Wednesday, March 28, 2012

149. Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis by Jimmy Carter

Most often people who have spoken against America's foreign policies have been described as anti-America. People who have gone ahead to question certain decisions such as why corporate tax has always been lower and quick to be reduced than income tax and who have suggested that a certain cabal is ruling America have been described as Conspiracy Theorists, which currently tantamount to speaking gibberish or simply, insanity. And for those of us non-Americans, especially Africans who raise such issues, our own compatriots, fascinated by the dazzle of power, or perhaps more appropriately by the suit-and-tie of American leadership and their zeal to live in the beautiful country and so would betray everything they are, would tell you, 'you are a fool'.

I don't know what I expected to find when I picked this book. I never though an American president would criticise his own country's policies, a country he has led before. I thought that criticisms meant being 'against'. Yet, Jimmy Carter's book, with subjects ranging from religion to nuclear weapons, has shown that those of us who speak or criticises aren't necessarily 'anti-' but rather we all seek the good of mankind that never again will one race, religion, people, stand up and rule the others in the way they seem fit.

In Our Endangered Values (Simon & Schuster, 2005; 231), Jimmy Carter made compelling arguments without unnecessarily philosophising. He talked about his personal beliefs as a Christian and how he separated his belief from the office he was holding and so passed policies that leaders of his church thought were secular. He questioned the motive of such individuals and classified them as 'fundamentalists' who argue narrowly and forcefully only when it suited them. In fact he questioned why such individuals would argue against abortion and almost unanimously support the death penalty, even when the bible says 'thou shalt not kill'. In 'The Rise of Religious Fundamentalism', Jimmy Carter provided or described some of the prevailing characteristics of these fundamentalists. He writes:
Almost invariably, fundamentalists movements are led by authoritarian males who consider themselves to be superior to others and, within religious groups, have an overwhelming commitment to subjugate women and to dominate their fellow believers. [34]
He argued that some political parties have almost become the political wings of these religious fundamentalist implementing policies to suit them. For instance, he questioned why certain issues, such as abortion, are supported by the majority of Americans but has not become law yet. He also discussed his opinions on the separation of the state and the church. And here he proffered such valid arguments on why the two should be separated. On 'Sins of Divorce and Homosexuality', he again discussed the hypocrisy of some Christian fundamentalists who accept divorce but not homosexuality. He argues that to protect equal rights for citizens the state could allow 'civil unions' for gays and 'holy matrimony' for church congregations. The idea that 9/11 was the result of the sins of lesbians, gays, abortionists, pagans, was ridiculed, intelligently. One thing Carter did, which helped this book, is that he backed all his statements with quotes and statistical figures.

However, this fundamentalism - not necessarily religious - have gripped the entire American government so that most of its foreign policies are changing to reflect this iew. For instance, he quoted the then United States ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as saying
It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so - because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States. [98]
These and others show how the country that boasts of international laws and always quick to invoke them when it suits them views such laws. Again, Bolton was quoted as saying that 'The United Nations is valuable only when it directly serves the United States.' This is not just the opinion of an individual but that of the US's ambassador to the UN. And not that Carter is saying anything different from what people who really care about the peace and human rights of people in this world are saying; what makes Carter's different is that he has been there and knows more about the American government than any non-American and most Americans. The issue of America's lies regarding the invasion of Iraq and how Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice lied consistently, using graphic images to deceive the people and Congress, and the subsequent killing of over a hundred thousand Iraqi noncombatants (as of the time the book was published, 2005) were discussed.

"Although there are many other complicating political factors, the tendency of fundamentalists to choose certain emotional issues for demagoguery and to avoid negotiation with dissenters has adversely affected American foreign policy." This begins the chapter on 'The Distortion of American Foreign Policy'. Here Carter described how lucrative 'hating' Fidel Castro and Cuba has become for America's career diplomats as he who is able to show the 'greatest' hate gets the 'lucrative' posting. Discussing America's motive in the establishment of the ICC, an issue that has come up again and again but which some people have tended to brush away, it was clear that the ICC is the 'legal' wing of America's military invasion. Here Carter showed how the formation of the institution was made in such a way as to exclude the prosecution of American Military who commit genocide overseas provided US courts will address any such crimes. In addition, the Non-Surrender treaty was signed with individual countries that expanded this clause in the ICC's formation to cover ordinary citizens. On the whole we can say that an American citizen who commits human rights atrocities is above an African president who do so (or is alleged to have done so).

On other issues, it came as a surprise that the US has the largest prison population in the world with 7 out of every 1000 people incarcerated, greater than the all time record held by the Soviets: 6 out of 1000. It was also heart-wrenching that there are prisoners as young as 8 years in American prison. 
After visiting six of the twenty-five or so US prisons, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported registering 107 detainees under eighteen, some as young as eight years old. [119]
A careful reading would point to the US interest in the current Syrian crisis and their possible influence. For the United States had had problems with Syria for not
been cooperative in some issues involving the nearby war in Iraq... [113]
The book mince no words in describing the appalling human rights records of the United States, something that has been on the decline since the 9/11 catastrophe. 
Following the attacks of 9/11, the US government overreacted by detaining more than twelve hundred innocent men throughout America, none of whom were ever convicted of any crime related to terrorism. Their identities have been kept secret, and they were never given the right to hear charges against themselves or to have legal counsel. Almost all of them were Arabs or Muslims, and many have been forced to leave America. [118]
 And
The International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and the Pentagon have gathered substantial testimony of torture of children, confirmed by soldiers who witnessed or participated in the abuse. In addition to personal testimony from children about physical and mental mistreatment, a report from Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, formerly in charge of Abu Ghraib, described a visit to an eleven-year-old detainee in the cell block that house high-risk prisoners. The General recalled that the child was weeping, and "he told me he was almost twelve," and that "he really wanted to see his mother, could he please call his mother." Children like this eleven-year-old have been denied the right to see their parents, a lawyer, or anyone else, and were not told why they were detained. A Pentagon spokesman told Mr. Hersh that "age is not a determining factor in detention." [120]
Even though the US intelligence accepts that 70 to 90 percent of prisoners in Abu Ghraid were held by mistake, torture and death in such prisons are common.
Military officials reported that at least 108 prisoners have died in American custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, and  other secret locations just since 2002, with homicide acknowledged as the cause of death in at least 28 cases. The fact that only one of these was in Abu Ghraid prison indicates the widespread pattern of prisoner abuse, certainly not limited to the actions or decisions of just a few rogue enlisted persons. [122]
Death to Iraqis are not limited to civilians, suspected terrorists and mistaken identities but also including Major Generals.
Iraqi major general Abed Hamed Mowhoush reported voluntarily to American officials in Baghdad in an attempt to locate his sons, and was detained, tortured, and stuffed inside a green sleeping bag, where he died from trauma and suffocation on November 26, 2003. [122]
Perhaps open-minded Americans reading this book would come to a realisation of what their government really is and what it does in their names. In fact, torture has been sanctioned by men of the law and at the highest level of government such as the Department of Defense. 
The techniques of torture are almost indescribably terrible, including, as a US ambassador to one of the recipient countries recipient countries reported, "partial boiling of a hand or an arm," with at least two prisoners boiled to death. [128]
The blatant disregard for nuclear non-proliferation and the increasingly rising military budget which was around $400 billion dollars, greater than the combination of the rest of the world, was also touched upon. However the most important topics to developing countries are the issues of aid and subsidies. Cotton farmers in Mali has suffered greatly because of American subsidy to its cotton farmers which decrease their cost of production relative to farmers in Mali and suppress world prices to levels below Malian production cost. This makes Malian cotton farmers poorer by the day, unable to earn profits. Regarding aid, the deception was uncovered. For instance 95 percent of money allocated to malaria control are spent on consultations, the remaining 5 percent are spent on necessary products from American companies. Again, some claims of help are blatant lies as in the Botswana AIDS victims claims where the US announced officially that it had provided forty-one thousand AIDS victims in Botswana with life-extending drugs only for the managers of the program to challenge them for proof. It came out that America's contribution was zero. Carter reported that 
According to Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the UN Millennium Project, ... ,annual US aid for sub-Saharan Africa was about $3 billion in 2003, of which "only $118 million was left for US in-country operations and direct support for programs run by African governments and communities ... for investments in health education, roads, power, water, and sanitation, and democratic institutions in the region" [189/90]
Again, the gap between the rich and the poor is at its all time high. Was it this that led Bill Gates to talk about moral capitalism? Whatever be the case, it is now clear that the current wealth gap between the rich and the poor is not sustainable and as if to slap the people in the face whereas the rich benefits from tax cuts, the poor get their income halved by income-tax increases. 
Under the tax cuts pushed through Congress since 2000, for every dollar in reductions for a middle-class family, the top 1 percent of households will receive $54, and those with $1 million or more in income will benefit by $191! During the first three years, the number of Americans living in poverty increased by 3.5 million, while the income for the four hundred wealthiest Americans jumped by 10 percent just in the year 2002.  Another indication of the growing division between the rich and poor in recent years is that the salaries of corporate chief executive officers have gone from forty times to four hundred times the average worker's pay. Even though there was strong growth in corporate profits, wages for the average worker fell in 2004, after adjusting for inflation - the first such drop in many years. [192/3]
This book is an eye-opener. It shows that it takes more than being a president to change things in America or in most countries for that matter. In most cases it is clear that corporations with personal interest are those ruling the country so that even when the police and several individuals wanted the gun-control policy to be extended, Bush scrapped it. A double-standard policy creates an unsafe world. If America today is unsafe, it should question its policies, for the shedding of blood will create more enemies as Carter wrote about that the raging war in Iraq is serving as a recruitment ground for Al-Qaeda. Recommended for those who want to know more about how our world is run. 

12 comments:

  1. I love this book. It is one of the few books I know that heat you up enough to make you want to figure out what you can do to make this world a better place. Yet could also be very depressing and make you give up on change.

    We briefly exchanged comments on a previous post about the benefits to The People when leaders write post-service. We learn a lot.

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    1. It took me through several emotional roller-coaster.

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  2. It has become quite shameful & scary that by simply disagreeing with you homelands governmental policy & thus exercising your democratic right, You can now be deemed not only unpatriotic but an enemy a hater of that home.

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  3. Best post I've read this year on any blog. I always wondered how Jimmy Carter became US President. He seems too human for the job.

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    1. Thanks Jerome. I also think so. I was sad and hurt at the same time at the inhumanity of the supposed democrats and liberals and peace-lovers. Yet, people seem not to see, properly.

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  4. The truth is that Americans did not really regard Jimmy Carter highly. They considered him to be a pacifist and somewhat weak. They even riduculed his wife Rosalyn for not dressing according to fashion and for being rather stingy in her entertaining. What Americans failed to see was the humaness of the Carters, their simplicity was embedded in thier strong desire to see the right thing being done. A president with concsience and love for humanity, that is/was Jimmy Carter.

    Kudos, Nana. This is a well written review.

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    1. They love the belligerence of Bush rather. Yes, that's what I was told. They forget that violence begets violence. And what is fashion without knowledge and humanity?

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  5. I ve always found he talks sense carter ,thanks for sharing Nana ,all the best stu

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    1. Unfortunately, he's the least loved of all American Presidents.

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  6. I am just reading this and it has convinced me the more that those really ruling the world are not the ones we see as 'leaders'. Jimmy, i believe is one of the best if not the best president America has ever had. It's good this is coming from an American otherwise the author would have been number one enemy.
    This piece has gotten me emotional and I am asking myself what lies ahead of the world? The best post i have read in a while. Thanks for sharing, Nana.

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    1. I agree with you. He's the best and yet he's less appreciated because he spoke the truth and people, by nature, don't love the truth. I have the same 'fear' as to who are those really ruling the world.

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