By: Ryan Kohlsdorf
Recently I posted a picture containing a spiritual message about violence and strength, which included the caption, “The stronger we become the gentler we will be.” A day after it was posted, a reader responded with the adage, originally Roman but reclaimed and contextualized by Ronald Reagan, “Peace through Strength.”
At first glance, this pseudo-conservative ideology seems to offer a hopeful strategy for achieving peace. It was originally a philosophy promoted by Hadrian, one of the five most famous Roman officials. However, Hadrian, a relative humanist, was known for the lack of military force or engagement employed during his reign. For example, he averted a war with Parthia by negotiating a peace. Somehow, though, this phrase was adapted differently by Reagan, an actor and voice media broadcaster turned politician, who helped initiate the conservative renaissance in the 1980’s. A quick glance hindsight will reveal inconsistencies between Reagan’s ideals and choices with his idyllic quotations.
While Hadrian set an example of peaceful policy, let’s take a look at some of Reagan’s choices. To begin with, in 1986 Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya after the bombing of a Berlin nightclub, which killed three or four Americans. It was deduced that these must have been Libyan terrorists threatening the welfare of American citizens and this became the justification for a controlled attack on Libya. Another example is the Iran-Contra involvement in which Reagan administration officials secretly sold arms to Iran in order to gain the release of hostages. The proceeds were partly used to arm Nicaraguan Contras with firearms although Congress had prohibited this. Perhaps we ought to question whether diverting the will of the people and weakening the system of the U.S. strengthens anything.
Finally, Reagan significantly amped up the “War on Drugs,” originally coined by Richard Nixon, stating,” We’re taking down the surrender flag that has flown over so many drug efforts; we’re running up a battle flag.” The War on Drugs has turned into a multi-billion dollar endeavor which has incurred incalculable amounts of bloodshed over the past thirty years within a seemingly never-ending project.
Actually, if you look closely, the last seven Republican administrations have initiated/ been involved in military engagement, begging the question: “Is there any peace through strength?” Where’s the peace? On the other hand, Ohio politician Dennis Kucinich reverses the adage, claiming that we gain strength through peace, which is ideologically consistent with his action and political stances.
Why do we still hold on to such catch phrases as “Peace through Strength? Does anyone find it funny that an actor, of all people, a person who is professionally trained to pretend, drops one liner catch phrases to the American public? Maybe a tribute to his old profession as talk show radio host.
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Was this the beginning of an era of sound bite politics? Are sound bites and catch phrases suited to engaging thoughtful discussions about complex situations in a complex world? Perhaps later presidents lacked Reagan’s eloquence in pulling off one-liners and catch-phrase messages but nonetheless attempted to implement a similar tactic.
Nowadays we have the disciples of Elmer Fudd running amuck in the land of the free declaring that anything short of tanks and nuclear warfare to capture them “pesky towelheads” is an impediment to the Constitution. One thing the Reagan administration clearly offered this country was the solidification of the alliance between show business and politics.
So here we are today: the opinions of pop stars are revered as valuable contributions to political conversation, whether or not they may have any insight or appreciation for the topics at hand, celebrities are polled on political issues, the whole discussion has been dumbed down. The American public has allowed itself to become sheep, waddling along behind, bleating “Bahhh bah.”
We are better than this. All people have the ability to break free from follower sheep behavior. But at the moment, in addition to becoming less respected worldwide (some may claim an international laughing stock), we have also ventured into new terrain out on the periphery of the just plain stupid. And we’re locked into polarized, go-nowhere debates, with current culture disallowing anything less than firm allegiance to one of the two main political parties, despite that virtually every other notable living democracy has at least three active parties. So here we are. We run the risk of becoming gun-slinging, TV brainwashed idiots — but hey, relax, prime time, er I mean Jersey Shore, is on in an hour.