The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes it is not.
On the island of Okinawa is a very unusual war memorial. The Cornerstone of Peace resembles the Vietnam War memorial in certain respects: large black walls inscribed with names. But the Cornerstone of Peace has a different shape: curved, concentric walls rather than an angled slash. More importantly, the Okinawa memorial lists all of those who died in the World War II Battle of Okinawa: Americans, Japanese, Okinawans, Koreans, and others.
I’m from Jersey. So whenever the Boss sings, I listen. He’s always sticking up for the little guy, the Tom Joads, the downsized, and the downtrodden. He’s patriotic, but it’s a bittersweet patriotism. You remember: when the Reagan campaign in 1984 and then the Dole campaign in 1996 wanted to use the song "Born in the USA," Springsteen said no. When Lee Iacocca wanted to use the song to sell Chrysler cars, Springsteen again said no. Didn’t they listen to the lyrics of the song? It’s all about the plight of Vietnam vets: "Got in a little hometown jam/so they put a rifle in my hand/sent me off to a foreign land/to go and kill the yellow man." It’s hard to imagine those lyrics in a car commercial.
Every culture, it seems, has the same joke: Put three Koreans—or Albanians or Poles or Kenyans or Californians—in a room. After an hour of debate, they’ll form four political parties.
In 1990, I thought that another world was not only possible, it was happening before my eyes. With hundreds of other activists, I was in Prague to attend the Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA). The Berlin Wall was no more, the Cold War was receding with breathtaking rapidity, and a new age of people’s movements seemed to be dawning. It was a time for celebration for the peace and human rights activists from throughout Europe, North America, and what would soon become the former Soviet Union. When he was helping to plan the meeting in 1988, the Czech dissident Vaclav Havel fully expected the HCA to attract the full wrath of his country’s secret police and he would spend the time in jail. By 1990, the world had turned upside down, and Havel was opening the first session of the HCA as president of a newly democratic state.
Our allies should organize an intervention. I’m not talking about a military intervention, though some neighborhoods in the United States might welcome UN peacekeepers to replace the local constabulary. I’m talking about one of those interventions that friends organize when one of their buddies has become a drug addict or keeps driving when drunk or is maxing out a dozen credit cards on the Home Shopping Network.
It’s a scandal worthy of the Yes Men. Over the course of three years, this band of merry pranksters impersonated World Bank officials and told bemused audiences that Spain should outlaw the siesta, corporations should adopt "compassionate slavery" for workers in Africa, and fast food restaurants could solve the global hunger problem by serving a new hamburger made out of human waste.
The state, according to classical liberals, is a problem. It meddles in the economy. It over-regulates. Through the tax system, it robs Peter to pay Paul. If only the state would get out of the way, these purists argue, then the invisible hand of the market would magically set things right. Equilibrium would reign, and the gross national happiness of the country would rise like the temperature on a warm, summer day.
Gamblers in Las Vegas frequently cling to the illusion that they can win. Some do. Most don’t. The casino owners—usually called "the House"—have rigged the system in their own favor. The flashing lights, free drinks, and oxygen-enriched air in the casino distract the gamblers from this elemental rule. Sure, you might hit 21, score big on Black, or finally get three cherries in a row. But over the long term, the House always wins and you always lose.
Liberals love a good war. There’s nothing like a bombing run or a missile attack to preempt the perennial criticism of liberals as weak on defense and national security. Take Truman and Korea, Kennedy and Cuba, Johnson and Vietnam, or Clinton and Kosovo. Wars demonstrate "spine" and "leadership" and all the qualities that tell the public that the liberal is no longer that spindly, bespectacled fellow on the beach getting sand kicked in his face.