A Kinder, Gentler America

A KINDER, GENTLER AMERICA

It seems a very large percentage of Americans remember this quote from President Bush
about 10 years ago. However, it might be merely a smoke screen blurring the publics view from what fellow republicans perceive as a realistic worldview. What I mean by this is that in its natural state, this is a tough world ruled by fang and claw. You don't have to be a naturalist to know that nature is ruled by eat and be eaten. Few animals, if any, are without natural predators up and down the food chain. Whenever you observe the human animal in this incredible cycle of nature, it is one of a small minority of species that wars and kills its own. Einstein was very correct when he wrote 'HOW STRANGE IS OUR SITUATION ON EARTH.' Because human history is wrapped around the history of war and power, perhaps it is mere rhetoric to speak of a kinder, gentler America when in reality we have a need for a truly tough army, which will deter our enemies. Was it not Teddy Roosevelt who said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."? There we have it, real world ideas carrying America into this next millennium. 


Consider capital punishment as a microcosm of this scenario. Why should we coddle those who commit such crimes as Ted Bundy, Jeffery Dahmer etc.? I mean, do these people deserve to live? However, should we consider only the microcosm rather than the macrocosm? The death penalty is not a matter of justice. The life for a life ethic does not render justice. People who kill many people only set up our system of justice, which can in no way find justice. If justice is balancing the scale, how many lives do they have to give? Justice cannot be achieved in any other way because the victim will never be made whole again so maybe we should step back and attempt to see the big picture.

It seems to me that nature sees nothing wrong with killing so I suggest that we do away with all laws on killing. After all, killing is natural and why would we want to thwart Mother Nature? However, if we look at the history of civilization, it looks as if the word civilization says it all. The history of civilization is the history of trying to extract the brute nature of our existence and this eye for an eye ethic that served us rather well many generations ago. But, is it as mature a level of thinking that we need ill our modern world? Would the words of Jesus apply to our modern world? Could "Turn the other cheek" apply to 'society as well as the individual? If building a better society as in "kinder, gentler" means not killing, does not capital punishment do the exact thing it supposedly is designed to prohibit. When Canada stopped capital punishment not long ago, their murder rate per capita immediately went down, whereas in America, when capital punishment was reinstated, the murder rate per capita immediately went up. Yes, what we do as a society does affect our citizens.

I find it amazing that Governor Bush supports capital punishment and yet he gets the majority of his support from the religious right. I am sure they see this alliance as serving us as a nation. Maybe we should be wolves is sheep's clothing espousing peace to the world while we see the necessity to build all army which is ready to be as vicious a killer as need be to preserve US. Do we however have to deny the ethic of Jesus to function like Teddy Roosevelt said in order to "speak softly and carry a big stick?" 

Let us look at our greatest Republican president as an example. Abraham Lincoln was a very
gentle man who "could not even cut the head off a chicken for Sunday dinner." Few men have ever longed for peace and civility more than Lincoln. It would be easy to build a case that Lincoln was about as kind, gentle aud civilized as most any mortal could be. To the best of my knowledge he never owned a gun, much less killed another and lived a life of kindness. However, how is it that this great man of pence found himself as Commander in Chief of our armies in the most unbelievable war in our history? Did he rise to the occasion or was this man of peace too soft for the job at hand? 

Perhaps it is good to remember that real peace begins inside us and functions very much as a feeling. Thus, as Commander of the Armies of the Republic, Lincoln had many life and death decisions to make, so I ask, was this kinder, gentler man of peace equal to the task of doing his job as Commander in Chief? My answer is a resounding YES. Lincoln's personal battle with his number one general is, perhaps, exemplary of a necessary killer instinct at its best. Lincoln knew that the sooner the war was over, then more boys could go home to plow their fields, not be buried under them. The sooner the war would be over, more boys could go home whole, not missing arms, legs, eyes etc. Thus, Lincoln watched troop movements closely and at the first battle of Manassas, Lincoln knew of General Lee's march north to engage McClellan. General McClellan had almost 120,000 fresh troops, vertical advantage, more ordinance and generally more of all the engines of war than Lee. Knowing this, Lincoln sends a telew-am to Little Mac saying flank Lee and his march weary 80,000 troops and cut off his supply lines, close those ranks and force Lee to surrender or die. But
alas, General McClellan snubs Lincoln and basically states 'What do those people in Washington know about fighting a war? What I need is more troops and time to train them. Put that telegram away and I'll find it when I am ready.' Thus, Lee was able to strike, focus, fight and retreat victorious. It is no wonder that Lincoln fired Little Mac at least twice trying to find a general that would fight. You might could say that McClellan was a casualty on the road of Lincoln's quest to find a fighting general. General Grant's loss at Shiloh slowed his recognition as a great general but he was the one left standing at the end of the war and as we know it is the victor that recounts history.

Abe Lincoln, a great man of peace who hated the sight of blood, who was obtusely given to
peace, who probably pardoned more deserters and saved them from the gallows more than any other president and who probably would have pardoned Commander Wirz if Lincoln had lived long enough. Yet, in all his softness of heart, he allowed that killer instinct to rise up of necessity and was perhaps as good a Commander in Chief as we could have gotten during that civil war era. Thus, I don't buy the notion than having a kinder, gentler America would produce a land of sissies, unwilling to fight for a righteous and just cause.

Thus, Abraham Lincoln may be as good an example as can be found regarding "speak softly
and carry a big stick." Can this example give us insight into where we need to go in our society today? My position is we need a kinder, gentler America. but, we need substance, not nice rhetoric, so I say let us abolish capital punishment and distance ourselves from the hypocrisy of making laws that say "Thou shalt not kill" and then legalizing or rationalizing our killing via capital punishment. Capital punishment perpetuates and aggravates the very thing it supposedly abhors, killing.

Ross Sloan
12/2/00

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