As a Canadian observer, I have arguably had a first-row seat since the 1960s looking at America and its erstwhile development and imprint on the world. As a professional diplomat, I have had the opportunity to observe America in the world, how America relates to other diplomatic representatives and how various parts of the world view Uncle Sam. Despite the hopes of those who dream of ‘America is back’, it is about as hollow a promise as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s same laconic refrain since his election in 2015. One may suppose that ignorance transcends political stripes and ideologies.
More than anything else, the US involvement in Vietnam was a harbinger of worse things to come. From the very outset, the whole adventure was built on a false pretext – John Foster Dulles’ theory that Communism would provoke a chain reaction of falling dominos in South-east Asia. Thus, the US view that political and military intervention would be necessary once any recalcitrant country decided to embrace even remotely Communist ideals. Latin America had been conceived in this way with less than total success given Castro’s victory in Cuba.
The domino theory, did not take into consideration any of the numerous characteristics separating the Asian countries like ethnicity, language, religion and national identity. It was a fallacy conceived in the USA for domestic consumption and it made little sense outside of the continental USA. One has only to think of the vast historical and cultural differences separating countries like Thailand, China, North Korea and the Philippines to understand the ludicrous nature of the domino theory.
Worse still, the war tore the USA apart. Black Americans, minority groups and the white poor were conscripted to fight a losing war. When body bags began piling up back home, tempers flared and opposition to the war grew. TV cameras contradicted the generals’ propaganda and lay bare the hypocrisy of a losing strategy. More troops. Always more and more. It was never enough to subdue this Asian ‘backwater’ nation, military technology and chemical weapons notwithstanding.
The only political candidate capable of ending the war was assassinated in June 1968. Before that, the Black dissident leader Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968 leading to riots in many American cities. The night Senator Robert Kennedy was killed in Los Angeles was when the hour struck twelve. Democracy would not be allowed to take its course and the Vietnam War would end in defeat. Contrary to Nixon’s maxim of ‘peace with honor’ and Walter Cronkite’s’ ‘we did our best’, the people. Vietnam, fatigued by decades of war, decimated by bombs and chemical warfare, was able to declare victory over the strongest country in the world. David and Goliath revisited.
As alluded to above, all is not well between the White majority and the Black minority. Cross cutting cleavages such as immigration complicate the situation and adds to tensions. As a diplomat, I was scandalized by white American colleagues demeaning African Americans. Comments ranging from Obama’s intelligence and educational history to even more obnoxious comments about the Black colleagues with whom they work, one has the impression that the USA has not put to rest the basic philosophy behind racism. Since Trump, random police shootings of Blacks abound sometimes without any provocation at all. There is only one inexorable conclusion and the diffidence of potential white opposition to these notions and practices is apparent. In the civilized world as we may come to know it, treatment of the Black minority by US police forces would be unacceptable elsewhere and lead to violence in the streets. Collective revulsion would be the result.
As with the first two events or situations, the third major fault line in the American democracy overlaps and reinforces the other two currents. The constitutional guarantee regarding the bearing of arms is antiquated, misused and utterly pre-historic for a society that claims to be an enlightened democracy. In order ensure its own timeliness, a constitution needs to evolve with changes in the body politic. The carnage of school shootings, random shootings and gun shows communicate the message that guns are too easy for citizens to access. Moreover, automatic and semi-automatic weapons are not cultural weapons – they wreck death. They are not the reflection of any cultural ideal.
The counter arguments one hears only deepens the malaise. Arming school teachers is a fantasy of the National Rifle Association. The latter’s purchase of political power and leverage is a national disgrace. The association should be dismantled and the money returned to the American taxpayer. The NRA is the major reason why the gun carnage continues.
The decline of the American Empire is a moral event. It cannot lead the free world because it is no longer free. Vietnam illustrated the truth of Mao’s maxim of ‘paper tigers’. The racial problem is a blight on any US pretentions to lead the world anyway to safety or to peace. And the hegemony of guns and their daily tribute is the reflection of a sclerotic political system plunging ever further into nihilism.
*Dr. Bruce Mabley is a former Canadian diplomat having served in the Middle East, and is the director of the Mackenzie-Papineau think tank in Montreal.