a bastion of Islam or of fundamentalist hatred. So you can declare war on it without really mortally offending or challenging any religious movement, including Islam.
In other words, precisely because Iraq is not a source of significant support of the ideology at the root of 9/11, the Republicans feel morally allowed to wage war against it. A war picked, in part, because its government is not Islamic and will do very little to deter Islamic terrorist countries. (Audience applauds) It seems obvious that our administration is giving such countries a free pass. I read today about a few tiny hints from unidentified administration hawks that Iran's turn might yet be coming. If so, Bush could still save the world, and I'll throw out this whole speech. But, unfortunately, so far this scenario is still only a fantasy.
Now, to make things worse, our leaders hasten to add that our motives in this war are not only or even primarily our own self-defense. They are also strongly altruistic. The war's code name is 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'. We are not out only to save the world from Saddam, but even more important we will shower the lovable Iraqis with everything good. Food, medicine, supplies, individual rights, freedom, a whole new reconstruction-- you name it. And that is what makes self-defense okay as against being mere selfishness on our part. (sigh)
The conduct of the war, so far, largely follows from its stated moral purpose. Now I'm not talking about the great courage and heroism of our troops, which are real, nor am I talking about their size about which I have no opinion. I'm talking about the battle orders. The troops have been instructed methodically to pull their punches. In other words, to spare Iraq civilians and its infrastructures and even more, and I quote, "to avoid the kind of fighting that might enrage the Iraqi people."
In pursuing this policy, hundreds of critical high-priority Iraqi targets have been removed from the attack plan. There are to be no massive bombs or missile attacks directly on urban centers such as Basra or Baghdad, even though such attacks, if extensive and powerful enough, would have ended the war much more quickly and decisively. Instead, we were given the spectacle of our troops crawling through blinding sandstorms to Baghdad, subject to continual ambush. In fact, to show you how our troops have been hobbled, each military unit in Iraq has had a lawyer attached to it. His function is to vet any decision to target the enemy when there's any risk of civilian casualties. For example, if a mortar launcher is next to a school, the soldiers need first to get permission from a lawyer before they can take out the launcher, even if such delay involves some risk to their own lives. If they don't get the permission, they are told they can be prosecuted for war crimes should any Iraqi civilian be hurt.
While we have been undermining our own ability to fight, it's only our massive military power than can win, in spite of these tactics. While we have been undermining our own ability to fight, Iraq's gleeful policy in response is to deploy civilian shields everywhere, including in schools and hospitals; to put soldiers in civilian clothes, to park fighter jets in cemeteries; to dress an army officer in civilian clothes and force him to drive out in a taxi as a suicide bomber; to launch attacks from supposedly holy, to them, mosques; to use ambulances to carry troops dressed in white coats who suddenly start shooting at Americans; all of it delaying and subverting the U.S. effort.
One U.S. commander stated the situation as follows, and get this... "This war is asymmetrical warfare--asymmetrical warfare. The Iraqis are blasting away knowing that, for moral reasons, the Americans can't." Our policy, in other words, is known to be emboldening the enemy, prolonging battles, and endangering American troops. As one small early example, and I quote from the New York Times summary, "Gunfire came from a house, then Iraqi soldiers began to run, and Captain Josh Evans helped direct helicopters toward the men. But just as the gunship was preparing to strike," he said, "Americans glimpsed civilians running just behind the soldiers. 'We had to let the terrorists go.' Captain Evans said." The number of our casualties has been small so far, but it is growing every day, and many of our injuries and deaths were utterly unnecessary; the result of our own policies.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has been struggling with an obscene question-- How many needless American deaths should it allow? Or, as the New York Times writer puts it, '"The military must struggle with the deadly calculus of how many casualties it is willing to incur among its own forces to save civilian lives." Now, they seem to have decided to allow a lot of casualties. A senior officer at the central command said recently that the U.S. was prepared to pay "a very high price in men," in desperately struggling American soldiers to topple Hussein. And here's a quote from this senior officer -- "If that means there will be a lot of casualties, then that means there will be a lot of casualties."
Even one American life deliberately imperiled by this kind of policy for this kind of reason is a moral atrocity. It is literally turning our men into sacrificial offerings, but Mr. Bush has no problem with this, apparently. "Americans," he said approvingly, "know how to sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.'"
Now will this kind of circumspect, self-sacrificing war help to deter other terrorist countries in the future? The way the war is being fought allows the Arab world to be enraged, but it does not terrorize them. And it is thereby encouraging the Arab calls for Jihad and for more terrorism. A retired general that served in the first Gulf War predicted that the difficult first 2 weeks of the war -- he said that we would prevail, obviously, but he thought those first 2 weeks would harm the nation's standing as a military force. And here's a quote from him -- "What's troublesome is the loss of deterrent value. A month ago, everybody in the world looked at the U.S. military as being 10 feet tall. We're not 10 feet tall."
Now despite all of this, as of March 30th, and I'm sure to this day, "nearly 3 out of 4 Americans remain unshaken in their support for Bush's war policies." A typical case in point is a lady from Spokane, Washington, an account manager for a financial company, who declared yesterday -- excuse me, last Wednesday -- that she has trusted President Bush to do the right thing ever since 9/11 and as to the war in Iraq, "It has got to be done, and I will support whatever President Bush does."
That is all I have to say today about the war in Iraq. It seems to me too early and therefore unfair to analyze or comment on the battle for Baghdad, which is still underway as I speak. I can only say that, so far, it doesn't seem that the policies in the first weeks of the war are going to be scrapped or essentially changed.
Now let us ask for the source of, what I can only describe as, our passive, gutless public. What caused this amoral, follow-the-leader mentality; content to fight in out-of-context spurts while resigning itself to terrorism long run? My answer, in a word, is brainwashing-- not political but educational; brainwashing carried out for decades by the school system.
The method is simple. We undercut the ability of the young, generation after generation, to think independently, while at the same time you insinuate into their minds all the doctrines that will destroy basic values, kill initiative in political affairs, and paralyze people's capacity for action. You end up with a nation of sheep. And I repeat what I said, a man bears some of the responsibility if he succumbs to this brainwashing. And the proof is that many Americans have not yet succumbed to it, but tragically the majority, I believe, have succumbed.
The single greatest destroyer in this context as been progressive education, which in various forms still dominates the U.S. from kindergarten through graduate school. The young intelligences who desperately need guidance, if they are to develop their intellectual capacities, are taught routinely that there are no objective facts, no principles, no absolutes, no certainties, and no philosophy to give them long-range direction. They are taught that there is no alternative, therefore, but to act as pragmatists; to treat any problem short-range on its own terms, out of context, and to cope with it by doing whatever seems to work for now, given the social or world consensus of the moment.
They are taught all this over and over again, virtually everywhere. Now what can possibly result from such training? Training in disregarding reality, abandoning thought, and adapting to the group? What can result but the atrophy of individual self-confidence and of intellectual activity? And to the extent that a person then sees himself as a helpless being, caught in an unknowable flux, how can he act except by the guidance of an authority, political or otherwise; an authority that will lift the impossible responsibility of decision and action from his shoulders and tell him, in any confusing situation, what must be done.
But the catch here is that our own leadership, by this time, has had the very same education. So it is the pragmatists leading the pragmatists. Washington, and with it the country, are immersed in the flow of momentary concretes, staring at single trees with no interest in, or even idea of, a forest. At one moment, the government thinks we must capture Osama above all. At the next, the President tells us coolly that one man is not important. The public response? "Okay, maybe it's a change, but there are no absolutes." At one moment, we hear Al-Qaeda is the enemy we must go after and root out. At the next, a single one of its arms suppliers, out of dozens, is the real enemy to smash. Anyway, what about the repressed Iraqis? The public's response -- "Okay, if that's today's crisis, but let's not antagonize the world consensus." And one moment, in some month, the market is down or unemployment is up so the economy seems, to the public, to be the most important issue. "Who can know the long-range future of the world anyway?" they think. "What I do know is that right now, I'm out of a job."
Now the other part of the brainwashing. As you are creating a mental void in the nation, you simultaneously fill it with moral corruption of a kind that will mute or stifle self-assertion on the part of the citizen. In this connection, the altruism of Bush's policies, long prepared in the schools and churches is crucial. Whatever the government does -- if it throws billions away on humanitarian largess to the enemy, or creates nightmare chaos at the airports, or piles up casualties in the wrong country in the name of liberating the oppressed, people tend to accept. They don't complain too much because they know it's their duty not to be selfish but to serve others and sacrifice.
Part of altruism, of course, is forgiveness and mercy, which God commands; and He, of course, for the conservative and patriotic way of the country is the biggest authority of all. So we must now not merely preach piety as in the old World War II days, but actually obey the Lord in action. We must fight New Testament wars with battle plans taken from the Sermon on the Mount, following principles defined 2000 years ago by a sect that was waiting for the world to come to an end and couldn't care less what happened in this life.
Do you see how much more Christian, how much more faith-directed, how much less reason-directed our public has become in just 60 years. Now, besides the helplessly obedient skeptic and the obediently helpless Christian, there are many more corrupt and paralyzing ideas circulating in our country.
Here's just one more example -- think of multi-culturalism, which is an assault on our national self-esteem and initiative of unprecedented proportions. "Are we any better," many educated Americans ask, "than the cultures that hate us?" 'Don't they have a right to their ideas and values, too?' Do you see how we can be the world's only super power and, nevertheless, be unable to fight our enemies? Fearsome weaponry is of no value if the man with his finger on the button cannot bring himself or his countrymen to make the decision to push it.
At the start of this country, men who had been brought up to think independently and to act long-range, according to the principle of pursuing their own happiness, these men could unite and go to war in a passionate cause. Just think of it. These men fought in righteous, bloody rebellion against such relatively small evils as a tax on tea, and on stamps, while their posterity today, not all, but a frightening number of them, facing cataclysmic threats, sits befuddled and becalmed, making only sporadic forays here and there without context or overall plan.
That is what I mean by the title of my talk, 'America Versus Americans', in other words, versus a great number of today's Americans. Today we need something even more important than the right war. We need the route that will make it possible for us to do whatever is necessary in our own self-defense and to do it righteously, without any moral qualms about it. In other words, we need an ideological war against all of the doctrines that are confusing and paralyzing this nation. Now, if I can see it, from today's New York Times, it's too small for me to read.
Someone from the Middle East, a specialist on the Middle East said, "The Arabs understand that this war is happening at 2 levels, on the ground in Iraq and also an ideological war once the ground war is over. They know how the first one is going to turn out, and they are debating how to wage the second. They know the real issue. Do we?"
Well, we at the Ayn Rand Institute are doing what we can to spread some better ideas. Dr. Yaron Brook alone, its executive director sitting right there, in the last 6 months has been interviewed on 59 radio and television programs and in the press, and has given 31 speeches to groups large and small, trying to get the word out. (Dr. Peikoff applauds) (Audience applauds) But no one man, even he -- no one institute can change the world. Some people say that the next terrorist atrocity on American soil will make a difference and finally arouse the public. I hope so.
But I fear that, without the right philosophic ideas, the next atrocity too, however monstrous, will probably, in the long-run, change very little in our policies. The tragedy is that America is helplessly vulnerable when it would be easy for it to become triumphantly secure. There is still time to change our direction but not a lot of time. History is not infinitely elastic.
So I appeal to you, in conclusion; if you can contribute anything to a revolution of ideas in this country, a revolution that will oust the establishment ideology and recreate a rational public, now is the time to become a philosophic hero and to do it on whatever scale is open to you. If you can make enough of your countrymen start to think, America can still be saved. Thank you. (Audience applauds)