News Junky 12/29/18

By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.

You may already know that I’m something of a news junky if you’ve read some of my previous posts. Lately, I’ve begun to understand the power behind news.

Although I taught chemistry, I felt as if it was my duty to expand my student’s minds and get them to be aware of what was happening around them and think critically about it. The purpose was never to sway opinion, but to get students to be critical and stand up for their beliefs. I probably was not nearly as successful as I would have liked.

In my life, I have seen some amazing things. I remember seeing when Americans became the first humans to walk on the moon. I remember the Superfund efforts to regulate corporations and clean up the environment. I remember the fall of the Berlin wall. I remember the collapse of the Soviet Union. I remember Russians in Afghanistan which turned into a ten year fiasco that they could not seem to get out of despite claims of victory.

I’ve heard more than once that history repeats itself, but it’s astounding how true it really is. Americans walked on the moon first, but today, China is looking to repeat the moon walk, but this time on the dark side of the moon. The current administration is deregulating the coal and chemical industries that gave rise to the need for the Superfund in the first place. As much celebrating as there was when the Berlin Wall fell, a symbol of great shame and a darker time, today there is talk of a new wall between the US and Mexico. Financial mishandling caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, and at the turn of the millennium, American financial deregulation nearly caused the collapse of not only the US economy, but the economy of the entire world, and today financial deregulation is again on the rise. The president that caused this collapse also got us embroiled in a war in Afghanistan that, so far, has lasted over fifteen years.

When you truly follow the news, it doesn’t take long before you start making connections such as those delineated in the previous paragraph. Starting in 1990, and ending a year later, the US responded to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait by landing troops and pushing the Iraqi army out of the country during the George HW Bush presidency. During the war, the Kurds in Northern Iraq became something of an “ace in the hole” for us. The US quickly gained air superiority throughout Iraq, and created a “no fly zone”. Hostilities ceased with the promise of Iraq to end hostility against both Kuwait and the Kurdish people, but the US maintained the no fly zone throughout the Clinton administration.

After 9/11 (in 2001), the US, under the George W Bush administration invaded Afghanistan, claiming it was home to Osama Bin Laden. Only two years later, in 2003, the US began the ground war in Iraq with the intention of toppling the Sadaam Hussein regime. Leading up to this ground invasion, American Patriotism was high, and the president enjoyed 90% approval. In the build-up, it seemed like every few days the administration released different justifications to explain why the invasion was necessary.

Personally, I was opposed to the Afghan war. In my opinion, our technology at the time was sufficient to be able to knock out any air defenses and grab Osama bin Laden (the leader of ISIS, the terrorist organization blamed for the 9/11 attacks) without getting embroiled in a ground war. One of the reasons given for invading Iraq was that it had weapons of mass destruction and could supply ISIS. Of course most people supported the invasion of Iraq, but there were still those of us that had problems with the concept.

Recalling the war of 1990, I continued to follow news, sparse as it was, of the “no fly zone”. Arguments for the invasion of Iraq were weakly attached to the story of weapons of mass destruction (the justification that stuck), but largely was based on patriotism. Personally, I knew that there were no such weapons, and the reason is simple: the no-fly zone. At that point, we had been continually flying over Iraq in support of the no-fly zone for a decade, which means we had had the country under careful and constant surveillance, so when, and how, would they have been able to develop such weapons? My friends insisted that we would find them (we never did), and be welcomed by the people as liberators (we were not), despite my arguments based on logic and knowledge. They asked what I would do when they find the weapons, and I replied that I would be the first to admit that I was wrong, and apologize.

Ultimately, I knew that we would be in Afghanistan for a decade or more, and that we would find no weapons of mass destruction simply because I read the news. Today we are debating a wall and deregulation of the financial, coal and chemical industries. People don’t have to agree with me when I suggest this is a bad idea, but I am proud that I can back up my opinions with history and logic.

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