07 June 2009

Good vs. Evil

Geoff's take:

The release of the new Star Trek movie will undoubtably bring back some fond memories among some dyed-in-the-wool Trekies out there, and I wouldn't be surprised if they start talking about their favorite episodes of the original series, which ran from 1967 to 1969, and aquired a cult following through years of re-runs.

In the original series, one episode comes to mind that is eerily appropriate for our time. In this episode, Captain Kirk is split into two distinctly different people. One embodies all that is good about the Captain, and the other embodies all that is bad. The consequences are catastrophic for him and his crew.

The bad Captain Kirk is so bad he can't act responsibly as Captain, and the good Captain Kirk can't make a single command decision, because he keeps getting bogged down in the moral complications of every action.

Obviously we don't want to emulate the bad Captain Kirk, but how many of us have gotten like the good Captain Kirk and don't even realize it?

Soildiers and law enforcement personnel are frequently in situations where being like the good Captain Kirk could cost them their lives. But what about the rest of us?

In 1976, when I was six years old, virtually everyone was caught up in the celebration of America's Bicentennial. Patriotism was high, and in school we spent the two years leading up to the celebration discussing the exploits of George Washington and the others who worked tirelessly to create our country.

But by thew time I reached college, it seemed as though we were devoting more time to discussing the British take on the American Revolution than on our own. It seems that now we're not sure if Washington, Jefferson, and Adams were heroes or traitors.

If you're an American, the answer should be clear. The United States was founded for the reasons outlined in the Declaration of Independence. The American Colonies were a great asset that was very badly mismanaged. The founders believed, as President Kennedy said in his Innaugural Address, that "The Rights of Man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the Hand of God". No other nation had ever based itself on this principle.

Britain is entialed to its own take on the American Revolution, but Americans only need to concern themselves with why America was founded, and not bog ourselves down by worrying about wheteher or not the British people agree.

During the first World War, America didn't have any great stake with either the Allies or the Central Powers. Since the Central Powers included the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was the last Catholic Empire left in Europe, the best thing morally would seem to have been entering the war on that side.

In real life, things weren't that simple. Britain was fighting on the side of the Allies, and there was a substantial British presence in Canada, especially in Halifax, where the Royal Navy assembled convoys. Strategically, America was stuck.

In the second World War, things were much clearer. Germany invaded Poland, and Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Germany slaughtered millions in the camps, and Japan conducted the Bataan Death March. Germany perpetrated the London Blitz. Japan conducted hideous medical experiments on prisonjers of war.

Yet, we second-guess the tactics we and our Allies used to bring down Germany and Japan. I've already covered Dresden in another blog. Now for a little background on the Manhattan Project, and the Atomic Bomb.

The Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the atomic bomb, was undertaken early in the war, based on fears that Germany might be developing a nuclear weapons program. Hitler did, in fact, have such a program, but his scientists didn't come up with a prototype before the war ended in Europe.

When the bomb was finally developed, it was decided to use it against Japan for a number of strategic reasons, including the fact that Japan hadn't surrendered to an enemy in over 2000 years.

People have arguied ever since about the moral complications of the atomic bomb, but Colonel Paul Tibbets, who piloted the plane that dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima summed it up well. He said, "Let's get something straight here. We were at war. The idea was to win."

People have said that the moral thing would have been to use means other than the atomic bomb. Actually, the moral thing would have been for Germany to have stayed out of Poland, and Japan to have not bombed Pearl Harbor. America wasn't given those options.

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