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The first principle of warfare


Dropped into The Warehouse last week to watch the folks at Citizens Project present the Divine Award (named after CP's co-founder, Amy Divine) to Dr. Jim White, pastor and community builder, recently retired from First Congregational Church.

It was well-attended by our progressive leaders, many of whom have been activists for decades -- a frustrating role in this ber-Republican city. At the end of the program, everyone sang "This Land is Your Land."

Touching, if a little exasperating. I wondered what a similar gathering of the right would look like. I'd guess the Pledge, prayers, fire-breathing attacks on lib'ruls, gays and activist judges, and a stirring rendition of either "Onward Christian Soldiers" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

I'm not sure exactly what I expected from all of my sane, reasonable, moderate-to-liberal friends. Something a little edgier, a little angrier, perhaps? But that's not their style. Classical liberalism, relying upon the state as the engine of our better selves, has lost whatever passion it might once have had. Today's moderates just want good roads, good schools, decent health care and a just, sustainable society -- commendable, but not exactly fighting words.

Sitting the other day in Municipal Court, waiting to find out how much I'd have to pay for a traffic infraction, I checked out my fellow miscreants. There were about a hundred of us being whisked through the system. Virtually everyone was offered a plea, and virtually everyone accepted. Within a couple of hours, the city processed all of us, and took in twenty grand or so.

Of those hundred souls, I doubt whether any left with warm, fuzzy feelings toward government. The classical liberal model is that of a caring, compassionate, competent government that does things for you: public education, roads, public safety, national defense, flood control. Everything from aircraft carriers to dog catchers, knitting our country together.

But that's not the perceived experience of most Americans. Government does things to you, not for you. In the last year, I've paid two traffic tickets, had my car booted, endured multi-hour traffic jams and had my cellar flooded with backed-up sewage (thanks to the incompetence of our municipal utility).

Sure, I should remember to pay parking tickets, drive more carefully, and, as my Republican geezer homies might cynically point out, work harder, make more money and move to a neighborhood with an up-to-date sewer system.

Those sentiments are echoed by millions of folks, and fuel fiery anti-tax zealots like Douglas Bruce and Grover Norquist. But just as liberal zealots a few decades ago gave government a free pass to create a vast, rickety entitlement structure, today's ascendant righties give a free pass to our bloated, high-tech, fossilized-in-the-Cold War military establishment.

Look at the Gazette's Sept. 21 banner headline, gleefully announcing Northrop Grumman's 10-year, $2.5 billion contract to "work on a broad range of Missile Defense Agency projects..." In other words, to throw good money at the bizarre legacy of Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars." Great for our local economy, and wholly irrelevant to national defense.

Does any serious military strategist really think North Korea, Iran or Syria is going to build an ICBM, arm it, and launch it at the United States, rather than sneak a suitcase nuke into the country? This is delusional thinking: Defend against the unlikely, ignore the obvious.

While we were spending tens and tens of billions on Star Wars, we paid little attention to the dull minutiae of up-armored vehicles, boots, bulletproof vests and the like. Northrop's $2.5 billion, coincidentally, would have paid for strengthening the New Orleans levee system to withstand a direct hit from a major storm, an investment that would have saved many lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

If any good is to come out of the devastation of Katrina (and now Rita), let's hope that it'll take the form of a broad-based coalition for good government --competent, efficient, appropriate.

And as we look at our country, whose infrastructure decays while our soldiers die in dubious battle in the sands of the Middle East, we might remember the seminal military thinker, Carl von Clausewitz, whose first principle of warfare is blindingly simple:

Secure your base.


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