39 years ago, John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
I was sitting in high school American history class, taught by Coach Hutchins. I remembered that without having to think about it. It was one of those days in history that nearly everyone able to experience it remembers clearly. There have been two of those in my life now, September 11 being the second.
If there is ever a third, I hope it is one of monumentally good news. But good events tend to be anticlimatic. They are usually the final result of a long process, and are often considered overdue. Good news tends to be the final end of something bad.
The end of the Vietnam war is one example.
The Vietnam war was brought to an end by the efforts of millions of Americans over many years. No President, no one signing the peace treaty, could take credit for it. Many leaders of the peace movement mobilized ever-increasing numbers of people, who demonstrated, marched, wrote letters, and protested the war any way they could, until finally their numbers could no longer be ignored.
It was an accomplishment that was unprecedented. Never before have the people of a nation united effectively to stop a war. There have been protests against wars in the past, but they had little effect. However, no previous war waged by the U.S. had been quite so unjustified, yet continued for so long. American soldiers were killing and dying in large numbers, accomplishing nothing, and we had never been attacked. We tend to strongly support our country, and we want to believe its causes are just and noble. It took time for many Americans to realize the truth about that war, to learn that our elected officials can make some very bad decisions, and to find that is not an easy task to correct them when they do.
Despite the free and democratic nature of our system, it can be slow to respond to the will of the people. Elections are too far apart, and there may or may not be a candidate to elect who supports our view. We must pick one who comes closest to our preference on a variety of issues, and it remains officially unknown which of those issues was most important to us. Opinion polls, no matter how scientifically taken, have no legal impact on the actions of our government.
There should be a means to place important decisions before the voters at any time they need to be made. Major foreign policy decisions can have the most serious and irrevokable consequences when they are acted upon. We have the means to set up a system of voting that would not require much advance preparation for each use. A set of computer terminals in each poll location securely networked to a central processor in each state capitol, and thence to Washington would enable rapid, accurate, and safe transport of the will of the majority to the President and Congress. Perhaps the Constitution would require an ammendment to require a vote on issues of national importance, and to legally oblige the President to act accordingly. Adding this additional safeguard, which has become desirable because foreign conflicts can occur many times faster and with more serious results than ever beore, is in keeping with the spirit and intent of the existing Constitutional safeguards. It is an adaptation to the advance of technology which has produced the potential for instant mass destruction and also the means for instant communication to facilitate the prevention of hostilites.
As the perceptive have seen, the point of this essay is not just history or political theory. Right now we have a President who seems bent on a course of war against Iraq, a nation which may or may not be dangerous in the future, but has threatened no one recently. Most of the people, I believe, do not want such a war, but the American people have no direct way to stop it before it starts.
Many of us remeber the Vietnam era, and many more can learn from the history of that time. We can stop such a war, but it will take time. Needless deaths will have occurred, and our nation will be hated and feared even more by the less powerful in many parts of the world.
We should make our feelings known to our Congressmen, first, that we do not want war, and second, that we need a means of referendum, to be used for matters of war and peace when there is a decision to be made.
--Captain Rat, Feb. 2003
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