Many political observers cringed when candidate Barry Goldwater delivered this phrase at the Republican National Convention in 1964. It sounded like Goldwater would put no limit on United States intervention in Viet Nam.
Years later, I believe Goldwater’s comment reflects the way the world really works. The words are malleable enough to justify any action taken for any cause.
What is extremism?
It depends upon to whom one refers. Goldwater spoke by implication of
aggression by the old Soviet Union or North Viet Nam. Perhaps tacitly, he implied the reason there was no limit to actions we were willing to instigate was because we feared what the “enemy” might do.
So, if we believe another nation or group of people oppose us, or may take something we want, they are “extremists.” We believed that North Viet Nam was a threat to our ally South Viet Nam, so some of the forces in the Gulf of Tonkin contacted President Johnson and lied about the North Vietnamese firing upon our ships. Goldwater backed Johnson’s
subsequent response to step up the bombing and to ask for Congressional support for expanded force in that region.
We were not extremists. We just did what we had to do to protect an ally and our interests in that area of the world. We also did not want anyone else in the world to believe we would back down from the threat the “enemy” posed to us.
In short, we can use extreme measures, but we are not extremists.
What is liberty?
Again, it seems to matter whose liberty to which we refer. Our liberty is something we find necessary to defend. Our Declaration of Independence makes mention of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Liberty places second after the need to live first but before our own happiness. It seems, then, that life is meaningless without liberty.
The irony is not lost upon me that we often destroy the liberty of others (by invading, bombing, disenfranchising, etc.) to make sure that we have our own. We must fail to recognize that simple reciprocity would deprive us of what we say we prize.
So what, then, do we make of vice?
It seems that we do not assign the word vice to ourselves but rather to those whom we oppose. The communists, the terrorists, the extremists, the fascists and everyone else our nation has cornered at the point of a gun. The threats we perceive are wrong; the threats we use to counter the perceived threats are right.
I guess, in my heart, I know Goldwater was right. We do whatever we think necessary to make the world safe for us to dominate. Then we plead danger because people ask too many questions when the going
Goldwater’s only real vice was telling the truth.