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Ramblings

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Ramblings

Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

In Contemporary American Society, Truth Is in Increasingly Short Supply

Truth seems to be an increasingly rare commodity in the contemporary American society.

In our political life, the lies are legion. In June, after ten days of adamant denials, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), finally admitted to having sent sexually explicit photographs to various young women. After telling the nation that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman," former President Clinton finally admitted the truth. Former Senator John Ensign (R-NV) denied the facts of his relationship with a married staff member and the payoff by his parents to the woman's husband. Former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) had a staff member claim to be the father of his mistresses' child.

But lack of truth goes far beyond the personal lives of our politicians. Where were the weapons of mass destruction we were told Saddam Hussein possessed - and which were used as a justification for launching the war in Iraq? We now know that the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the precipitating event which led to President Johnson's launching the Vietnam War, did not really happen. Sadly, the list is a long one.

And it is not only in our political life that truth is hard to find. In an important new book, Tangled Webs: How False Statements Are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff, James B. Stewart warns of the risks from an epidemic of perjury that has "infected nearly every aspect of society."

Citing prosecutors who speak of a recent surge of deliberate lying by sophisticated individuals, often represented by the best lawyers, he focuses on four cases involving well-known people: business executive and lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, convicted of lying to investigators about the reasons her ImClone stock was sold; former Dick Cheney adviser Lewis "Scooter" Libby, found guilty of perjury in conjunction with the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity; baseball star Barry Bonds, indicted for perjury related to illegal use of steroid drugs; and Bernard Madoff, who while conducting the greatest Ponzi scheme in history, and lying to investors and investigators, was never actually indicted for perjury.

Stewart is particularly outraged when it comes to the failure to indict Madoff for perjury. It was clear to Securities and Exchange Commission investigators in 2005 that he was lying about his investment business, but their superiors decided not to press the issue:

At the time of his sworn testimony in 2006, Madoff purported to have approximately $20 billion under management. By the time his scheme collapsed, he had $65 billion. Failing to pursue his lies cost innocent victims another $45 billion.

Stewart believes that lying is on the rise, threatening to swamp the legal system, and sow cynicism nationwide. In the end, he argues, "it undermines civilization itself."

Consider the case of Greg Mortenson. His best-selling books, Three Cups of Tea, and Stones into Schools are full of lies and evasions. He tells the story of how in 1993, he stumbled into the tiny Pakistani village of Korphe after a failed attempt at climbing K2. He explains how the kind villagers nursed him back to health with many cups of tea and how, as payment for their generosity, he returned to build a school. That school then became hundreds of schools across Pakistan and Afghanistan. Millions were inspired by the idea that a man could make such a profound difference in a desperate part of the world. Mortenson was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize. He was called a secular saint.

In April, as a result of an investigative report by bestselling author Jon Krakauer and a "60 Minutes" expose, we learned that Mortenson may very well be a charlatan. The most significant passages in the book seem to be fictitious, including the whole story about his recovery in Korphe. The "Taliban abductors" described in "Three Cups of Tea" were supposedly friendly villagers protecting him as a guest of honor. It was reported that his charity is apparently badly mismanaged and that many of its schools stand empty, some of them serving as storage sheds for hay.

In 2009, only 41 percent of donations to Mortenson's charity went to its work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Much of the rest, charge Krakauer and "60 Minutes," went to Mortenson himself - to chartered jets, massive purchases of his books (at retail, so he would get the royalties and keep them on the bestseller list), and advertisements for them in The New Yorker at more than $100,000 each time.

More and more Americans are also claiming to have military honors they never earned. Joseph Brian Cryer, for example, is a former candidate for City Council in Ocean City, Maryland. He claimed to be an elite U.S. Navy SEAL and bragged online about having "77 confirmed kills" in 102 hours during a Libyan operation in 1986. To prove his own bona fides, he showed a government ID card that shows him to be 100 percent disabled and a Navy commander.

But Cryer is a fraud, said Don Shipley, a retired SEAL who makes it his business to expose false ones. Shipley has access to a database of all Navy SEALs since 1947. Since Navy SEAL Team 6 took out Osama bin Laden in April, he said he has received about 50 requests each day to investigate people who claim to be SEALs.

The list of those criminally charged for falsifying their military service is a long one. In one case, Command Sgt. Maj. Stoney Crump, the senior enlisted man at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was fired for faking his record and wearing numerous unauthorized awards and decorations. He was sentenced to six months in prison.

In another case, former Marine Corps Sgt. David Budwah was sentenced in 2009 to 18 months confinement and fined $25,000 for pretending to be an injured war hero to get free seats at rock concerts and professional sporting events.

"Every society in history, since the caveman days, has revered its warriors," said B. G. Burkett, author of Stolen Valor. He has uncovered thousands of suspected fakes and says most lie out of lack of self-esteem. "They haven't done anything in their lives," he said. "But the second they say they're a warrior, everybody sees them in a different light."

Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act in 2006. The law makes it illegal for someone to falsely claim to hold military honors or decorations. But some of those who have faced criminal charges claim the law is unconstitutional, arguing that it violates the First Amendment. The law "has every good intention," said Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center. "But courts have been reluctant to outlaw lying in America. It's just too prevalent to legislate."

This far, federal courts have split on the law's constitutionality. A federal judge in Virginia ruled this year that the First Amendment doesn't protect the false claims the act makes illegal. But the California-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found the law unconstitutional last year.

In May, Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) introduced a revised Stolen Valor Act that would make it a crime of fraud to benefit, or intend to benefit, from lying about military awards. "It's not O.K. to misrepresent yourself as a physician and practice medicine," Mr. Heck said.

It's not O.K. to misrepresent yourself as a police officer. Why should you be able to misrepresent yourself as a member of the military, specifically if you're trying to gain something of value?

The widespread telling of untruths - and the claim that people have a legal right to engage in lying about basic credentials - is an indication of our society's current moral standards. In the end, more is involved than simply immoral behavior. Such behavior is, in fact, a threat to democratic self-government.

Edmund Burke, in his letter to a member of the French National Assembly in 1791, made a point we might well ponder today:

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put chains upon their own appetites in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and honesty of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less there is of it within, the more of it there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

Can a Free Society Endure if It Does Not Teach Its History and Its Values to the Next Generation?

American students are less proficient in their nation's history than in any other subject, according to results of a nationwide test released in June, with most fourth graders unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure, and few high school seniors able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean War.

Overall, 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Fewer than a third of eighth graders could answer what was described as a "seemingly easy question," asking them to identify an important advantage American forces had over the British during the Revolution, the government's statement on the results said.

Diane Ravitch, an education historian who was invited by the national assessment's governing board to review the results, said she was particularly disturbed by the fact that only 2 percent of 12th graders correctly answered a question concerning Brown vs. Board of Education, which she called "very likely the most important decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the past seven decades."

Students were given an excerpt including the passage, and were asked what social problem the 1954 ruling was supposed to correct:

We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.

"The answer was right in front of them," Ms. Ravitch said. "This is alarming."

"The results tell us that, as a country, we are failing to provide children with a high-quality, well-rounded education," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The evidence of our failure to teach our history is abundant. Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on the most recent national civics examination, and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, according to the test results released in April.

"These results confirm that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education," said Sandra Day O'Connor, the former Supreme Court justice, who last year founded icivics.org, a nonprofit group that teaches students civics through web-based games and other tools.

"The results confirm an alarming and continuing trend that civics in America is in decline," said Charles N. Quigley, executive director of the Center for Civic Education. "During the past decade or so, educational policy and practice appear to have focused more and more upon developing the worker at the expense of developing the citizen."

"We face difficult challenges at home and abroad," said Justice O'Connor.

Meanwhile, divisive rhetoric and a culture of sound bites threaten to drown out rational dialogue and debate. We cannot afford to continue to neglect the preparation of future generations for active and informed citizenship.

Historian David McCullough says that:

We're raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate. I know how much of these young people - even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning - don't know. It's shocking.

McCullough, who has lectured on more than 100 college campuses, tells of a young woman who came up to him after a lecture at a renowned university in the Midwest. "Until I heard your talk this morning, I never realized the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast," she said.

Some years ago, when 111 ninth graders in a Honolulu school were asked to write the Pledge of Allegiance, no one could do it correctly. One response described the United States as a nation "under guard" and dedicated "for richest stand." A teacher, who asked not to be identified so her students would not be embarrassed, called the results frightening. She said all the students had spelling problems and had little grasp of what the pledge words meant. The word "indivisible," for example, came out as "in the visible." The teacher said that 12 students had trouble spelling the word "America." The word appeared in some papers as "Americain," "Americai," "Amereca," "Amicra," and "Amica." The teacher said, "I'm sick. I don't know what to do or where to turn."

These trends were hardly new. More than twenty years ago, writing in Public Opinion magazine, author Ben Stein reported:

Recently a 19 year-old junior at the University of Southern California sat with me while I watched "Guadalcanal Diary" on T.V. It goes without saying that the child had never heard of Guadalcanal. More surprisingly, she did not know whom the U.S. was fighting against in the Pacific. ("The Germans?") She was genuinely shocked to learn that all those people were Japanese and that the U.S. had fought a war against them. ("Who won?") Another student at USC did not have any clear idea when World War II was fought. . . . She also had no clear notion of what had begun the war for the U.S. Even more astounding, she was not sure which side Russia was on and whether Germany was on our side or against us. In fact, I have not yet found one single student in Los Angeles, in either college or in high school, who could tell me the years when World War II was fought. Nor have I found one who knew when the American Civil War was fought.

Stein laments that:

Unless our gilded, innocent children are given some concept of why the society must be protected and defended, I fear that they will learn too soon about a whole variety of ugly ideas they did not want to know about. . . . People who do not value what they have rarely keep it for long, and neither will we.

Things have gotten far worse since Stein wrote those words. One reason for students' poor showing on recent tests underlines the neglect shown to the study of history by federal and state policy makers - both Republicans and Democrats - especially since the 2002 No Child Left Behind act began requiring schools to raise scores in math and reading, but in no other subject. This federal accountability law (surprisingly embraced by Republicans who previously argued that education was a state and local - not a federal - matter) has given schools and teachers an incentive to spend most of their time teaching to the math and reading tests, and totally ignoring history.

"History is very much being shortchanged," said Linda K. Salvucci, a history professor in San Antonio who is chairwoman-elect of the National Council for History Education.

Historian Paul Johnson points out that:

The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.

Free societies are rare in history. If their history and values are not transmitted to the next generation, their survival is questionable. As Cicero (106-43 B.C.) understood:

To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child. What is human life worth unless it is incorporated into the lives of one's ancestors and set in a historical context?

European Leaders Are Turning Against Multi-culturalism - a Dilemma Faced by Our Own Society as Well

As immigration problems - particularly among the large North African and Middle Eastern populations in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and other West European countries - rise to the surface, the idea of "multi-culturalism" is coming under increasing criticism.

Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, called it "a total failure," and France's president Nicolas Sarkozy, told an interviewer that immigrants should "melt into a single community." In a speech in Munich, Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, traces the problem of homegrown Islamist alienation and terrorism to "a question of identity."

"A passively tolerant society," Cameron said, "stands neutral between different values." But "a generally liberal country . . . says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe in these things."

The things Cameron went on to cite were freedom of speech and worship, democracy, and the rule of law, and equal rights. Much of this is not new, as concern over multi-culturalism has been growing. A year after the London bombings of July, 2005, Ruth Kelly, then the Labor Party minister in charge of community policies, asked whether - in its anxiety to avoid imposing a single British identity on diverse communities - multi-culturalism had encouraged "separateness."

In December 2006, Tony Blair gave a speech on multi-culturalism which included many of Prime Minister Cameron's points. Both prime ministers called for tighter controls on Muslim groups receiving public funds, an entry ban on foreign preachers with extremist views, a tougher position on forced marriages, and an expectation that all British citizens support common values, from the rule of law to a rejection of discrimination.

French president Sarkozy declared that:

If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France. Of course, we must respect all differences, but we do not want . . . a society where communities coexist side by side.

Europe's dilemma is real, as is its need for immigrants. Deaths are expected to outnumber births this year in 10 of the European Union's 27 member states. As of 2015 the EU as a whole will experience negative natural population growth, demographers say, and the gap will grow to one million excess deaths a year by 2035. By 2050 the EU will have 52 million fewer people of working age, the European Commission warns. Businesses across Europe are already facing severe shortages of engineers, technicians, craftspeople, and other skilled professionals, with four million unfilled jobs across the continent.

For decades, most European countries have consigned immigrants to the margins. In Germany - which, until recently, continued to proclaim it was "not an immigrant society" - some professions were restricted to German citizens well into the 1990s, while eligibility for citizenship itself was based on bloodlines until a landmark reform in 2001. Millions of refugees were legally barred from working, which forced them into welfare dependency. Muslims, in particular, remain unintegrated and ghettoized in many European countries.

The attention now being focused on the need to integrate immigrants into European society is a hopeful sign. We have had this same debate in the U.S. for some time, but, for a variety of reasons, have done a better job in integrating immigrants into our society. Fortunately, our "melting pot" tradition has served us well.

What Americans have in common is not a common racial, ethnic, or religious background, but, instead, a commitment to the concept of individual freedom in a society established by the U.S. Constitution, which protects and preserves it.

We have, of course, had our advocates of "bi-lingual," "Afro-centric," and other forms of multi-cultural education. According to the multiculturalist worldview, notes Linda Chavez:

African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Chinese Americans living in New York City have more in common with persons of their ancestral group living in Lagos or San Juan or Hong Kong than they do with other New Yorkers who are white. Culture becomes a fixed entity, transmitted, as it were, in the genes, rather than through experience.

Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. declared that:

Multiculturalists would have our educational system reinforce, promote, and perpetuate separate ethnic communities and do so at the expense of the idea of a common culture and a common national identity.

Afro-centric education and other forms of separate education for separate groups is the opposite of the traditional goal of civil rights leaders who wanted only to open up American education to all students, regardless of race. The distinguished black leader in the early years of this century, W. E. B. DuBois, disputed the multiculturalists of his own day. He said:

I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not . . . . Across the color line I move arm in arm with Belzac and Dumas. I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn or condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil.

To him, the timeless wisdom of the classical works of Western civilization spoke to all people and races, not just to whites of European ancestry.

Professor Seymour Martin Lipset of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University declares:

The history of bilingual and bicultural societies that do not assimilate are histories of turmoil, tension, and tragedy. Canada, Belgium, Malaysia, Lebanon - all face crises of national existence in which minorities press for autonomy, if not independence. Pakistan and Cyprus have divided. Nigeria suppressed an ethnic rebellion. France faces difficulties with its Basques, Bretons, and Corsicans.

European societies will resolve their difficulties with today's immigrants when they adopt the American model and recognize that their societies will no longer be homogeneous in the future and that their goal should be to assimilate new immigrants into the culture and civilization of France, England, and other Western European countries.

Some of today's Islamic immigrants may provide a greater challenge, but this should not prove insurmountable if the proper policies are adopted. Finally, Western European leaders seem to have come to the understanding that multiculturalism is not the way.

Immigrants leave their native countries for the West because there is something in the West they want. It is the responsibility of these Western European countries to transmit to their new immigrants the values, culture, and civilization of their societies. This has been going on in our own country for more than 300 years with great success. The first female black candidate for president, Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) once said, "We came over on different ships, but we're in the same boat now." Multiculturalism is a dangerous detour from the assimilation and acculturation of immigrants which should be the primary goal of those societies now receiving large numbers of new residents. Abandoning the notion that Western European countries are "not immigrant societies" is an important step forward. *

Read 3876 times Last modified on Saturday, 05 December 2015 10:39
Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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