President Obama started slowly in his State of the Union speech, warmed up a bit as he went on and ended with a flourish in a salute to a poor bastard Army Ranger who was deployed ten times to war zones and ended up being severely injured; we all clapped for the courage shown by this young man in fighting back from injuries that would have destroyed most of us.
Obama’s speech had a strange quality about it; he spoke in the first five or so minutes about how well the country is doing “adding 9 million jobs” and “cutting the deficit in half,” but the bulk of the speech seemed to suggest otherwise. Of course we had the usual statement that we have to straighten out pre-kindergarten education an idea that has been bandied about for decades as if the solution to our educational problems lies in our schools rather than our homes. The best teachers cannot compensate for a house of turmoil; and, being who we are we pretend the turmoil is not the real problem.
I was heartened to see that the president dared mention Ukraine. He said: “In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully and to have a say in their country’s future.” It wasn’t much since it pretty much could apply to every country in the world but at least it showed he was aware something might be happening there.
But what most struck me about the speech was not so much what the president said but the response of the Members of Congress to his words. We had the usual clapping by the Democrats while the Republicans sat on their hands; and every once in a while all the worthies joining in together, especially when it related to our military.
I came away from it thinking that we’re a nation hooked on war. I’ve reviewed my impression by reading through a transcript of the speech that includes the times people applauded.
President Obama said: “Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote.” The group applauded.
He said: “Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day.” There was no applause.
Then there was this. After talking about supporting the Syrian opposition President Obama said: “Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses and combat new threats like cyberattacks. And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.” There was a standing ovation with both Vice President Biden and Speaker Boehner joining in.
He went on and according to the transcript said:
“We have to remain vigilant. But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our outstanding military alone. As commander in chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office. But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it is truly necessary, nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles — (applause) — that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us — large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism. So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks, through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners, America must move off a permanent war footing. (Applause.)”
The transcript indicates that there was applause at two times as the president spoke those words. I did not recall it so I went back and looked at the video. When President Obama said: “But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it is truly necessary, nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts,” I had my impression reaffirmed since only one or two people clapped. Everyone else sat silently. Both Biden and Boehner remained stone faced and unmoving.
When President Obama said, “America must move off a permanent war footing.” The applause was at best modest. Again Biden and Boehner sat stone faced with arms at their sides without moving.
A minute or two later President Obama said: “As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in the difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the state of Israel — a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side. (Applause.)” This was a robust standing ovation with both Biden and Boehner joining in. That’s what our Congress wants to hear that we’re ready to do battle.
G.K. Chesterton wrote:
“For the Great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry
And all their songs are sad.”
I guess it wasn’t just the Irish who God made mad. Here in America talk of peace is met with stoney silence while talk of war produces a cheering mob. Anchors Aweigh!