Today, 40 years after the American war in Vietnam ended in ignominious defeat, the traces of that terrible conflict are disappearing.
Traveling through Vietnam during the latter half of April 2015 with a group of erstwhile antiwar activists, I was struck by the transformation of what was once an impoverished, war-devastated peasant society into a modern nation. Its cities and towns are bustling with life and energy. Vast numbers of motorbikes surge through their streets, including 4.2 million in Hanoi and 7 million in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). A thriving commercial culture has emerged, based not only on many small shops, but on an influx of giant Western, Japanese, and other corporations. Although Vietnam is officially a Communist nation, about 40 percent of the economy is capitalist, and the government is making great efforts to encourage private foreign investment. Indeed, over the past decade, Vietnam has enjoyed one of the highest economic growth rates in the world. Not only have manufacturing and tourism expanded dramatically, but Vietnam has become an agricultural powerhouse. Today it is the world’s second largest exporter of rice, and one of the world’s leading exporters of coffee, pepper, rubber, and other agricultural commodities. Another factor distancing the country from what the Vietnamese call “the American war” is the rapid increase in Vietnam’s population. Only 41 million in 1975, it now tops 90 million, with most of it under the age of 30 -- too young to have any direct experience with the conflict.
Vietnam has also made a remarkable recovery in world affairs. It now has diplomatic relations with 189 countries, and enjoys good relations with all the major nations.
Given all the frothing by hawkish U.S. Senators about Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons, one might think that Iran was violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
But it’s not. The NPT, signed by 190 nations and in effect since 1970, is a treaty in which the non-nuclear nations agreed to forgo developing nuclear weapons and the nuclear nations agreed to divest themselves of their nuclear weapons. It also granted nations the right to develop peaceful nuclear power. The current negotiations in which Iran is engaged with other nations are merely designed to guarantee that Iran, which signed the NPT, does not cross the line from developing nuclear power to developing nuclear weapons.
Nine nations, however, have flouted the NPT by either developing nuclear weapons since the treaty went into effect or failing to honor the commitment to disarm. These nine scofflaws and their nuclear arsenals are Russia (7,500 nuclear warheads), the United States (7,100 nuclear warheads), France (300 nuclear warheads), China (250 nuclear warheads), Britain (215 nuclear warheads), Pakistan (100-120 nuclear warheads), India (90-110 nuclear warheads), Israel (80 nuclear warheads), and North Korea (<10 nuclear warheads).
Within a matter of months, the U.S. government seems likely to become the only nation in the world still rejecting the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sometimes called “the most ratified human rights treaty in history,” the Convention has been ratified by 195 nations, leaving the United States and South Sudan as the only holdouts. South Sudan is expected to move forward with ratification later this year. But there is no indication that the United States will approve this children’s defense treaty.
A quarter century after the end of the Cold War and decades after the signing of landmark nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements, are the U.S. and Russian governments once more engaged in a potentially disastrous nuclear arms race with one another? It certainly looks like it.
With approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons between them, the United States and Russia already possess about 93 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, thus making them the world’s nuclear hegemons. But, apparently, like great powers throughout history, they do not consider their vast military might sufficient, especially in the context of their growing international rivalry.
Now that the Republican Party―the conservative voice in mainstream U.S. electoral politics―has attained the most thoroughgoing control of Congress that it has enjoyed since 1928, it’s an appropriate time to take a good look at modern conservatism.
In a recent article about Shirley Jackson, the president since 1999 of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)―a private university located in Troy, New York―the Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that, in 2012 (the latest year for which statistics are available), she received over $7 million from that institution. Like many modern campus administrators, President Jackson was also given a large mansion, first class air travel, and a chauffeured luxury car to transport her around the campus.
Thanks to the fact that Jackson also serves on at least five corporate boards, including those of IBM and Marathon Oil, she supplements this income with more than a million dollars a year from these sources.
Despite repeated complaints about Jackson from faculty and students, RPI’s board of trustees has invariably expressed its total confidence in her. Indeed, the board chair recently declared that she is worth every penny of her substantial income. This unwavering support appears to be based not only upon Jackson’s fundraising prowess, but upon the corporate approach that she and the board share.
U.S. politicians and pundits are fond of saying that America’s wars have defended America’s freedom. But the historical record doesn’t bear out this contention. In fact, over the past century, U.S. wars have triggered major encroachments upon civil liberties.
In the supposedly classless society of the United States, the wealthiest Americans are doing remarkably well.
According to Forbes, a leading business magazine, the combined wealth of the 400 richest Americans has now reached the staggering total of $2.3 trillion. This gives them an average net worth of $5.7 billion―an increase of 14 percent over the previous year.
With fortunes far beyond the dreams of past kings and potentates, these super-wealthy individuals enjoy extraordinary lifestyles. Larry Ellison, the third wealthiest man in the United States (with $50 billion, an increase of 22 percent) reportedly has “15 or so homes scattered all around the world.” Among his yachts are two exceptionally big ones, each over half as long as a football field. In fact, they’re large enough for him to play basketball while on board. If a ball bounces over the rail, Ellison has a powerboat following along to retrieve it.
American politicians are fond of telling their audiences that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Is there any evidence for this claim?
Well, yes. When it comes to violence and preparations for violence, the United States is, indeed, No. 1. In 2013, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. government accounted for 37 percent of world military expenditures, putting it far ahead of all other nations. (The two closest competitors, China and Russia, accounted for 11 percent and 5 percent respectively.) From 2004 to 2013, the United States was also the No. 1 weapons exporter in the world. Moreover, given the U.S. government’s almost continuous series of wars and acts of military intervention since 1941, it seems likely that it surpasses all rivals when it comes to international violence.
This record is paralleled on the domestic front, where the United States has more guns and gun-related deaths than any other country. A study released in late 2013 reported that the United States had 88 guns for every 100 people, and 40 gun-related deaths for every 400,000 people―the most of any of the 27 economically developed countries surveyed. By contrast, in Britain there were 6 guns per 100 people and 1 gun-related death per 400,000 people.
Yet, in a great many other areas, the United States is not No. 1 at all.
After thousands of years of bloody wars among contending tribes, regions, and nations, is it finally possible to dispense with the chauvinist ideas of the past?
To judge by President Barack Obama’s televised address on the evening of September 10, it is not. Discussing his plan to “take out” ISIS, the extremist group that has seized control of portions of Syria and Iraq, the president slathered on the high-flying, nationalist rhetoric. “America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth,” he proclaimed. “Our technology companies and universities are unmatched; our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it's been in decades. . . . Our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. . . . I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day -- and that makes me more confident than ever about our country's future.”
This rhetoric, of course, is the lead-in to yet another American-led war in the Middle East. “American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world,” he stated. “It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression. . . . It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria's declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people -- or the world -- again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.”
America’s greatness, he added, carries “an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead. From Europe to Asia -- from the far reaches of Africa to war-torn capitals of the Middle East -- we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity. These are values that have guided our nation since its founding. Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward. I do so as a Commander-in-Chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform.”
Sometimes, amid the heated political debate about what should done by the U.S. government in world affairs, a proposal cuts through the TV babble of the supposed experts with a clear, useful suggestion.
That proposal came on August 17, when Pope Francis told journalists how he thought the world should cope with the challenge posed by ISIS, the Islamic militant group engaged in murderous behavior in Syria and Iraq. "One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this," he said, in an apparent reference to U.S. action against ISIS crimes. Instead, the United Nations is the proper forum to "discuss `Is there an unjust aggression'" and "`How should we stop it?' Just this. Nothing more."
Americans committed to better living for bosses can take heart at the fact that college and university administrators—unlike their faculty (increasingly reduced to rootless adjuncts) and students (saddled with ever more debt)―are thriving.