by Tom Webb, Pax Christi Spokane
Lost as we enter into the quadrennial season of mind-numbing political advertising and the fist-clenched partisan rhetoric of the fall election campaigns is the question of national vision. While seemingly abstract our common national vision ultimately defines our direction as a country.
Since 1946 our national values and fundamental identity have served a worldview shaped by the portrayal of a deadly conflict with the Soviet Communism. What became the Cold War pitted the various freedoms of the United States, liberal democracies and allies in a mortal struggle with the statist-view embodied by the Soviet Union. Virtually no part of American life and culture were untouched by this conflict. Enormous human and financial resources were expended by both countries, their allies and proxy governments in wars large, small and covert waged across the globe. And by 1991 it was clear which vision prevailed.
Yet, the vision and its assumptions which undergirded that Cold War world were never seriously re-examined. This is seen in the unsettled debate about the basic values and identity of American citizenry in the 21st century. It is played out in unanswered questions of what America’s national priorities should be. In the ambiguous role the United States should play in a post-Cold War world given the real challenges facing us. How to address the many questions posed by an increasingly complex international global community of nations which defy simplistic “either-or” answers. In short the Cold War vision no longer holds.
What are the consequences of failing to re-examine our vision? Absent this discussion we are confronted with a number of serious problems. They include viral contests of identity politics on all sides of the political spectrum. Entitlement programs whose financial viability are deeply uncertain. An educational system which has not undergone serious, systematic scrutiny since the end of America’s agricultural era. An inadequate response to the solid evidence offered by our most-informed and respected physical and social scientists demonstrate to diminishing supplies of petroleum, minerals, natural resources and the very real threat of global climate change. And finally insufficient responses to wide variety of complex political, economic, ecological and cultural questions faced by the world’s nations.
How to proceed? We have the current option of marching lockstep in rigid ideological camps governed by media-encouraged posturing, empty-sloganeering and fear-mongering funded by covert monied interests which allow for no constructive conversation or thoughtful discussions.
Or we can opt for a far more respectful, sincere, thorough and ostensibly honest conversation.
Thankfully, the springboard for the latter actually exists in the National Strategic Narrative (NSN) co-authored by Capt. Wayne Porter, USN and Col. Mark Mykleby, US Marine Corp (retired). The NSN is a fairly dense but concise, comprehensive visionary statement drafted by Porter and Mykleby in 2009. Drawing insight and direction from systems thinking with roots in the physical sciences and their respective modes of inquiry, the NSN was thoroughly vetted by both Pentagon and State Department personnel before it was published in 2011 by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars (www.wilsoncenter.org)
Captain Porter who spoke at Gonzaga University this past April and Mykleby have been addressing groups from all sides of the political spectrum across the United States for the past two years. In a nutshell they call for a re-appraisal and renewed understanding of America’s foundational values. Secondly, a thorough-going analyses of our entitlement programs to ensure their sustainability. Third, an honest recognition of diminishing natural resources both domestically and abroad as well as the real threats posed by global climate change. Fourth, the necessity of retooling our educational system to better equip America’s children to address the challenges they will face. Fifth, our economic system must be guided by ethical principles rather than bottom line thinking. Finally, we must adopt a foreign policy which is not trapped in Cold War “either-or” thinking, but values multi-lateral and complex approaches.
What is most illuminating is how well-received the National Strategic Narrative has been by enthusiastic audiences to whom Porter and Mykleby have spoken. There exists a deeper and unsatisfied hunger for an honest and thoughtful discussion to guide America’s heart, soul and future.
Isn’t it time we summoned the political courage to question and challenge our elected and aspiring political leadership to move beyond shrill partisan rhetoric mimicking the entertainment world? Can’t we look toward the horizon filled with an informed and quiet hope and sound determination rather than cower under the fear-laden cries of the prophets of doom?