Hopes and dreams for the new year

Your far-flung correspondent the Old Major here again with some more reflections on my life and times.

For Auld Lang Syne. A belated happy New Year to you and yours!

It’s customary at this time of year to make some resolutions for the future. I’ve made the standard ones — to get some exercise and to lose some weight. I have also resolved to see less of my good friend Johnnie Walker. But, then again, he would miss me. So we’ll see.

I do have some hopes for this year. I want to see the Ukraine War end, preferably with a Russian defeat. Second best would be a negotiated settlement that leaves Ukraine an independent, sovereign nation.

I also want to see Donald Trump doing a perp walk wearing handcuffs and an orange jump suit. Orange is his color, after all. Do you think we might establish, once and for all, that no one is above the law in America? Go ahead and say it: “Oh, Major, you naïve child you!”

Holding presidents accountable? What do these controversies have in common: Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the Iraq War? The answer: Each was presided over by a Republican president. Of course, Reaganites, a la the Sesame Street jingle, might be saying “one of these things is not like the other.” Reagan claimed he “just didn’t know.” Again, call me naïve, but it seems to me a president is required to know about everything that happens on his watch.

This is not to say that Democratic presidents have always been paragons of probity and wisdom. Carter’s handling of the Iran hostage crisis still sticks in my crawl. And one could say that the Republican follies in our time do pale in comparison to Johnson’s handling of Vietnam. He crossed a Rubicon by sending in combat troops. Our country has never been the same since. Yet again, there is a common link here. No matter the gravity of the blunder, presidents just seem to walk away without even saying “my bad.” Will Trump likewise walk away unscathed? I hope not. How about you?

A devil’s advocate. One of my far-flung correspondents, a good friend and a renowned poet and author, has prompted me to try to look at the Ukraine War from Putin’s point of view. How would we feel if Mexico and Canada were to form an alliance with Russia? My friend believes Putin probably sees NATO lining up against Russia as an in-your-face, “you Cold War losers,” kind of taunt. The analogy, however, is not well-taken. The difference is that we harbor no ill-will toward/have no designs on Canada and Mexico. Putin can’t same the same about NATO and Ukraine.

But my friend is probably right about Putin’s mindset. Understand, however, that he is in no way trying to justify Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Along with me, he views Putin’s justification as absurd. Ukraine did not need to be liberated from fascism, and Russia had nothing to fear from NATO. It’s a defensive organization, not an offensive one.

Where we seem to disagree is over Putin’s ultimate ambition. I believe he would not be appeased by taking Ukraine. Putin aims to put the Soviet Union back together again. And a reconstituted Soviet Union would cost us more in the long run than providing the armament and funds Ukraine needs to prevail. Zelensky is right. We’re making “an investment in democracy and global security.”

A bit of what-if history. I can certainly understand Putin feeling put-upon. But that got me thinking. It occurs to me that Hitler must have felt put-upon in that fashion over the punitive provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, and he parlayed that resentment and sense of injustice into the base of popular support he needed. Would a kinder, gentler treaty have precluded Hitler’s rise to power? Maybe, maybe not.

Boston and JFK. As I previously revealed, Mrs. Palm and I flew to Boston to have Thanksgiving with friends. (That’s how I caught COVID — not from our friends, but from crowded airports and planes.) While we were there, we visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Knowing I’m old enough to remember JFK’s administration, people have sometimes asked me what it was like. We now know Kennedy was not a perfect president, nor was he a perfect man. But I can honestly say he was the last president to make me feel good about America. Under Eisenhower, as one pundit put it, we were “strolling down the fairways of indifference.” Ike seemed to play an inordinate amount of golf. With JFK, we all felt a sense of renewal. America was on the move.

Granted, the Bay of Pigs invasion was a blunder, but his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis was a triumph. Would he have committed us wholesale to Vietnam? No one can say for certain. That’s more what-if history.

The library sheds light on these issues and more. And the collection of photographs, film clips, and memorabilia of the era is truly impressive — and more than a little nostalgic for me. But what I really took away from the visit was a newfound appreciation for Kennedy’s masterful Inaugural Address. If you’re unfamiliar with it, I urge you to read it, and I believe you can even view it online.

One thing he said could speak to our condition today: “Civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.” I wish our politicians would take that to heart. We all should.

Contact Ed Palm at [email protected]

This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Ed Palm: Hopes and dreams for the new year

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