I recently attended a two-day seminar put on by the staff of the Naval War College. The college, which is in Newport, Rhode Island, brings a team to the San Francisco area almost every year to speak to a few hundred interested parties: Reserve Navy, Marine and Coast Guard personnel, Navy League supporters and some who have a general interest in the United States Maritime activities. While it is impossible to capture the mood and message of the weekend, I want to try to convey one lesson learned.
This year’s theme was “The Challenges of a Leaderless World” and the topic offered some insightful debate as well as establishing a perspective on what the United States did and did not do in Iraq, Afghanistan, and most recently Libya.
Libya was of particular interest for several reasons: It was current, with matters changing virtually by the hour; it involved the navy, with two carriers providing the resources to establish a “no-fly” zone; and most importantly, it is a reminder of Thomas Jefferson, establishment of the U.S. Naval Maritime Force, Stephen Decatur, the U.S. Marines and the Shores of Tripoli (yes, that is the same Tripoli). It was virtually impossible not to compare President Jefferson and President Obama, which comparison was itself an interesting debate.
If I were to sum up the two days, I would choose a comparison brought to our attention by reminding us that the United States had been given the mantle, “Leader of the Free World.” We were reminded that the entire world is not free, even after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which defined the free from non-free worlds.at the time we were givven the title What was most interesting was the present opposite of free, which NWC staff defined as “secure”. “Freedom is not as important to some, as security.”
I was reminded that I had a conversation some months back with a businessman from Denmark. When I asked what brought him to the United States, he told me that his father was unable to get the medical care he wanted in Denmark, in spite of the fact that Denmark has cradle-to-grave healthcare and many other elements of a secure life, for which they gather 70% taxes on all income. So, the father decided to exercise a freedom to come to the United States where we have freedom of choice in what healthcare we receive if we have the wherewithal to purchase it.
Denmark is not alone in putting security before freedom. France recently had a general strike because its populace wanted to maintain the security of an early retirement. The Middle East is boiling over with concern that their presently secure power, water, and commerce may not be worth the tradeoff of denial of personal freedom and a voice in how things are run.
The conclusion of the conference was that the U.S. can and will remain leader of the free world, with the boundaries of the free world in a state of flux and definition.
Of greater concern to me was how the United States is defining its own balance between security and freedom. I worry that the balance that has allowed us to build an infrastructure of social justice in a free environment may be switching to a defense of entitlement, without concern of the greater good that comes from an uncertain free society.
If the Teacher’s Union issues in Wisconsin, the political standoff in California, where 50% of the taxpayers pay ALL of the income tax, the budget crisis in Washington, D.C. where inaction threatens to shut down the government, if these and other domestic crises cannot be resolved by reasonable compromise, I worry that the majority of our country may abrogate their present freedom and choose instead to have security, with no concern for who is governing or how.
What do you think?