Commentary | Feb. 12, 2009

Winning the War on Terror with old ideas

By Lt. Col. Lawrence Spinetta 11th Reconnaissance Squadron commander

"We stand today on the edge of a new frontier--the frontier of the 1960's-a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils--a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats."
John F. Kennedy, Acceptance Speech, 1960
 

As an avid non-fiction reader and student of history, I'm always thrilled when I have the opportunity to rifle through my Dad's library. A superior court judge, he always stressed the value of public service and pride in our nation, so naturally his collection contains a ton of history books. 

During my last visit home, I was instantly enthralled when I cracked open The American Pageant, a history volume written during the height of the Cold War. Even though it was published in 1961, the book contained some great wisdom, very applicable to our current fight in the Global War on Terrorism. 

Thomas Bailey, a Stanford University professor, started his last chapter with a quote from Kennedy's acceptance speech and then proceeded to prophetically outline why the United States would ultimately triumph over the Soviet threat and communism. He proclaimed, "... whatever our faults, we are a remarkable people: tough, energetic, inventive, resourceful, efficient." Moreover, he praised our "American way [which] encourages order under liberty and diversity within unity." 

Bailey warned that the Kennedy administration would have to "learn to live with chronic crisis ... reconcile a maximum of liberty with a maximum of security .... [and] strive to preserve our precious freedoms without strangling them in an effort to protect them from outside enemies. " 

Today, we still stand on a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils--a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. Like Kennedy, Barack Obama starts his presidency facing what seems like daunting crises. We can take comfort, though, in the fact that these challenges are not "new." Previous generations of Americans had the resolve, tenacity, and strength to provide global leadership and ultimately prevailed in, frankly, a much more difficult fight. 

At the start of the Kennedy administration, the Soviet threat seemed overwhelming. Even so, Bailey offered a hopeful rallying cry for the public: "... if the crisis is formidable, so are we. In generations past we resolutely confronted and overcame menaces as dangerous as those today--that is, in relation to our existing strength. We need not yield to a wave of defeatism or abjectly hoist the white flag of surrender. We must exert leadership commensurate with our enormous strength. We must create events, not bow to them." 

"America can fulfill, with flying colors, her mission as foremost champion of the free world," said Bailey. "But we must recapture much of the driving faith that we had in democracy during the early years of the Republic, when, in a monarchical world, the most feared 'isms' were probably American constitutionalism, republicanism, and liberalism. We should remember that we cannot fight dangerous foreign ideologies with inquisitions and bayonets, but only with better ideologies, properly communicated. We need not so much A-bombs or H-bombs as I-bombs--Idea Bombs." 

Our nation will triumph in the war against Islamic extremism, not just because we have better bombs and military technology, but because we have better ideas, values, and creative, talented leaders, both in and out of uniform, who will advance American ideals on a regional and global stage. 

The closing sentences in The American Pageant remain true: "We must prepare to sacrifice--even until it hurts--to defend those priceless heritages of freedom and human dignity handed down by the Founding Fathers. To be an American is not only a rare privilege but, in these anxious times, a tremendous responsibility."