Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Herald
Sunday January 3rd, 2016
As yet another year ends and another begins it’s a time for reflection, particularly for those of us who have been fortunate enough to exceed our three score and ten. There are some societies in which the old are revered for their wisdom. Ours is not one of them.
But frankly I am not so sure wisdom comes with age. (I’ve seen some pretty dopey seniors in my day – and I don’t mean people who are suffering from some form of dementia.) Yet what I think older people do have, for the most part, is perspective. We have lived long enough to be able to compare what is happening today, with other times in our lives, and I do think this can be useful. So if I haven’t lost you by now, please hear me out.
There are those who would have us believe that things are going so wrong here at home and in the world generally, that we must therefore be approaching “The End of Days” sometimes known as “The Apocalypse.” I do not believe that. What does worry me was summed up in a powerful column in the Boston Globe just before Christmas, by Steven Kinzer, a former New York Times Middle East correspondent under the headline, “The United States of Fear and Panic.”
Kinzer ties this to the recent terrorist incidents outside of the Middle East in which the Islamic State has been directly or inspirationally responsible. Kinzer argues that American’s fears are not justified by reality, noting that in 2015 religion-inspired terrorism in this country took the lives of 19 people. He goes on, “Also during 2015 about 30,000 people died in road crashes. Lightning killed 24,000. Ten thousand were shot to death.”
So why is it, that Americans are so obsessed with Islamic terrorism? Kinzer’s explanation: “Politics, social media and the relentless news cycle contribute to this pathology. No candidate or media outlet has an incentive to reassure people. In fact, the opposite is true: voters, viewers and readers are drawn to fear-mongering…..Whipping up emotion and conjuring threats is a winning strategy – except for our society as a whole.”
I share this sentiment as per my previous column. But as part of an old man’s perspective, I can be more adamant. Radical Islamic terrorism is not an existential threat to the United States of America. Certainly not in the manner of the nuclear threat posed by the Soviet Union for a good part of my lifetime. In October 1962, I remember vividly, putting cots, blankets, canned goods, water, and batteries into my basement. This was an almost certainly futile attempt to protect my family should nuclear war break out over the political crisis in Cuba- which it very nearly did. That was a time for deep seated fear, which virtually every one of us felt at the time, although ironically there was no panic.
Actually, there are those who are also trying to stoke the threat of a new Cold War, based on some of the recent actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin – his invasion of Crimea and his support for secessionist rebels in neighboring Ukraine. This is a serious matter- but it has yet to reach anything like the magnitude of Cold War I, and it doesn’t have to.
I take some heart in a new book by my friend, fellow journalist and Russian scholar Marvin Kalb. The book is “Imperial Gamble – Putin, Ukraine and the new Cold War.” Kalb is by no means a Putin apologist, and he clearly sees the man warts and all. But by putting Putin in the context of centuries of Russian history in which both Crimea and Ukraine have been almost perpetually intertwined, Putin’s action’s seem less threatening.
Kalb also suggests the aggressive expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe after the fall of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union have to be factors in calculating what Putin really wants. I do not get the impression from Kalb’s analysis that Putin is a maniacal, Stalin-like figure who wants a return to the actual Cold War. That strikes me as good news. In any event, for those who want to understand where Russia stands today- especially anyone involved in shaping or making Russian policy- this book is a must read.
There was also some relatively little noted good news this past week, which appears to move us further away from another full scale Middle East War. Under the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Iranians were to reduce their low-enriched uranium (the kind which is close to usable for a nuclear weapon.) to about 660 pounds. Critics of the agreement said this would never happen. However, on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Iran had transferred to Russia, 25,000 pounds of low enriched uranium. That means Iran has now almost no enriched uranium left, meaning it would now need at least a year to produce enough uranium for one nuclear weapon- should it decide to break the treaty.
For those of us in the Northeastern part of the country, who probably just spent our first Christmas in 70 degree temperatures, there clearly is one thing to seriously worry about and that is climate change. More people were killed in Texas and other parts of the South because of extreme weather in the days after Christmas than by Islamic terrorists in all the country in 2015. The climate summit in Paris in early December reached an historic agreement to limit greenhouse gases world-wide. But that agreement by itself may not be enough. Meantime virtually all the candidates aspiring to the presidential nomination of the Republican Party say they will not be bound by the Paris agreements.
Consider this advice from a senior citizen: if one is truly fearful for the future of this country and the world, the perfect New Year’s resolution would be to deny your vote to any candidate who is a climate change denier.
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