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high noon revisited
the world's policeman should throw down its badge
by russ carr (@DocOrlando70)
1.24.03
news


In a telling scene from the classic western "High Noon," Hadleyville's outgoing marshal, Will Kane, seeks counsel from the town's previous marshall, Martin Howe. Frank Miller's gang is approaching the town, intent on murdering Kane and sacking the town, but the marshal can find no one willing to stand and fight alongside him. The arthritic Howe advises Kane to take his wife and flee the town. If the town won't help him, why should he continue to defend them?

"The public doesn't give a damn about integrity," explains Howe. "A town that won't defend itself deserves no help."

So here we are, on the dusty Main Street of the world. The United States stands all but alone, as even those we've considered our allies cower behind the shelter of appeasement and rhetoric. Our loyal partner, the United Kingdom, still has our back. But around the world, nations who once lauded us as liberators -- sometimes more than once within the past century -- now accuse us of being provocative, war-mongering and arrogant.

The United States suffered too much bloodshed in the 20th century as it stepped in to clean up the messes that other countries made. Both world wars. Korea, Vietnam, Beirut, Kuwait, Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo. We didn't start those fights, but we did all we could to stop them. Our willingness to intervene to secure the peace earned us the title "the world's policeman." But now it's become a sobriquet rooted in scorn, not admiration. We're not respectable officers of the law; we're the pigs.

To quote Riggs and Murtaugh, "We're too old for this shit."

Case in point: North Korea. Back in 1994, the United States, South Korea and Japan agreed to a deal to supply fuel oil to North Korea, and to build new light water nuclear reactors -- which cannot produce weapons-grade byproducts -- in return for North Korea ending its nuclear weapon research. This was a great deal for North Korea, as they were getting a paid in considerable resources in return for their inaction.

Then, last October, North Korea revealed that they had not stopped their research after all, and that they might even have produced a working nuclear bomb or two. Stunned, the United States, Japan and South Korea withdrew from the 1996 agreement. North Korea then had the audacity to suggest that it was the United States who nullified the treaty by stopping fuel shipments. In recent weeks, North Korea has enflamed the situation by withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, threatening to renew missile tests, and declaring that any sanctions levied against their country will be considered an act of war...all while continuing to blame the United States for breaking the treaty.

Enough.

Do our patrols over the "No-Fly Zone" in Iraq violate that nation's territoriality? Fine. We'll stop.

Do our troops stationed along the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas hinder substantive progress on reunification? Pack it up, boys.

Does our military presence in Saudi Arabia defile the heart of Islam, and so anger the zealots of the Taliban and Al Qaeda? Terribly sorry, we were just leaving...!

Bosnia, Japan, The Philippines, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Qatar, Cuba, NATO? We won't bother you anymore.

That's right. Bring 'em all home. Every last soldier, sailor, airman and Marine. DEA, CIA, NSA -- come home ASAP! It's time for us to enact the Prime Directive: The United States will not meddle in the affairs of other nations, period. And why should we? Why should we be dragged all over the world to extinguish someone else's fire? Since World War I, 667,701 Americans have been killed fighting for someone else's land. Again, enough.

We're the only superpower left in the world. We may have equals in some areas, but not one other nation can compete with us toe-to-toe when it comes to economic power, military strength, personal freedoms and standard of living. And if some other nation wants to dispute that I have one simple suggestion: put your foreign policy where your rhetoric is, get off your recalcitrant ass and make a difference. Because we're tired of doing it all for you.

That goes double for the United Nations, as impotent a world body as the League of Nations it sought to improve upon. When the UN "sends" troops (i.e.: asks member nations to volunteer their armed forces) the largest national representation is often American. It's been that way since the Korean War, a UN-sanctioned conflagration which still lacks a formal cessation of hostilities. A cease-fire does not equal peace, and Kim Jong Il has picked up right where his father, Kim Il Sung, left off.

This is the same United Nations which took its weapons inspectors out of Iraq without a fight in 1998 because Saddam Hussein didn't want them nosing around anymore. Considering the UN was formed as a response to World War II, under the treatise that similar conflicts could be prevented in the future, it amazes me that its spineless members allow themselves to be manipulated by a two-bit mustachioed dictator with a propensity for gassing ethnic groups within his country's borders.

The European Union is falling all over itself in an attempt to be a unified economic power, so shouldn't France and Germany handle the next Bosnia? Israel has proven time and again that they can defeat all comers, so let the Middle Eastern nations slug it out all they want. India and Pakistan won't be happy until they've blown each other up. If North Korea wants to invade South Korea, what would we lose? Samsung? Kia? The next Chan Ho Park?

If they don't care, why should we?

We have several decades' worth of domestic problems which could benefit from the level of attention we're willing to throw at some of these backwater hotspots. Consider what we could do if we didn't have to respond to every little international flare-up. Repurpose troops for drug interdiction or infrastructure maintenance. Slash the defense budget and pump the money into education, research and the arts. The rest of the world can stand outside and marvel at our ingenuity and determination, and if we change them it will be by example: "See, this is what you can aspire to, when you put aside your petty, greedy conflicts!"

It's a pipe dream, I admit. Instead of isolationism, America embraces the superhero ethic: "With great power comes great responsibility." And so we put our young men and women in harm's way, fighting not for our own freedom, but for someone else's. Fighting not to defeat inequity or oppression within our own borders, but within those of other nations. Always reluctantly fighting just one more battle, not because we want to, but because we must, because no one else will.

Because no one else would, Marshal Will Kane faced Frank Miller's gang at high noon on the dusty streets of Hadleyville. And when the last shot faded and the smoke cleared, Will Kane took off his badge, threw it in the dirt and walked away.

If only we were so brave.


ABOUT RUSS CARR

If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.

more about russ carr

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COMMENTS

matt morin
1.24.03 @ 12:22a

Well, there's always the "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" school of international relations.

eloise young
1.24.03 @ 3:37a

Policemen earn admiration, through selflessness of their behavior. Policemen who investigate/prosecute solely based on their personal interests breed scorn. If you want to live by the policeman metaphor, that is.

I prefer to think of the US as a nation. Coexisting with other nations.

tracey kelley
1.24.03 @ 9:03a

I'd like to see our military troops break up a few gangs in East L.A.

michelle von euw
1.24.03 @ 9:52a

Stability comes from balance between isolationism and the kind of global interference that makes people want to strike back. Balance also means paying attention to domestic difficulties while being a good citizen of the world, as well as recognizing which conflicts require outside assistance and which do not.

In fact, I'd venture to estimate that a large percentage of the world's difficulties are a result of the arrogance that western nations assumed in the centuries past. And it's pretty damn cocky of the United States to expect other countries to stop nuclear weapons research when we still have the largest buildup of nuclear weapons in the world, refuse to get rid of them, and remain the only country to have ever used a nuclear weapon against another nation.

adam kraemer
1.24.03 @ 10:10a

Wait, Russ, you're claiming that we were in Vietnam to try to stop the fighting?

That said, it's really easy for other countries to trash America now that there's no other superpower alternative. We looked great next to a totalitarian regime like the USSR, but where's the current moral compass?

And Michelle, it is cocky to expect other nations not to develop nukes. But when it's a despot who's proven time and again that he has no qualms about invading his neighbors or killing his citizens is it also reasonable? I think so. Besides, it's not solely the US who's demanding these countries de-nuke; it's the rest of the UN, even if they're not willing to back it up.

In the past, the US was criticized for being too isolationist - WWI, WWII - for too long. Now we're being criticized for being too willing to jump the gun (so to speak). Where's the balance then?

[edited]

russ carr
1.24.03 @ 10:25a

Adam: When we began sending advisors, and then troops, into Vietnam in the late 1950s -- yes, during the Eisenhower administration -- it was in an attempt to shore up beleaguered French forces (gee, saving the Frenchman's derriere -- where have I heard that one before?) at request of France. I'm not defending what happened later; I'm just pointing out that Vietnam was already a morass when we came in to bail out the Frogs.

[edited]

michelle von euw
1.24.03 @ 10:29a

Adam, I'd be perfectly happy if every country agreed to stop making nuclear weapons and were ready to prove it to the international community. But I would want the US to have to be held to the same standards that we hold everyone else to -- particularly since every situation can be looked at from different sides.

adam kraemer
1.24.03 @ 10:36a

Well, I don't know that we are still making them. It's not like we need more. But if Saddam Hussein were the type of person who would grant us access to all of his information, we wouldn't be demanding to see his weapons in the first place.

russ carr
1.24.03 @ 10:41a

And yes, Adam beat me to the point -- The United States has a history of responsibility when it comes to its arsenal, whereas both North Korea and Iraq have a history of belligerence.

America's use of atomic bombs came when Truman was faced with only two reasonable alternatives: use the bombs, or invade the Japanese mainland. Military planners at the time believed it would have taken an invasion force seven times larger than that assembled at Normandy, and that military (read: non-civilian) casualties alone would have been 1 million allied deaths, 3.5 million Japanese deaths. Even after the Hiroshima bomb fell, the Japanese would not surrender. Only after Nagasaki -- when the Japanese realized we could do this to every city -- did they consider surrender.

My point is, we didn't use those two bombs lightly. We haven't used a nuclear weapon since.

russ carr
1.24.03 @ 10:47a

Finally, my big beef isn't with what Iraq or North Korea may or may not have up its sleeve, but with the hypocrisy of other nations (and the UN) in making resolutions and sanctions and rhetoric in the name of global security, and then shirking their responsibility when it comes time to back up all that politicking. I can see Chirac and Schroeder, after Iraq agreed to re-admit UN inspectors last year, returning to their countries proclaiming they'd established "peace in our time."

adam kraemer
1.24.03 @ 10:56a

I do find it ironic, of course, that Germany is shrinking from military action.

But, yes, I'm not at all hawkish. I don't lightly suggest war - it should always be the last option. But there are countries that we don't mind having nuclear weapons and there are countries that we do mind having nuclear weapons. We weren't happy when India and Pakistan did their nuclear tests, but we haven't demanded that they dismantle their bombs. Israel has nukes that no one officially acknowleges, but we also - even with the current climate over there - aren't really worried that they'll use their bombs in a first-strike capability. You have to look at the situation in context. Is the US likely to use nuclear bombs unless they're fired at us? No. Is Iraq likely to invade Kuwait again if they have the threat of nuclear war as a back-up plan? Hopefully not, but it's not a definite no.

david damsker
1.24.03 @ 10:58a

The funny thing about WWII is (correct me if I'm wrong) that we only had 2 functional bombs at the time. If they HADN'T surrendered after the 2nd bomb, we would have had to invade anyway.

[edited]

michelle von euw
1.24.03 @ 10:59a

Russ, I'm not getting into a revisionist history debate with you about the nuclear bombs we dropped on Japan; we'll agree to disagree about that, if that's OK with you.

However, that is not the only way the US has acted irresponsibly in the past regarding nuclear weapons. Definitely, the USSR is to blame, too, but the buildup that occurred in both countries between 1950-1980 was definitely not responsible: there are now 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world; 95% of them are in the US and the former USSR.

Obviously, the US and Russia need to take the lead in securing nuclear materials, but backing out of treaties like the ABM doesn't help our credibility.

[edited]

adam kraemer
1.24.03 @ 11:02a

Who cares about credibility? If a rogue nation decides to bring about Armageddon, are you going to be standing there thinking, "Well, at least we took the high road"? We just want bombs out of the hands of the irresponsible.

And Dave, you're right. We had no back-up plan after Nagasaki.

michelle von euw
1.24.03 @ 11:03a

See, Russ, we have common ground here. You deplore the hypocracy of the UN and other nations; I'm pointing out that there's a similiar hypocracy in our own international relations policies.

Which brings me back to the first paragraph of my first post: Balance.

russ carr
1.24.03 @ 11:04a

Shhhh...don't tell the Japanese. They may change their mind about that whole "unconditional surrender" thing now!

michelle von euw
1.24.03 @ 11:04a

Adam, credibility is HUGE. Why should other countries give up nuclear materials if the US isn't willing to cut down it's own arsenal?

david damsker
1.24.03 @ 11:06a

Michelle,
We don't want WWIII...we have nothing to gain. Who's to speak for the small, rogue nations?

(edited to add the double "l")

[edited]

michelle von euw
1.24.03 @ 11:14a

Shhhh...don't tell the Japanese. They may change their mind about that whole "unconditional surrender" thing now!

Ironically, they probably wouldn't!

russ carr
1.24.03 @ 11:15a

Both the US and Russia (the USSR is gone, Michelle) have cut their arsenals substantially over the past 15 years, and are continuing to do so. A treaty ratified last May set a maximum warhead level at 1,700-2,100 for each nation by 2012, down from a current level of roughly 5,000-6,000. Is 1,700 still more than is needed? Sure. But I'd say they're making progress. You can't turn the military-industrial complex of two nations on a dime.

russ carr
1.24.03 @ 11:22a

We excused ourselves from the ABM in order to develop anti-missile technologies. Russia gave a tacit "tsk-tsk" but didn't really care. It was a larger issue when the ABM was created (1972) because the then-USSR actually had the lead in ABM technology. The US feared (as the USSR did later) that an escalating ABM race would lead to an increase in ICBM deployment, as each nation attempted to compensate for those missiles which would fail to reach their target(s). With Russia and the US no longer at each other's throat, there's less opposition to the US leaving the treaty.

[edited]

nate clinton
1.24.03 @ 11:38a

Michelle has the right idea about balance between isolationism and interference. Germany, France, et al. are off-balance on the side of isolationism. How does that justify a similarly off-balanced isolationism in the U.S.? "Johnny gets to stay home from school today with a fever, so it's not fair that I have to go!"?

(Not that I'm in favor of unjustified violence in Iraq, for example.)

michelle von euw
1.24.03 @ 11:42a

Although Bush signed the Moscow Treaty you refer to, Russ, many have acknowledged it to be a pretty weak one. Article IV, part 3 states: "Each Party, in exercising its national sovereignty, may withdraw from this Treaty upon three months written notice to the other Party."

Also, the US has decided to store instead of destroy nuclear weapons; refuses to sign the CTBT, have held a less than perfect adherence to the NPT; and the Bush Administration has attempted to cut the nonproliferation budget several times.

russ carr
1.24.03 @ 11:44a

Great quote yesterday from Jacques Chirac: "As far as we're concerned, war always means failure." Given that France hasn't won a battle since 1815, I can see how that's the case.

michelle von euw
1.24.03 @ 11:48a

Interesting interpretation of that quote, Russ! I didn't realize that France didn't have any WWI victories.

[edited]

russ carr
1.24.03 @ 11:55a

Oh, I know I'm taking it wildly out of context. Doesn't make it any less fun. Did I say "battle"? I should have said "war."

Say, why does France need its nuclear weapons? Who's threatening them, anyway?

jael mchenry
1.24.03 @ 11:58a

In the past, the US was criticized for being too isolationist - WWI, WWII - for too long. Now we're being criticized for being too willing to jump the gun (so to speak). Where's the balance then?

Between the two. Obviously.

russ carr
1.24.03 @ 12:06p

But how do you exercise the active part without being considered imperialistic, as is clearly the case now? And, if the United States actually did hang up its guns and leave the world to itself, how long do you think it would take for these other nations to realize they've got to step up or get stepped on?

adam kraemer
1.24.03 @ 12:32p

Of course that's always going to be the problem "police" face - too much exposure when they try to enforce "law"; complaints of non-interference when they aren't around.

And, hold on, Michelle - are you arguing that if the US decreased our nuclear arsenal to, say, 10 missles, that would encourage Iraq to do the same? Hussein would suddenly realize the error of his ways? We're not trying to lead by example, here. We're trying to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of those who might actually use them.

[edited]

john chase
1.24.03 @ 12:46p

I have some opinions. They are my own. Regardless of how stated or what sources I quote they won't change anyone's mind here, or even make them think. The world needs less right and wrong, less weak and strong, and more people who are truly open minded, more people who wake up every morning and sit on their chair because they remember yesterday it would hold their weight, but still sit with a just a slight bit of apprehension because today it may not.

btw, McDonald's is the reason France has nukes.


russ carr
1.24.03 @ 3:32p

Kim Jong Il visited the DMZ yesterday to inspect the troops. According to the North Korean news agency:

"Our socialist motherland is sure to win as our soldiers who have grown to be one-match-for-a hundred fighters in the crucible of the arduous revolution are firmly standing guard of the forefront with arms in hands to wipe out the enemy," KCNA quoted Kim as saying during his front-line visit Thursday.

"He was greatly satisfied to learn that the servicemen of the unit have turned all the operation theaters into an impregnable fortress with burning hatred and resentment at the U.S. imperialist aggressors, the sworn enemy of the Korean people," KCNA said.

adam kraemer
1.24.03 @ 3:38p

John, I agree with you. But what if you know for a fact (to take the metaphor further) that there's someone else living in your house who doesn't like you and keeps threatening to rig your chair in the middle of the night to collapse the next time you sit in it. Would you want to take away his pliers? I think maybe so.

[edited]

kathy carlton
1.24.03 @ 6:01p

Boy, first of all, I want to know what all of you do for a living that allows you to write to each other all day! That is a luxury that I have never enjoyed (and won't until I get to retire!)Russ, you seem to leave all of the personal greed, IOU's and other private agendas out of the equation when you look at the Iraq situation. Always remember that to get to a position of power where you make critical decisions, like declaring war on another state, that you have to have bargained with the devil quite a bit. There is so much political trash happening here that I can't believe you are all so wrapped up in whether the US should be the world's cop or not. It's about power and money; always. kac

russ carr
1.24.03 @ 7:21p

Kathy: To the contrary, the point of my column was not to make any kind of judgment call on whether going to war against Iraq is justified or not. Rather, I'm just trying to underscore this love/hate relationship the rest of the world has with the United States. And right now it seems tilted heavily toward "hate," even when we're doing nothing but keeping the peace (see the KCNA quotes above).

p trapp
1.24.03 @ 9:22p

Russ: Somehow your column magically transports me back to my seat in front of yours in Prahlow's US History class, in particular to the essay portion of his tests. Yawn count:Zero. No need to play "pass the lint ball" here.

russ carr
1.24.03 @ 10:04p

I'm...touched, Joan.

robert melos
1.25.03 @ 3:01a

In war there are no winners, only survivors. As long as people refuse to realize that little saying as truth, we will continue to go head to head with some of the most bull-headed world leaders around.

I am probably one of the most self-centered people you will ever meet, I state that here to clarify my stance. As I grow older I look at every situation from the "what's in it for me?" angle. I am a coward, and proud of the yellow strip down my back, yet I see no way around a war at this point.

My only wish is for it to be an honest war. If US Gov. officials want to control the world oil suppy, don't do it surreptitiously. Just come out and say you want something and plan on taking it, by force if necessary. By getting rid of Saddam they are removing a volatile factor from the playing field. Yeah. Go team! In the short term, and as long as nukes aren't used, we benefit. If nukes are used, no one will benefit.

As for all the posturing by the UN, and the Fed. Gov. and Bush, and Blair, and the rest of them, it's all insignificant in the big picture. They are posing for the cameras, and taking stances, and none of it matters.

The US will do as it pleases, and Iraq/Saddam will do as it/he pleases, and so will N. Korea. Let's face it, I'm not the only one with a "what's in it for me" philosophy. Every major and minor power in the world has the same thinking as I do. The difference being, it'll only take on

robert melos
1.25.03 @ 3:02a

As I was saying!

Let's face it, I'm not the only one with a "what's in it for me" philosophy. Every major and minor power in the world has the same thinking as I do. The difference being, it'll only take one of them to not stop and consider what the others might do if they act first. (Okay, Matt or Adam, I know one of you is thinking "Robert doesn't have nukes either." So there are two big differences. And if I had 'em, I would hate to use 'em, but I would use 'em to put an end to the whole issue in one sweep. Face it, no one would mess with the US again, if we did that. Of course there might not be anyone left to mess with.)

p trapp
1.25.03 @ 9:56a

Russ, I'm with ya (not Joan, guess who). Screw all those other nations, I don't give a rat's ass about any of them. Kuwait calls for our help again? Sorry, I can't hear them. Difference is this time with Iraq, it's not about saving some other country, it's about saving ourselves. Sodomy Insane would love to wage war with us, not to mention he is harboring a fugitive of US justice who killed only a few thousand in attacks on the WTC...

p trapp
1.25.03 @ 9:59a

It's amazing how the Hollywood set forgets this sort of fact. There's even some leftist flakes from this country that are over there now as human shields to protect them. Don't cry for me, Argentina, when we wax them too, it's their fault for diving under the bus. And don't think for a second that NK wouldn't consider pointing their nukes at us, or that lobbing a nuke at their neighbor to the south wouldn't make a winter here too...

p trapp
1.25.03 @ 10:03a

I agree with you, no need for us to have helped NK, but the situation is already SNAFUed, and it would be in our interest to protect ourselves. Back to Iraq, part of France's shame to deal with this situation is a lot of Iraqi arms were purchased from France. Then the frogs have the nerve to say something to the effect of they could protect themselves, that they didn't need us to proactively invade Iraq (read this yesterday from Yahoo news). Using your analogy, fine, have at it France, and may you have better success than you did against the Germans where we bailed you out, did you forget?...

p trapp
1.25.03 @ 10:05a

Now I'm all irked, thanks. Want to grab a beer at Scruffy's or Claddah Cottage? I like that form of Irish diplomacy. Good article, my man.

erich richter
1.25.03 @ 4:52p

A Canadian guy told me once "Canadians are just like Americans, but without the guns". I met a Dutch man in a bar this year whose only stupid comment was "There are too many of you". In Africa last year I saw people wearing Bin Laden t-shirts. In fact, I haven't been anywhere in the world where Americans we not frowned on or simply hated. Direct military involvement aside, most nations don't even want our economic help because they are terrified that once American business has come to their neighborhood they won't get rid of us. Ask South Africa about Thatcher and Reagan.

I hate to patronize by stating the obvious but is it a supposed to be a coincidence that this latest conflict again involves nations that influence the cost of oil, and that our president...? The question for me isn't whether the US or the UN can or should somehow police the world for the common good by controlling weapons of mass destruction. It's a beautiful notion but it isn't the motive for this war and I don't think our national security will ever be achieved that way anyway. We couldn't even find Bin Laden so eradicating an unknown number of hidden weapons is unlikely. It's the right answer to the wrong question. I know it's all touchy feely but we really need to evaluate the grievances against our country much more carefully before engaging in a new war with Iraq. But can I still have that tax break on my Ford Destroyer.


[edited]

russ carr
1.30.03 @ 12:18a

Well, we know who our friends are and who we can count on. If I'm not mistaken, I believe Australia is also supporting action, and has sent ships toward the Persian Gulf.

[edited]

russ carr
2.6.03 @ 2:08p

The last word on the subject...

tracey kelley
2.6.03 @ 4:59p

"That's a shame. It would have been hilarious to see the French running around the desert in their froofy Stratego uniforms."

I was a little troubled after the cell phone stuff, but this puts it all into perspective.

russ carr
2.16.03 @ 4:41p

Okay, here's a new last word on the subject. Because France doesn't deserve to get off easy.



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