Courtesy Reuters

Slogans and Realities

Someone is always devising a slogan or aphorism to dispose of an idea that is too complex for facile solution. At any given moment of time there are a number of such bromides in the public domain, but today the most popular is "No more Viet Nams." It is a phrase usually proclaimed with heavy emphasis as a statement of ultimate truth, but just what course of action it calls for is obscure. Like most serviceable utterances of this genre, it is artfully ambiguous, meaning quite conveniently whatever the user wishes it to mean. Thus, it may serve as a bugle note sounding the retreat to isolationism-or an argument that we should abandon Southeast Asia altogether-or an insistence that we should never again commit American power so uncritically-or a hawkish demand that we cast aside the restraints of limited war, unleash the military and drop lethal bombs without inhibition.

This is by no means the only cliché that currently mars the public discourse, merely the loudest. Thus, the United States, we are constantly told, is "not the world's policeman," although, of course, we should "resist temptations to backslide into isolationism." It is unfair that we should have to "carry more than our share of the burdens," yet at the same time "we must be fully prepared to halt aggression against free nations wherever it occurs."

What all this quite accurately suggests is a country no longer sure of its role in the world, yet unable to redefine it in a satisfactory manner while, meantime, the easy answers of the past no longer furnish their ancient comfort.

Of course, no nation likes to walk a global beat, but in the two millennia since the Athenian flowering, the world has made exiguous progress toward organized tranquility. Living in political structures that were out of date a hundred years ago, man is still so bedeviled by greed and passion that force and authority must be ever at hand if he is not to blow

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