Gen. Petraeus & American Accountability

— By Jerry Cates. First published on 4 December 2016 and last expanded on 20 December 2016. © Govinthenews Vol. 7:12(3).

Gen. Petraeus went on television Sunday, 4 December 2016, renewing and expanding upon his oft-repeated mea culpa of 26 March. Speaking afresh on camera at ABC’s “This Week” he said “Five years ago, I made a serious mistake. I acknowledged it. I apologized for it. I paid a very heavy price for it and I learned from it.

He did, in fact, get caught mishandling classified information. He also got caught lying to the FBI. That’s how much we know for sure. What we don’t know is how much he did that wasn’t caught. Though that caveat applies to everybody, it applies double to folks like Gen. Petraeus, because not only did he hesitate to confess to the several egregious cases of official misconduct he’d committed, but before doing so he falsely claimed to be innocent to the FBI.

Confirmed liars cannot be trusted. Petraeus is that and more, and that should be Petraeus’ “end of story” as occupant of a place of honor and trust within American government. Instead, some firmly believed he had an excellent chance of being chosen to resume such a place. That anyone could consider him a viable candidate for such a role now or in the future tells us more about the state of politics, mores, and ethical standards in the USA than about the depths of disgrace to which this man has fallen.

Not only did the man violate his oath of office, he violated his marriage vows while heading the CIA, knowingly transgressing the most storied, classical, and dangerous tenet of espionage and intrigue.

America’s DOJ then meted out what any reasonable person must acknowledge as mere slaps on the general’s wrist, confirming the deplorable state to which American justice has fallen.

The Petraeus Bid for Secretary of State

At the time he was interviewed on “This Week” he was clearly campaigning for the office of Secretary of State. That’s up there, as high offices go. Our next Secretary of State — who, by the way, won’t be David H. Petraeus — becomes, as with all who came before, America’s top diplomat. That individual will be but four steps away from the Oval Office.

Speaking to this on “This Week” Petraeus went on: “They (the American public and members of the U.S. Senate) (will) have to factor that (his guilty plea for improper handling and disclosure of classified information) in and also obviously 38-and-a-half years of otherwise fairly — in some cases — unique service to our country in uniform and then at the CIA and then some four years or so in the business community…

Yes, this General did get around, didn’t he? But hadn’t he also lied to the FBI?

Petraeus responded with “I mean obviously I made a false statement.”

America’s Festering, Generational Wound…

I take no joy whatever in castigating this man. His past does not appear to include violence or homicidal tendencies, and except for the criminal acts mentioned above, he seems like a nice enough fellow, as fellows go. So long as he is kept away from America’s secrets and not trusted to make decisions affecting others he may be essentially harmless. He would probably be ok to have a beer with, to join for an afternoon on the golf course or, in my case — since I’m not a golfer — to hike into the backcountry with for an invigorating weekend of roughing it.

But a heightened sense of responsibility ought to be demanded of one’s close confidants. I’d never trust him with my personal financial accounts, hire him to work in my company, or buy a used car he was selling.

Few would question the basis for those hesitancies. Given that, then, how could anyone approve his consideration for even a minor position of trust within the government of their nation? After all, like our families and our businesses, haven’t we loved America all our lives? Wasn’t it this U.S.A. for whom we risked our lives and pledged our sacred honor in combat against her enemies? Today, isn’t it this nation in which all our personal, as well as our family’s hopes for the future are vested?

Well, the answers are mostly “yes” when given by individuals born into my generation, but often are “no” for those born afterward. Why that is so is one question this article delves into. I’m doing this as much for my own edification as anything. Why do I feel the way I do about these things? Am I a victim of outmoded trains of thought? Is it time I changed and got with it? Maybe, but first explain why the generations that followed mine feel the way they do. Are they onto something I need to get on track with? Or — allow me this small, but enticing possibility — might they be the deluded ones? Oh, perish the thought… it cannot be that.

Objective, rational thinking is a greased pig. But I’ve been a student of syllogistic and inductive logic all my adult life, and that’s a big plus when going after teflon-coated, quick moving, hard-to-tie-down fast-talking confidence artists. Not even the most silicone-saturated politician is immune from logic’s far-reaching effects, as the latest election for U.S. President demonstrated. That’s encouraging. It makes me think that though it may be impossible to arrive at firm, unshakable conclusions, it might be possible to at least shed a little light on why America got to this place in history, where nearly half the population is fine with letting the form of government our founders put together 240 years ago self-destruct. If we can shine even so much as a glimmer of illumination upon that question, that — being all that perhaps can be done at this time in our history — will satisfy the meager goals of this little piece of commentary.

America’s Cult of Selfishness

I was born in 1942, one year before the baby boom officially began. The first baby-boomer babies (as those born into the period from 1943-1964 — some say 1946-1964 — have come to be known) came of age in the mid-1960’s. That latter period was when another pseudo-generational phenomenon, popularly known as the Me Generation (not to be confused with the more conventional generational periods discussed here), came to characterize how the baby-boomers saw themselves.

The thrust of the Me Generation was directed toward self-fulfillment, a manifestation growing out of the wholesale rejection of the values of the two generations that preceded the baby-boomers. The first is generally referred to as the GI Generation, whose babies were born between 1901 and 1924, and whose teenagers experienced the Great Depression and fought in WW-II.

It was followed by the so-called Silent Generation, whose infants were born from 1925 through 1942. Those infants didn’t reach adulthood until after WW-II, yet they became adults too early for them to join in on the fun of 1967’s Summer of Love without raising suspicions, suspicions that could only be disproven by copious displays of unlicensed primal behavior of the sort for which serious Silent Generation members had no stomach. Joining in meant, invariably, smoking and swallowing anything your fellow revelers were smoking and swallowing, without asking any questions. Failing that test, you became, in their eyes, worse than an outcast.

Silent Generation members were said to be “silent” because, as non-participants in the worst of the sacrifices the previous generation suffered, they had no scars to “speak” of. But because they had been indoctrinated by their deeply-scarred elders, they were tricked into respecting both them and the lessons they taught. That, the reasoning goes, was the main thing that set them apart from the baby-boomers and the Me Generation that marked the collective weltanschauung most baby-boomers espoused.

In the Summer of Love of 1967 a flood of young baby-boomers converged on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and at similar venues throughout the U.S. and Canada to shake off consumerism and conformity, once and for all. The object of this convocation was to make abundantly clear their rejection of the outdated mores of the past. Working hard; saving for a rainy day; frugality; loyalty to family, community and country; honoring familial, community, legal, and religious institutions; a willingness to suffer injury, even death, if needed to protect those institutions… all exemplified the values cherished before, and rejected by, the Me Generation that had now loudly come into its own.

The rusted, frayed Shackles of My Formative Years…

My parents and the military environment in which I was raised unashamedly brainwashed me. The concept of personal responsibility was unmercifully pounded into my psyche during my formative years. Not knowing any better, I bought it, hook, line and sinker. That explains why I’ve never had the good sense to be tempted by Me Generation ideology. Those embracing it tell me that selfishness, i.e., narcissism in all its forms, is good, even a “great” thing.

Like, it’s a part of the human condition, and something we need to accept as a given. In the past my reply has always been that — with to my knowledge but one exception — it isn’t, and that — again, with but one exception — we shouldn’t.

Yet the fact that many very smart and successful people in my midst think that it is, and that we should, without any exceptions whatsoever, gives me pause. Thus paused, I cannot help but recall the words of Gen. Nathan Twining, who advised his readers to “Listen to ideas in variance with your own, and become informed.”

He would have me open up my mind, bare my mental fangs to their fullest, do my best to expose my deepest pre-and-mis-conceptions, and so rip them to shreds as to make them bleed. Obediently, then, I resolve to follow his advice to the letter. It is not too late, is it? Can an old dog really learn new tricks? I pray it is so…

But that is only half the task. Once shorn of the frayed and rusted shackles of my youth, I must take on the bright and sparkling mantle of enlightenment, then use it to clothe my aging bones. Let’s see how well that works…

Beware the Rabbit…

Besides the question of the propriety of David Petraeus seeking to become Secretary of State, this article will, in obeisance to Nathan Twining’s exhortation, examine the history of and the driving force within the Me Generation, and try to understand how it figures into today’s U.S.A. It is a subject worth careful scrutiny, inasmuch as it impinges directly on the Petraeus conundrum.

But — be hereby forewarned — it will also lead us irresistibly down a few disparate rabbit trails…

Several factors were involved in fueling, driving, and characterizing that movement. Which of those factors mattered most is in dispute. Some, however, believe the rise in the use of recreational drugs was the most significant influence of all. Before that rise occurred, I can testify truthfully that America was a different place. Afterward, the distinction between the two was like the difference between night and day.

LSD etc. and the rise of America’s Counterculture…

In those days LSD and other psychedelic and hallucinogic agents were not only the rage, they were easily obtained. Almost nobody spoke out against their use. On the contrary, a host of respected voices actually extolled their “positive” effects on the human brain, and the influences those effects would have on our culture.

LSD became legal to buy and use in the U.S. beginning in 1963. In that year, the Sandoz LSD patents expired, allowing generic forms of the lysergic acid diethylamide molecule to be widely manufactured and sold as an over the counter, unregulated commodity. The freedom to make, buy, and use LSD legally did not come to an end until 24 October 1968, when the mere possession became illegal in America. During that crucial five-year period such influential counterculture figures as Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Al Hubbard, Alan Watts, and Arthur Koestler not only advocated its use but were themselves profoundly influenced by it in their thoughts, speech, and writings on the genuine responsibilities one must shoulder in life.

Once LSD was outlawed, of course, it soon became even more plentiful within the drug culture underground and, by extension, even more readily available to America’s youth. The Grateful Dead, a rock band intimately linked to LSD in the United States, held concerts that served as the primary distribution network for LSD through the mid-1990’s. In other words, though begun with the Me Generation that came of age in the mid-1960’s, the narcissistic counterculture movement of that period blossomed and thrived, and remains very much alive, up to the present day.

Well, characterizing the movement as “very much alive” may be an ironic choice of words, judging from the dire consequences of being immersed in today’s American drug culture. In January of this year, the CDC released a report on drug overdoses in the United States that included the following:

More persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record. From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million persons in the United States have died from drug overdoses. In 2014, there were approximately one and a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes. Opioids, primarily prescription pain relievers and heroin, are the main drugs associated with overdose deaths. In 2014, opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths, or 61% of all drug overdose deaths; the rate of opioid overdoses has tripled since 2000. The 2014 data demonstrate that the United States’ opioid overdose epidemic includes two distinct but interrelated trends: a 15-year increase in overdose deaths involving prescription opioid pain relievers and a recent surge in illicit opioid overdose deaths, driven largely by heroin. Source: CDC: Increases In Drug and Opioid Overdose Deatsh — United States, 2000-2014.

Yet, that’s nothing. Just this month (December 2016), a year after the report containing the above excerpt came out, CDC released its latest numbers. In 2015, things went from bad to worse: Overall, overdose deaths rose 11 percent last year, to 52,404. By comparison, the number of people who died in car crashes was 37,757, an increase of 12 percent. Gun deaths, including homicides and suicides, totaled 36,252, up 7 percent.

The drug culture in America is out of control today, as never before in history. Such statistics describe cultural conditions that are unsustainable. We will either crash entirely as a culture, or we’ll dodge that bullet and reverse course before we hit bottom. As an inveterate optimist, I’m voting for the latter. To my way of thinking, as a nation we’re not quite stupid enough to throw all we hold dear away. Things have to turn around, and when they do, we as a nation will look back at what took place in these times in disbelief.

Failing the Test…

OK, I’m failing the test, aren’t I? The mantle of enlightenment didn’t fit. Did I really try it on? Actually I did. I’ve tried it on numerous times in the past, always with the same result. I stubbornly cling to one of the most important truths embraced by the Silent Generation: if you add 2+2, you must get 4. There is no other solution to that equation. I don’t give a damn how many Me Generation druggies can claim otherwise, it just isn’t so.

Furthermore, don’t give me all that crap about the iron-clad generational gaps that supposedly separate us from one another just because some of us were born in one era, and others were born in another. Hey, I’m supposed to be from the so-called Silent Generation, the one that bore no scars. What a crock of B.S.! Try selling that to those who fought, bled, and died in Osan, Inchon, the Imjin River and the battle of Bloody Ridge. No scars, you say? Then what did those who survived Ap Bac, Ia Drang, Khe Sahn, and the Tet Offensive walk away with? Bandaids? Fake blood? Made up stories? I’m supposed to be silent… Well, don’t hold your breath on that.

In the centuries that follow ours, future psychologists and social scientists will doubtless take great pains to ferret out the details of this period in American history. They will do so as a means of explaining the monumental changes, in moral and ethical thought that took place, as they seek to connect the dots that reveal how those changes affected world governance in general, and American governance in particular.

Free-Thought, America’s Drug Culture, Narcissism, & … Donald Trump? 

This is not the place for more than a brief prediction of the conclusions those future analysts might concoct. My expectation is that they will focus on the relationships between the peculiar form of free-thinking accompanying it, and the moral decay that it spawned. That peculiarity is both sad and ironic, for it hijacked and dangerously perverted one of mankind’s most valuable means of intellectual evolution.

Though redefined during the 1960’s and thus tailored to the exigencies of the day, the concept of free-thinking, and the movement by that name that swept the world was nothing new. History recognizes the first such movement as having taken place before the turn of the 17th century, but similar revolutions no doubt took place way earlier than that. Each iteration of that meme gained steam with one object in mind, that of shaking off the shackles of authority, tradition, and established beliefs. Truly, free-thought has been behind every beneficial revolution that humanity has ever gone through.

No doubt even the perverted species of free-thought movement that began in the 1960’s had some beneficial qualities, hard as they are to pinpoint today. Donald Trump may work out to be one of the best possible examples. He exhibits a definite streak of narcissism, one that — as a member of the entertainment industry — has worked well for him.

Trump, born in 1946, is a child of the baby-boomer generation. Yet he doesn’t now and claims to have never, ever, used recreational drugs. He further claims to be a teetotaler. His narcissism, such as it is, was come by honestly, the old-fashioned way. He became successful as a businessman, has managed to accumulate a ton of wealth on his own, and is not ashamed to use his successes to his advantage. Hard work, a tendency to do it his own way, and a life with more successes than failures justified narcissism in such figures as Frank Sinatra. Frankie, like Trump, was famous — or infamous, depending on your perspective — for peaks and valleys in his financial career. By these measures, the kind of narcissism exhibited by the likes of Donald J. Trump is certainly justified.

He has experimented with marriage several times, and to hear him say it, he finally found the right woman with whom to share the rest of his life. Along the way he’s fathered five children (thus far), and of those that have already reached adulthood, the Trump offspring seem both well-adjusted and successful in their own right. They seem in many ways to represent carbon copies of their dad, and appear as proud of him as he is of them. Like dad, they appear to be epitomes of genuine, American responsibility.

This is the kind of “good” selfishness some of my close acquaintances and family members speak of when they extoll its virtues. It’s the one exception I alluded to earlier. And, in this narrow context — which constitutes a very small fraction of the narcissism and selfishness we witness in today’s world — I have to agree with them. It is a mistake to confuse the two. They have very little in common.

Mostly, the narcissistic elements of the Me Generation, especially when combined with illicit drugs, appear uniformly detrimental. Unrestrained and grossly exaggerated by the free use of hallocinogens and psychedelic drugs, this modern form of free-thinking has wrought havoc of unimaginable proportions. The variety of free-thought that we have witnessed from the mid-1960’s forward is more responsible for America’s present ills than anything else. How that could be is worthy of thoughtful examination.

The Fruits of Unrestrained, Exaggerated Free-Thought

LSD, peyote, cocaine, crystal meth, crack, heroin, ecstasy, and most other recreational drugs in use today — including marijuana — are, among other things, euphoriants. Besides repressing pain, they are prized for their ability to produce euphoric feelings of invincibility.

The user, while under the drug’s influence, genuinely feels able to know all, understand all, and do all. In that state the user seems capable of organizing, preparing for, and envisioning momentous achievements. Within that altered state the fetters of ordinary life do not apply. Nothing is impossible. Absolutely anything imaginable resides wholly within the realm of possibility; whatever the user wills while in that euphoria shall, it seems, become a reality.

Later, though, when the drug wears off and reality intrudes, the user suffers not only from the natural depression that ensues, but feels cheated out of making real a fantasy that was “rightfully” theirs. After all, the fantasy seemed so undeniable, so genuinely experiential that it rivaled any other experience the user had when not on drugs. Furthermore, all that is needed to get the user’s fantasy back is to resume taking the drug that conjured it up in the first place…

The Natural Development of a Mature, Responsible Mind

Taking personal responsibility for one’s actions, by accepting the genuine consequences of one’s mistakes and intentional acts, is not a natural reaction. The primitive animal-like brain we are born with does not come with the apparatus of civilized behavior already built in. That apparatus must be supplied by our mentors, and honed by our experiences. That, by the way, explains why the exercise of good judgment on a consistent basis is one of the most crucial markers of mature adulthood.

As children we don’t have to learn how to make excuses for, or to lie when confronted with our mistakes, because the untrained human brain is wired to perform both of those uncivilized actions automatically. Once upon a time the trait of excuse-making and lying was a firm artifact of childhood, and one that was never allowed to carry over into adulthood. Today most of America finds such a statement incongruous. Something very bad took place over the last sixty or seventy years to turn that on its head. That something caused our culture to cease looking at the trait of excuse-making and lying with a straight face as an unacceptable artifact of childhood that would be erased as we grew older; today, many if not most Americans consider both to be  wholly acceptable facets of adult behavior. The better you are at doing such things, the more kudos you receive from your fans, especially if you are a politician.

Witness, for example, how our now lame-duck president, Barack Obama, has spent much of his past eight years in office blaming everything that went wrong during his Administration on somebody, or something, other than himself and his team of advisors.

The Democrat Party, of which Obama is a part, is itself one of the most efficient excuse-making machines on the planet. Few of the elected officials within that party reflect what might be termed seriously responsible lawmakers who are willing to accept responsibility for their own acts and the consequences that flow from those acts.

When Donna Brazile, chair of the Democrat National Committee, was exposed for receiving and passing on to Hillary Clinton questions that would be asked at presidential debates, thereby giving Clinton an unfair advantage against the other candidates in those debates, the outcry from the DNC and America’s media focused on the way that information was obtained by those not in on the scam. Somehow the illegal and unethical behavior of Brazile and those who passed the information on to her mattered less than the exposure of that behavior.

Similarly, when Hillary Clinton’s unending stream of excuses and lies were exposed in bold relief for the world to see by WikiLeaks, the media and an astoundingly stellar cast of past and present members of Congress, officials in American government and some of the highest officers in the American military rallied to her defense. As with Donna Brazile, their focus was on the “illegal” exposure of “private” information, rather than on the damning substance of that supposedly private information.

Only a childish, immature, irresponsible culture — the kind that has permeated America today — could champion the right to privacy over the fortuitous exposure of the outright criminal, unethical conduct of America’s so-called leaders. Hacking of computers is commonplace today. It is a fact of life we are forced to get used to, as I explain in my article on The End of Secrecy. There are ways to protect private information, despite the threat that computer hacking represents, and when those responsible for providing such protection fail to carry out their responsibilities, privacy is lost.

The mature adult should, today, take such experiences as evidence that they or those they employ are or have been remiss in their duties. They then should take steps to shore up their protective firewalls. If the private information that was exposed is of a nature that unfairly damages reputations, financial positions, and safety of individuals, those individuals have recourse to the courts, the financial institutions involved, and law enforcement and executive protective agencies for redress.

But what if that information is inculpatory, in that it exposes them as guilty of civil or criminal misconduct? The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee privacy. We are told it does, but in fact it does not. Once the cat is out of the bag, and private information that cannot be refuted is made public, the mature adult who is the subject of that exposure owns up to it. Obviously, mature adults are practically nonexistent in today’s American government.

General Petraeus, selected by Barack Obama as his Director of the CIA, was himself caught up in official misconduct and egregious personal indiscretions, then blackmailed to keep him from testifying truthfully before Congress about Benghazi and other missteps of the Obama Administration. His behavior when confronted with the truth concerning his behavior and intentional acts is added proof that maturity and responsibility in American government is wanting.

Most of the individuals we’ve been discussing, with the possible exception of Petraeus, are Democrats. Are Republicans, in the main, any better? Slightly, maybe. Yet no more than slightly, at best. Trump promises to drain the swamp, and if and when he carries out that promise a lot of lying, excuse-making Republicans will be exposed for what they are. Were it not for them, the Democrats would never have been able to get away with their shenanigans. The problem seems to be, for each of our political parties, entrenched politicians who have been in office too long, who have learned the ropes too well, and whose primary focus has shifted from protecting their country and the interests of their constituents to feathering their own nests.

Trump promised, besides draining the swamp, to work toward imposing term limits on Congress. That promise, which would do more than anything to bring illicit behavior in Congress to a halt, was dismissed as a non-starter by Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader (R-Ky.), who has served in the Senate since 1985. McConnell is one of five sitting senators who’ve served more than three decades. On the other hand, Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) refused to come out against the idea. Ryan has served for 18 years on Capitol Hill, and would be forced out of office under most of the term-limit proposals that have been brought up over the past quarter century.

Watch to see how the issue of term limits in Congress is handled in the coming weeks and months. If it builds steam, Congress may actually be growing up. If it doesn’t, our governing body composed of children masquerading as adults may continue as before unless America’s voters step up to the plate and demand this very crucial change in the way we select our representatives and senators. But I digress…

How Excuse-Making became Acceptable Adult Behavior…

Excuse-making is the act of a coward. Children do not recognize cowardice as an inherently weak condition because they have either not yet paid the consequences for cowardly behavior or they do not realize how the failings that emanate from cowardice will eventually ripple throughout, and mess up, their lives. For some, that lesson is never learned; for others it is not learned right away, but takes years of punishment — punishment at the hands of real-life experiences of the negative sort, experiences that came as the result of a failure on the part of the actor to accept responsibility for his or her actions and thus make adjustments to ensure those results cease in the future — before cowardice is replaced with courage.

There are, of course, different shades of cowardice. I personally know a number of otherwise truly courageous people who are known to faint at the sight of blood, or are deathly afraid of vaccination needles. So, to be clear, when I refer to cowardice here my primary reference is to how courageous one is when taking or failing to take responsibility for the consequences of his or her actions.

As children we do not instinctively see wisdom in taking responsibility for our behavior. As we grow, we become more and more responsible. We cannot be considered a full-fledged adult until we have arrived at that place in life where we become willing and able to take full responsibility for every act we commit. That august state is not arrived at in one fell swoop, but when it takes place, the thusly-changed person leaves childhood behind, and takes on the mantle of adulthood.

A paradigm shift takes place in the person who ceases being a child and becomes an adult. That change has nothing to do with chronological age. It is a monumental change that runs deep within the soul of the newly-minted adult. More than anything else, it is this change that prepares the person involved for great accomplishments, but it is the result of a process, not an event, and that process begins by calling mistakes by their right names.

Calling Mistakes by their Right Names…

A mistake is, by definition, an unfortunate result derived by virtue of an erroneous act. The mistake-maker is faced with at least two choices, and makes an inferior pick that causes loss, pain, or both. As a child the mistake is excusable for a multitude of reasons, some of them actually quite reasonable on their faces. A fast talker can embellish the circumstances in order to make the excuse even more reasonable.

Unfortunately, such individuals are hardest to teach life’s most important lessons, because they are able to talk themselves out of almost anything. But they are cowards, through and through, and if they never get to the place where they can call mistakes by their right names and do so habitually, they will never rise above their protracted state of childhood. Bill and Hillary Clinton are two of today’s best examples. Though their fast-talking, lying, excuse-making ways have made them rich, one can’t help but wonder how those riches will benefit them when they finally get fitted for the orange jumpsuits they deserve.

Contrast them with the genuine adult-in-the-making. Instead of cowardly trying to explain away the unhappy fruits of having made a wrong choice, the developing adult learns — through a process of trial and error — to recognize, dissect, and find ways to avoid similar errors of judgment in the future. Along the way, a nigh-unto-miraculous ancillary process also takes place that excuse-makers are not privy to. On initially failing to correct the causal error in judgment, the mistake is repeated, often under different but analogous conditions, but usually with at least roughly similar consequences. The excuse-maker explains it away as before, but the  adult learns crucial lessons and profits by them.

It is a credit to the evolved condition of the human brain that it has acquired the capacity to recognize analogies, and to make logical connections between unfortunate results and the common behavioral templates responsible for leading the actor into erroneous, hurtful choices.

The All-Important Feedback Loop…

What is being describing here is a simple feedback loop, yet the cerebral processes involved are anything but simple. The maturing student acts, assesses the results via that complex sequence, and takes steps to alter the future trajectory of life accordingly, The more serious the loss, and the more hurtful the pain, the more imperative it becomes that the lessons that experience teaches be grasped and made a part of the learner’s character.

That feedback loop, which is so crucial to the development of good character, relies on a clear mind that begins by making sharp distinctions between what is right vs. what is wrong, and then takes the process further by recognizing analogies resulting from wrong choices that are connected via a shared behavioral template.

The delicate, finely tuned system of learning right from wrong just described falls apart when euphoriants, hallucinogens, and psychedelic drugs enter the picture. The framework of razor-sharp distinctions, the blacks and whites that establish a clear dichotomy between good and bad, do not exist within a fantasy world of infinite shades of gray, wherein the actor seems invincible and never wrong. If the drug user does not break out of this condition, there is no hope they will ever come of age. America, today, is full of such people, of all ages. In fact, they constitute a significant fraction of those in the entertainment industry, in our corporate world, and in American government.

The large number of children masquerading as adults throughout American society today has impacted our ethical and moral standards, in the form of a nationwide blight upon the land. Nobody is accountable to anybody today. Hillary Clinton can violate a raft of our most important laws and most Americans say “So what?” Illegal aliens can commit heinous crimes — rape, murder, child molestation, armed robbery, you name it — throughout America and the worst we can do to bring them to justice is deport them back to their native lands so they can get back on the road to our southern border. Though once proud to be known as a nation of laws, we are now proud to be a nation whose laws just don’t matter any more.

The baby-boomer’s Me Generation, exacerbated by the drug culture that fueled it, is still in full swing. And individuals like David Petraeus are examples of its most ironic results. But, besides being simply bothered by this systemic sickness, what can we do about it?

Good question.

The answer, I believe, is to begin insisting, once again, on strict accountability for each of our elected and appointed leaders. That, of course, will never happen until we first insist on strict accountability for each of our citizens, beginning with ourselves. Once upon a time, not that long ago, high standards of accountability for all was the norm. It isn’t today, and — as the foregoing has made abundantly clear — we should all be asking “Why?” and doing all we can to turn thing around. That’s the point, isn’t it? I’d be wasting all this effort entirely if I didn’t think there was a way to bring the pendulum back to where it was in the 1950’s and before, when high standards of accountability were in place.

The Erosion of Accountability Standards

The concept of strict accountability for those in responsible leadership roles goes way back. Several ancient writings from the very dawn of history reference the concept, and though some of the earliest are somewhat cryptic, one, by Sun Tzu, is unusually clear.

Sun Tzu and a Commander’s Duty

In his 6th Century BCE book, The Art of War, Sun Tzu argued that a commander is duty bound to make sure his subordinates behave in a civilized manner during an armed conflict:

If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame.

At first glance this passage may appear to mean that a general can only be held accountable for crimes committed by his subordinates if his orders are shown not to be clear and distinct enough to be thoroughly understood. Yet, a careful dissection of these words makes it clear that simply issuing plain, easily comprehended orders isn’t enough to get a general (and by extension, any leader) off the hook.

It is not enough to issue orders, said Sun Tzu. The issuer must also take steps to ensure those orders make sense. He did not explain how that should be accomplished, but anyone with brains can figure it out. Good leaders must pick intelligent subordinates, and then must make sure they are able to understand what is permissible and what is not. Good leaders don’t assume anything, but make sure their subordinates can confirm, in word and deed, that they fully comprehend what their orders mean and don’t mean, when applied to real life situations.

If the issuer of an order does not make it clear precisely how their orders are circumscribed, a subordinate may interpret them too broadly. Suppose a subordinate subsequently does so, and uses that as an excuse to  justify a criminal act. According to Sun Tzu, not only are the executor of that broad interpretation and all other subordinates who act on it, criminally liable, but so is the initial issuer of the order.

Would that the same standard existed today…

Accountability and Admiralty Law

Actually, it does, though only within a relatively narrow context.

The captain of a ship is ultimately responsible, under the law, for the ship’s operation, including such operational aspects as the ship’s safe navigation. This goes more deeply than one might think. Even if the captain is not at the helm, but asleep in his cabin when navigation issues occur, the captain is still considered personally responsible for any accidents that those issues produce.

Though the proximate responsibility for safe navigation of the ship resides with the ship’s navigator, the ultimate responsibility is vested in the master (the ship’s captain). The question is not one of ideology but pragmatics. From an ideological standpoint, the actual person at the helm, i.e., the one holding proximate responsibility, may have “caused” the incident. Yet, as a practical matter, the master is always the first to be questioned by authorities, and the first to be convicted in the courts, if a preventable collision or accident takes place and is litigated.  That is why his title is ‘Master’, and why he holds ultimate responsibility.

But where is this spelled out?

It isn’t.

At least it isn’t codified, in so many words, as a clearly written legal statute.

The ship’s master’s responsibilities are succinctly stated, not in statutory law, but in case law. Case law — worldwide, at least for those nations whose territories extend into the oceans or into large freshwater lakes — is riddled with actual court proceedings dealing with maritime issues. Those cases, decided by judges and juries, have ruled time and again that the ship’s master (the captain, who by law is the ship’s commander even when a senior officer in the ship’s captain’s chain of command is aboard) retains ultimate command of the ship at all times, even while asleep in his cabin.

Why is this so? And why isn’t the same concept carried over to land-based responsibilities of the same caliber? The answer to the first question is that courts worldwide would otherwise be stymied in their efforts to figure out who to immediately charge, arrest, and hold over for trial for accidents, collisions, and other maritime-related infractions caused by foreign and domestic vessels in their territorial waters. It is impractical and too costly to arraign the entire crew while the courts sort things out, so — as case law clearly shows — the courts place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the ship’s captain. By that process such court cases are handled swiftly and efficiently, if not always fairly.

What about fairness? I mean, like, democratic fairness?

Well, one would think that cases of unfair treatment of ship’s captains, in the courts of the world, would be common. But only rarely does that happen. Why? Several reasons explain it. One in particular is that, by making the ship’s captain the one person ultimately responsible for the operation of the ship, ship owners are forced to choose their captains with great care. Well-chosen ship captains are forced, by the same logic, to take great pains to ensure their subordinates are responsible, well trained and proficient. Responsible subordinates — knowing that their performance reflects on that of their captain directly — tend to be as diligent in the conduct of their responsibilities as is humanly possible.

In other words, concentrating the ultimate responsibility for the ship’s operation in the captain fosters a high degree of competency in all the ranks, and leads to the most rational and effective kind of teamwork imaginable. True, that doesn’t always happen, but because it happens more often than not, when maritime accidents do occur, the captain is in fact responsible, one way or another. In other words, placing blame at the top of the chain of command makes for good captains; good captains foster the establishment of good crews; and good crews make a tight — and safe — ship.

So, why isn’t this same concept carried over to land-based positions of authority? One reason tops them all: there simply is no pressure on land-based leadership to do so. By comparison, though, lots of pressure is exerted to keep things as they are. Instead of the buck stopping with leader, it gets passed around, and around, and around…

Where Strict Accountability Standards Would Take Us…

Strict accountability is what we must have to make America great again. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? If we cannot do that, the erosion of morals and ethics begun in the 1960’s will just continue and the American dream will die.

We’re close to the brink of national demise now.

We nearly reached our last gasp in the last presidential election, when Donald Trump miraculously beat Hillary Clinton in the electoral college vote, but lost the popular vote. With Trump we may have a chance to turn things around. But first we need to understand what we need to do and why.

Maybe it will help to see the distinctions between Petraeus and another American general, William C. Westmoreland. No, I will not glorify the latter fellow. He had his warts, too. But they weren’t the result of moral flaws in his character. Instead they were a symptom of a deep, moral vacuum within our National soul, one that preceded the baby-boomer’s Me Generation by at least a decade, and one that may be more to blame for what happened in the 1960’s than the drug culture of that period.

When WW-II came to an end, America’s successes against Naziism, Fascism, and the Japanese war machine, gave us a special standing in the world, one we’d approached but never really had in the past. Such standing was intoxicating, and that’s always dangerous. We can, as a nation, become intoxicated by our own power, and it is safe to say that we have suffered from power-drunkenness at several times in our past. That intoxication can be as dangerous for a nation as simple, but chronic, drunkenness can be to the sot in the gutter.

A Tale of Two Generals

Gen. Petraeus is only 10 years, 5 months, and 29 days younger than I, so I consider him my contemporary. We grew up in much the same world, under what could be described as similar circumstances, in families that shared many important traits. We lived in a number of the same general geographic areas — though at different times — and both of us have devoted critical years of our lives investigating, drawing conclusions on, and writing about a singular, arcane subject, generally known under the titles of guerrilla warfare and its conjoined twin, the science of counterinsurgency.

Few understand that subject. Fewer still obey its dictums. Petraeus did both, and in the process turned the war in Iraq around while there in command. Had Gen. William C. “Westy” Westmoreland, the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam from 1964-1968, understood and obeyed those same dictums, the prosecution of that earlier war would have followed a markedly different path, and would likely have produced a more worthy outcome.

William C. Westmoreland

Westmoreland was a U.S. Army General from the Old School. Unfortunately for the American war in Vietnam, the Old School approach to warfare Westy was taught at West Point in the 1930’s was, in hindsight, not appropriate for the guerilla warfare tactics used by the Viet Cong. But old habits are hard to break, especially when they worked so well in the past. The lessons Westy learned at West Point were later reinforced in World War II when he saw combat in Tunisia, Sicily, France and Germany. His mentors taught them to him again at the War College, where he came in 1951 as a student and left in 1952 as an instructor. Those same lessons served him well in combat again, on the Korean battlefields where the troops he commanded fought in 1952-1953.

Though critical of the way Westy prosecuted the Vietnam war, I both understand and respect the man, not only as a good soldier, but as good, honest, and genuine human being. He was so determined to never violate his marriage vows that he insisted that his wife, Kitsy, accompany him to Saigon when he was appointed to second in command of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV).

We attended the same church services together at St. Christopher’s in Saigon, from his arrival in Vietnam in January 1964 (I’d arrived the previous November and had already been attending services there for two months) until my departure the following November. We met again when I returned to Saigon in May, 1966, and continued to attend Sunday services at St. Christopher’s as often as I could, until my final departure in August of 1967.

I don’t remember a time when Westy and Kitsy were not present on the Sundays I was there. I usually arrived late (the trip from Tan Son Nhut Air Base to St. Christopher’s was through heavy traffic), and the only seat left was usually in their pew. As a result I often sat next to them while the Rev. Tad Evans sermonized from the pulpit, softly — and sometimes more harshly — excoriating the military brass for the way the war was going.

Tad became St. Christopher’s pastor the same month I arrived in Saigon in 1963. I was engaged at the time to a young lady in Florida who was determined that we should be married in the Episcopal church, so I’d promised to link up with the Anglican-Episcopal congregation in Saigon the moment I arrived. Tad immediately got me started in one-on-one classes leading to confirmation within that faith. I was one of Tad’s first students, and I soon felt a strong bond with he and his vivacious young wife, Valerie.

Besides matters relating to the Christian faith, we naturally discussed the Vietnam war. Tad disapproved of the way America was conducting the war, and did not shrink from saying so, not only to me but to his congregation each Sunday. I can’t recall a Sunday when he did not interject one or more pointed criticisms on that subject into his sermons. Those in attendance sometimes visibly winced at his remonstrances. I witnessed that, more than once, as Westy fidgeted ever so slightly, while Tad was delivered a targeted denunciation that was clearly focused on him and his staff. Though he toned them down as much as humanly possible, he felt a duty from on high to make sure the unvarnished Word of the Lord got through to those in attendance.

Yet Westy never took offense. At least I was never aware of it if he did.

St. Christopher’s had a very small congregation, mostly of high-ranking U.S. Military officers and their wives, and officials assigned to the U.S. and British Embassies, along with a small but loyal group of native Vietnamese, and a very few low-ranking American servicemen like me.

After each Sunday service a partition was quickly moved to cover the altar, then I’d help Ambassador Lodge and his wife bring in cauldrons or iced tea and trays of pastries. Once that was done we’d all mingle together, sipping and munching the tasty trifles from the Lodge’s kitchen, enjoying a brief respite from the war that raged nearby. Over the months and years we all got to know each other, as much as can be done in so informal a setting.

Though one of the very few enlisted personnel in attendance, I was a full-fledged member of St. Christopher’s loosely-knit family. Westy was born the same year as my father, but he and Kitsy weren’t married until 1947 (she was 12 years younger than he), when I was already five. Still, he surely thought of me much the way a father would think of the friends his children might pal around with. When I was confirmed into the Anglican congregation in mid-1964 (I arrived in Saigon as a Methodist, and left as an Anglican-Episcopalian), as one of several much younger candidates for confirmation, Westy and Kitsy were there. Afterward, at a reception held at Ambassador Lodge’s residence, they made a point to congratulate me as they would a close family friend.

In the years that have since passed, I’ve been harshly critical of Westmoreland’s handling of the Vietnam war. That criticism is justified, for a number of reasons. In an ideal world the American approach to the war in Vietnam should have recognized the tactical elements that distinguished warfare in Indochina from that of Europe and Korea. But I realized at the time and am even more cognizant now that he had a lot of relearning to do. Those who tried to teach him new tricks were rebuffed. The Old School still made too much sense to him, and he wasn’t interested in taking a different tack.

By comparison, my understanding of modern warfare was heavily influenced by the writings of Bernard B. Fall.  A native of Austria, and born into a Jewish family when Westmoreland was 12, Fall was only 16 years older than me. He was born in 1926, the first year of the Silent Generation.

The Influence of Bernard B. Fall

In the very year I was born — 1942, considered by many the last year of the Silent Generation — Fall joined the French Resistance against the Nazis. He later fought the Germans in the Alps, and in 1944 enlisted in the French Army, which he served until 1946. Afterward being discharged, he worked as an analyst at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal investigating the role Krupp Industries played in manufacturing and supplying munitions and warships to the Axis Powers.

When that work was completed, Fall studied at the University of Paris, then at the University of Munich, before traveling to the U.S. on a Fulbright Scholarship. His focus, academically, was on political science and international studies, but owing to his background he was encouraged by his advisors at Johns Hopkins to delve into the conflict that was just then bubbling over in French Indochina. He did so, to the point of actually traveling to Vietnam in 1953 to witness firsthand how the French Union forces and the Viet Minh were engaging each other. As a French citizen, he was able to accompany French military and air units into enemy territory, where he became intimately familiar with the tactics of the French and their adversaries, the Viet Minh.

It was not long before Fall could see that the French were heading for disaster, and that the anemic, slightly more than lip-service support provided by the U.S. would contribute to their defeat. Bernard Fall believed that a nation that wages war in a foreign land must treat the natives of that land with respect. That may sound like a simple thing, but it isn’t. Respecting the natives of Indochina meant more than being kind to the Vietnamese citizens one meets on the street. It means appreciating and respecting their customs, learning their language, their history, and their hopes and dreams. Most of all, though, it means treating them as equals.

In one of his books Fall writes of watching a collection of people on a street in Hanoi. At the appointed time, the French tricolor was struck to mark the setting of the sun. As the plaintive sounds of the bugle pierced the bustling crowd, every Vietnamese conscript in French uniform came to attention, faced the direction of the flag, and gave the mandatory salute. Most of the French soldiers, however, went about their business without honoring their nation’s emblem. It was then, Fall wrote, that he became convinced the French would lose this war.

He was right, as the 1954 fall of Dien Bien Phu, and the French evacuation of Hanoi that soon followed, was just around the corner. Fall, by then back in the U.S., had already published his first book on that war, and was writing several more. The main point he tried to bring home, in all his writings on the war in Indochina and later, on the American war in Vietnam, was that it was impossible to win such wars without first winning the hearts and minds of the native population. Brute force application of firepower, the mainstay of what we call conventional warfare, would never win the day in such a setting. I’m a disciple of that philosophy, and as such I’ve never believed the war in Vietnam could have been won using conventional tactics.

By the time I received orders to Vietnam in mid-1963, I had read the two books Fall had written to that point. His first, The Viet Minh Regime, had been published in 1954, and his second, Street Without Joy had been released only two years earlier, in 1961. Once in Saigon I found his third, The Two Vietnams (published earlier that year,  in 1963), in the makeshift library at the Airman’s Club at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. I devoured each one. His writing style was riveting, but his appreciation for the heart and soul of the Vietnamese people really captivated my interest. Based on that influence, I determined to learn the Vietnamese language, their customs, and the history of that beleaguered part of the world. And, of course, being a devoted student of nature, I made a point of studying the native fauna and flora as well.

While in Vietnam, though, I discovered to my dismay that my interest in accomplishing even the least of these objectives was not shared by any of my compatriots, least of all by my superior officers. Undeterred, I grew even more determined to learn Vietnamese, to understand their customs and history, and make sense of our involvement in that small part of the world. Tad Evens suggested I join the Vietnamese American Association, and consider taking an off-duty job there teaching English. I did so, and the two courses I was assigned at the VAA taught me much more than I could ever have taught to my eager, highly motivated Vietnamese students.

Later, after returning to the U.S. and working on DOD projects relating to the war, I continued reading Fall’s newest books. He had come to the conclusion in 1964 that the U.S. would lose that war the same way France lost ten years earlier. Reluctantly, I had to agree with his assessment.

When I was asked to return to Saigon, in 1966, to direct part of an RADC Air Staff funded study of U.S. aerial reconnaissance operations there, I called Dr. Fall, at his office in Washington D.C., to thank him for his writings and encourage him to continue that work. Far from being dissuaded by criticism from a variety of fronts, he was actively finishing up two new books that would be published that year, and would be visiting Vietnam again, soon. To my regret, we never met, but I was in Vietnam in February of 1967 when he, while in the company of the 1st Battalion 9th Marines on Operation Chinook II, stepped on a land mine and — along with Gunnery Sergeant Byron G. Highland — was instantly killed.

Westy and the My Lai Massacre

It would not surprise me if Westy had never read anything that Bernard B. Fall wrote, either before or during his time at Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), initially as deputy commander, but within months promoted by DOD to take full command of all U.S. forces under MCAV’s authority. What Fall advocated went against the grain of everything he’d been taught, and that he’d seen work in all the military campaigns he’d been involved with in the past. For that reason alone, his stubborn insistence on conducting this war like an ordinary conventional war might be excused.

I believe that Westmoreland championed truth and honesty above all, yet the prosecution of the Vietnam war suggested otherwise. His staff members, knowing Westmoreland needed to show the Pentagon and the White House that the war was going well, did not shrink from inflating enemy body counts to make it appear better than the facts on the ground otherwise indicated. I can’t lay fault for that directly at Westy’s feet, but a number of truly ugly events took place during Westmoreland’s tour, events that he could have prevented had he understood and incorporated critical elements of Fall’s expositions, and had he been held to account — as I believe he should have been — for all the actions of the personnel under his command.

Perhaps one of the most devastating public-relations nightmares to befall Westmoreland during his tour in Vietnam was the My Lai Massacre. A year and nearly one month after Fall was killed, on 16 March 1968, U.S. Army soldiers from Company C. 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division, killed from 347-504 unarmed Vietnamese occupants — including women, children, and infants — of two hamlets of the village of Son My, in Quang Ngai province. But this incident was not an isolated one. It was all too common, I’m sad to say. The blame for all such incidents falls, in my opinion, on the heads of the leaders at the highest levels of the U.S. Military, including the Commander In Chief, i.e., the President of the United States.

America was in Vietnam because President John F. Kennedy wanted us there. Not content with making a mess of the Invasion of Cuba in 1960, which led to the Cuban Crisis of 1962 and America’s closest brush with a hot nuclear war with the USSR, Kennedy was determined to get America directly involved in the conflict raging in Vietnam. He did so with as little fanfare as possible, knowing there was much opposition to the idea within the American population in general, and Congress in particular. My orders, as with all who were shipped to Vietnam in the early 1960’s, were classified.

But why did JFK get the U.S. involved in Vietnam? Many reasons have been given by historians, but it is no secret he considered such an involvement an important personal feather in his cap. It was, I believe, an exercise in personal and national arrogance. He, the first Catholic American President, would go down in history as the one man in the world who could save the (Catholic) Ngo Dinh Diem regime of South Vietnam from the Communists of North Vietnam. That was not the only reason behind our involvement, but it was right up there with the more publicly proclaimed reason for going, specifically that of holding the line against Soviet and Chinese aggression throughout the Pacific rim of Asia.

To Westy, who was not a Catholic and who arrived in Vietnam less than two months after JFK was assassinated (I arrived in Saigon only 17 days prior to that horrendous event), stopping more dominoes from falling was his main goal. He believed, and objective history has — for the most part — kindly agreed, that America’s involvement in Vietnam prevented communism from gobbling up Malasia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Had those dominoes toppled, next on the list would have been New Guinea and Australia. I have no doubt we kept that from happening, and thus avoided a looming WW-III of immense proportions that would have been fought on the mainland of Australia and New Zealand. The resulting loss of life would have rivaled that of WW-II and more. Westy went to his grave believing the same thing.

Life deals its cards in ways that do not always — and probably almost never — paint pretty pictures. But out of the detritus left behind in the messes history produces we can usually find bright pieces of goodness and light. Westmoreland was an honorable man who followed the rules, never turned his back on his country, and was always faithful to her ideals. He was a victim of circumstance, but he did the best he could, not for personal enrichment, but for his country.

Those are his best ribbons, and I honor him for that. He went down in history, however, as a failure, and when he died quietly in 2005, unsung, and unappreciated, President George W. Bush did not see a need to send any of his Administration’s officials to  the funeral. Kitsy, his faithful and loving wife of 58 years, was there with family members flanking her on both sides. I should have been there, too…

Back to General David Howell Petraeus

Obviously, I did not write this to honor Gen. Petraeus. Yet, neither do I seek to diminish the genuine honors that have been bestowed upon him. No doubt he earned most if not every one, and were the world privy to all his unsung heroic deeds, even more honors would be his. According to many he lived up to his given name and slew more than his share of Goliaths; to others some of his exploits have been exaggerated. Which is true we cannot say, though there is ample room for both. What can be said is that, like the hero whose name he bears, his long list of honorable exploits were eclipsed by a wanton betrayal of the trust placed in him by his soldiers, his nation and her citizenry, and his family.

Betrayal comes in many guises. Certain forms can be excused. A promise made to an enemy is one of those, and there are others… But some forms cannot. One does not betray one’s family, one’s nation, or one’s fellows in arms for selfish ends and get away with a slap on the wrist. There is a word for such kinds of betrayal: the word is infidel, one who is unfaithful, who at a moment of truth denies the most sacred tenets of brotherhood and nationhood, who would risk the lives of others merely to protect a reputation. By that measure General Petraeus is an infidel of the first water.

His namesake, on being accused of his violations, admitted them, sought forgiveness, and was allowed to continue in high office. When the FBI confronted David Petraeus with the truth, he — unlike his namesake of Biblical times — lied unashamedly. He steadfastly refused to admit his transgressions until he had no choice. He continues even today to bow to blackmail, refusing to provide Congress with an honest assessment of the disaster that befell Benghazi. That tragic betrayal took place under his watch. There three brave Americans were abandoned by cowards, himself among them, betrayed as surely as his namesake betrayed his friend into the hands of his enemies.

The deep, dark flaw in this man’s character, revealed in a dastardly pattern of reprehensible behavior now well known to all, carries such a stench of permanence that it cannot be forgiven. He did not transgress in a moment of indecision, but with intent, as part of a conscious, malicious, selfish plan. General David Petraeus, regardless of his wealth of experience and depth of knowledge, cannot be vested with the responsibilities demanded of even a minor public official.

But the unworthiness of Gen. Petraeus for high office, while significant, is not the main point of this paper. Deeper issues are involved. Some of those, though poorly sketched out in the foregoing, have been set forth here. A better rendition of these points is needed, and as the days and weeks go by I will seek to put a more worthy rendering of those points together. My hope is that what today has the nature of little more than a pile of spaghetti will — with more thought and attention, and with the considered inputs of others — congeal into a cogent train of thought that makes sense to most if not all who take time to read it through. I know, it isn’t there yet. But perhaps with time and added meditation on the points involved, it will approach that ideal more closely.

Regardless of what I do, however, you have a job to do as well. Do your own due diligence. Question every point made here and elsewhere on this topic. Come to your own conclusions and do so from an informed perspective. It deserves your rapt attention. You deserve to arrive at firm conclusions. America deserves to live up to its promise. I trust, though that you recognize these “deserves” as the responsibilities they disguise. If you do, your adulthood is thereby confirmed.

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