In the latter years of the Vietnam Conflict, the United States military unofficially adopted a controversial tactical strategy in a desperate attempt to halt the encroachments of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops into the villages of South Vietnam as they slowly but surely advanced toward the capital city of Saigon and capture of the entire country. The United States in the late ‘60s had begun massive sweeps of the countryside outside Saigon using grandiose nomenclatures like “Operation Thunder” with the noble intent of clearing areas and villages of the dreaded Viet Cong and restoring order and peace to the allegedly loyal citizens of the target areas. By clearing areas of the enemy, the objective was to slowly recapture the countryside and save South Vietnam from a communist takeover.
The United States soon learned that the task was comparable to holding back the tide with a mop. Moving into a village, the US military would find a quaint, idyllic Vietnamese citizenry busy with all the duties of a township with nary a sign of the enemy…especially confusing when just a few hours earlier military intelligence had indicated that the place was a beehive of enemy activity. Compounding the difficulty was trying to identify the enemy at all…many Viet Cong troops dressed in the standard clothing of the country villager and became part of the village populace simply by hiding any trace of weaponry. The US military would search a village, and occasionally the enemy would make the mistake of unsuccessfully hiding their weapons and retributions quickly followed, but, more times than not, the US military was frustrated in its lack of engagement with the enemy. This frustration led to a logical conclusion: if military intelligence had positive proof that a village was a haven for the enemy, and there seemed to be no evidence that the local citizens were being cooperative in identifying the enemy, the village was put to the torch and burned to the ground. This military policy was bluntly explained one evening on national news when a military official was asked about the burning of a village, and he replied, “In order to save the village, we had to destroy it.”
Much has been written in recent years of the general frustration of the United States citizenry with its government. Though we pride ourselves with our democratic process and look with disdain at other not freely elected governments around the globe, we are still disappointed at the seeming inability of the U.S. government to face the issues confronting our country today and come up with solutions to our problems. It is not a problem which has surfaced only since Barack Obama became president; it has extended backward through several previous administrations, and the prognosis for the future is not encouraging. In the richest country in the world we have one of the highest percentages in the world of children who nightly go to bed hungry, of citizens who cannot afford proper health care, and of elderly who have no place to go for security.
Democracy, by its very name is…well…democratic. While it is a form of government founded upon the concept of rule by the majority, it is also founded upon the principle that any governmental decision will be made with general welfare of the population in mind. Democracy by its very modus operandi requires compromise, and every law and every decision is an amalgamation of the corporate minds which joined together to make the decision. The problem with democracy is that it occasionally clashes with individual principle. Consider the hypothetical situation of an elected official who has sworn to his constituents “No new taxes!” and then has to consider a proposed bill which would take care of a serious problem in the country…but the final version of the bill as drawn up by his associates contains a tax increase. Although it will ease a problem in the country, does he vote to pass the law and in doing so override his principles, or does he stand firm, waving his flag of unbent principle, and let the country suffer the consequences? In today’s political climate, we have many politicians who have adopted the strategy of “destroying the village in order to save it.” Rather than reach a political compromise on an issue which would reflect the general pulse of the populace, many lawmakers would rather see the country suffer than renege on an unwise commitment or pledge made in the heat of political campaigning…a commitment or pledge which should have never been made in the first place.
Unfortunately for our country, both major political parties have adopted the “destroy to save” philosophy, and it depends upon who is in power as to what role each party plays. With the current Democratic president and Democratic majority in Congress, the Republicans have adopted the knee-jerk reflex of “No!” to anything President Obama remotely suggests. Knowing that the 2014 elections are on the horizon and seeing the light at the end of the Obama presidential term in 2016, Republicans are digging in their heels and throwing out every possible stumbling block to any potential political success for the Democrats, and as a result the country founders with high unemployment, porous borders, a shaky economy, crumbling infrastructure, and rising crime. Please understand…I am not a Democrat and am not a fan of President Obama. He and the Democrats have done their fair share of uncompromising destruction. Although blessed with a friendly House and Democratic president, the Democratic Party has disdained the Republicans and refused to reach across the aisle and offer an olive branch of peace and compromise. As a result, many of the Democratic goals so loftily presented at the beginning of the Obama administration have never gotten off the ground.
During the George W. Bush presidency, the tables were turned, and it was the Democrats who were stumbling blocks, and any legislation which may have benefited President Bush or the Republican Party was soundly squashed…in the name of “principle,” and Bush, being loyal to Republican “principles” was not anxious to cooperate with the Democratic Congress.
The last president to publicly reach across the aisle to the benefit of the nation was probably Bill Clinton. Faced with a Republican Congress after the midterm elections, he cooperated with Republican leaders, cajoled Democratic legislators, and helped to create an economy which rebounded and gave the United States its last balanced budget that it probably will ever see. The fiscal success was due to both Republicans and Democrats, still guided by their principles, considering the welfare of the country and compromising to reach an agreement. President George H.W. Bush faced a similar predicament years earlier. Although he had famously made the statement “No new taxes!” during the presidential campaign, after entering office and understanding the financial situation of the nation, Bush signed a fiscal bill which raised taxes and helped balance the federal budget. It cost him political points with those who had uncompromising principles and the “destroy to save” philosophy, but it was better for the country.
There is a place for uncompromising principles. In my spiritual life, I have principles of behavior and a biblical belief which I am not willing to change; however, my personal spiritual principles are my own. In the political arena, assuming that there exists a true democracy, the politician does not serve to promulgate his/her own principles. A politician works to promote and protect his constituents, and every decision should be based on that ideal. What our country needs are legislators who cannot be bought, who do not vote with an eye toward reelection, who do not make impossible-to-fulfill promises, who seek to improve the general welfare of their citizens, and who are willing to work for the general good of the United States of America. They are a vanishing breed.