This section of John’s website contains some of his periodic op-ed pieces. They are listed below in the order of their postings to this site, starting with the most recent posting.
offered to FutureShapers Monthly subscribers to forward and use as they wish, August 1, 2007: subsequently published in Changing the World, One Broadcast at a Time, New Dimensions August 2007 newsletter
Sure Formula for a Has-Been Nation
An op-ed by futurist John Renesch, author of Getting to the Better Future
Americans have been outsourcing jobs for years, a matter of great debate among those concerned about the reliance of our nation on the output of other countries, many of whom we owe great deals of money. Our national dependence upon China, India and other countries who could hold our economic fate in their hands is really scary to many Americans.
But there has been an outsourcing of a more personal nature going on for much longer here in the U.S. Our culture has included outsourcing many of our responsibilities long before the verb became popular in contemporary lexicon. For many generations we have outsourced the education of our children and the responsibility of our health. We outsource some of our domestic responsibilities hiring nannies and housekeepers, dog walkers and personal trainers. This allows us to focus on earning more money to buy more things, pay off debt, give us enough free time to watch American idol, play some poker and keep up with the exploits of Paris Hilton.
We have become an outsourcing culture. When people are wealthy enough this is their right and privilege. But, I would contend, there are two areas of responsibility that cannot and should never be outsourced: parenting and citizenship. The former puts our children at risk and the latter does the same for our country.
We outsource some of our responsibilities as citizens when we give our power to elected officials at the voting polls and wash our hands of the consequences of our votes. We outsource more of our responsibilities when we forego service to our country and rely on a paid militia to perform that role for us, whether an all volunteer military or paid mercenaries like we have in Iraq.
Our founders were true citizens. They responded to the call when they were needed to serve in the military, rallying to the needs of the country. They recruited the best and the brightest and asked them to serve as their elected officials; rarely did anyone announce themselves as a candidate for that was consider in poor taste in those days. In today’s jargon, they were all “drafted” by an informed citizenry. They regularly attended town hall meetings, even if it meant a three hour horse ride into town and an overnight stay. They picked their candidates and the candidates were willing to serve when they were drafted. This was all part of being a proactive citizen in this new democracy. They didn’t take their citizenship for granted. They cherished it!
Today, the vast majority of us sit back in our TV chair and vote with our remotes, form an opinion after listening to a few sound bytes and consider ourselves “informed.” If we vote we consider ourselves good citizens. But have we been willing to be inconvenienced at all? How much have our lives changed since our nation went to war? Have we endured a fraction of the inconvenience of our WWII era parents and grandparents?
What price have you paid for these wars? Did you vote in the last election? Have you been in touch with those you elected? Do they know how you feel about the job they are doing? Have you talked with or written your senator or representative lately. Do you know what is going on in the rest of the world in your name as a citizen of these United States?
A nation with such passive citizenry has frequently fallen of its own weight….imploded through complacency. Could this happen to America? Will we even know it is happening if it was?
John Renesch is a businessman-turned-futurist, author of several books and international keynote speaker.
Archives of Past Commentaries
Beyond Iraq, Beyond Bush: One Man’s Soul Searching (April 16, 2007)
What Kind of World Do We Really Want? (February 2007)
If America Were Run Like a Business (January 2007)
The Beginning of the End of Empire: How Our National Hubris Is Destroying Us (May 2006)
Where Did The Compassion Go? (February 2006)
Has America Stopped Becoming? UPI (January 2005)
Outside View (UPI): We are all Americans (November 2004)
American Hubris: A Case for National Arrogance (August 2004)
Shouting at Our Choirs: Political Frenzies Going Nowhere Fast (June 30, 2004)
Outside View (UPI): An American introspection (June 16, 2004)
Outside View (UPI): Assent or oblivion? (June 2, 2004)
Is National Outrage About to Finally Occur? (March, 2004)
Waking Up America: A Return to What Made Us Great (February, 2003)
A Return to Freedom: Changing the Regime of Our Own Thinking (Fall 2002)
What Have We Learned Since 9-11? (Summer 2002)
A Letter to My Fellow Citizens: Seeing Opportunity in the Tragedy (September 2001)
Archived commentaries listed with most recent first
April 16, 2007, sent to The New York Times: sent to Washington Post, June 26, 2007:
Beyond Iraq, Beyond Bush
One Man’s Soul Searching
An op-ed by John Renesch
Since 9/11, like many Americans, I have become more aware of my country’s foreign policy and, more importantly, the impact that policy has had on the rest of the world, mostly less developed countries. I wondered how people could hate us so much and what had driven them to be so radicalized and extreme.
While the media is filled with opinions and news of Iraq, I could not help but wonder where we got off the track, where America got to be the world’s most dreaded “bad guy.” I was raised thinking we were the good guys, the global heroes. We helped win World War II and were riding high as an economic power. Not bad for a relatively new breakaway nation!
In the decades since those childhood memories, the good guy image has become tarnished, bolstered by Hollywood movies but not in real life. Korea and Vietnam were hardly theatres for us to repeat our victory celebrations. Even after the Cold War, I heard of our interfering in the politics of other sovereign nations, covert operations and so forth, but they never gave me sufficient pause. Then there were the more public incidents such as invading Panama and “capturing” Manuel Noriega, our questionable military activity in Colombia and other high profile events which made me wonder some. But I chose to rely on the media to get it straight.
I could say I trusted my government to be doing the honorable thing. But that would be a cop-out. It would be more accurate to say while I was somewhat aware of the malevolent activities of my country’s political, economic and military aims in other parts of the world, I didn’t want to learn the truth. My rationale: it would take lots of time to get to the real truth, I might never discover it since covert activity is usually well disguised and, even if I discovered major wrong-doing by my government, I wouldn’t be able to do anything.
Since one-time American ally Osama bin Laden was identified as the man behind 9/11, I found myself compelled to wonder how could we befriend such people, how could we engage in alliances with people so opposed to our own ideals, how could we be so committed to imposing our will on others that we used any and all means to get our way? This seemed to be the ultimate in unscrupulous behavior! How could my country do this? I wondered. Was I so naïve I still thought we were supposed to be the world’s “good guys”?
Then I read the document that serves as the basis for our current foreign policy and I got really scared! I began reading more about this less-than-candid side of my government, the policies being carried out in my name around the world. I can see now that our nation’s policies cannot be pinned exclusively on the Bush II White House although their actions and rhetoric drew more attention to them. Near as I can tell, our foreign policy started going haywire shortly after WW II and both Democrats and Republicans were equally at fault in establishing and systematically expanding a two-faced foreign policy that pits us against the entire world.
Where did we get off track? When did we start promoting self-determination while covertly sabotaging it whenever we didn’t agree with what people and other nations chose? When did we start being the champions of liberty by trouncing it whenever other people’s free choices didn’t conform to our agenda? When did we start playing God, using our military, economic and political muscle to strong arm others into playing our game, conforming to our wishes, exploiting their own people to serve our whims?
I only recently realized that the U.S. has always had an adversary, an identified “enemy,” whether it was Great Britain during our founding, Native Americans as we expanded across the continent, Mexico, Spain or any others we deemed opposed to us. Nazi Germany and Japan served that role in the 1940s, followed by the USSR and the “communist evil empire” following WW II. Various dictators and regimes have been assigned the enemy role since then, leading us to our present enemy, Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, Iran, Syria, North Korea and God knows who else are listed now as our enemies. I am now convinced many of our past adversaries were far more benign than we the people were led to believe. It suited “our national interest,” however, to have them as threats so that’s how they were identified.
Does this seem misleading, dishonest and incongruent with the principles of a democratic republic? You bet it does!
With a slight amount of research I got some historical perspective. The once Top Secret “National Security Council Document #68,” delivered to President Harry Truman in April 1950, set the stage for current U.S. foreign policy. “NSC-68” represented the thinking of Paul Nitze, former Wall Street investment banker who later became an arms negotiator. According to a 2004 obituary titled “Paul Nitze: The Man Who Brought Us the Cold War,” by Fred Kaplan, “Nitze’s first task: Scare the daylights out of Truman.” This document laid the foundation for the Cold War with the USSR which kept Americans and the rest of the world constantly on edge about nuclear winters and anything that could spark the use of nuclear weapons.
Perhaps this was the birth of the present culture of fear that pervades life today – why we feel we need monstrous SUVs, numb ourselves with various palliatives, cling desperately to our cell phones, and worry about so many things? Could this have been the seedling of the “War on Terror?” What a perfect metaphor!
In 2000, a group of neoconservatives created a ninety page “A Report of The Project for a New American Century,” a strategy that could serve as a replacement of “NSC-68.” Similarly fueled by fear, it calls for U.S. world dominance, but more blatantly. In addition to military and economic dominance, this updated policy document explicitly includes cyberspace and outer space as “colonies” of the American Empire.
Reading the Project’s “Key Findings” one can see that it has been driving U.S. foreign policy since the 2000 election, soon after it was written. The authors write, “the United States has an unprecedented strategic opportunity … to transform U.S. forces to exploit the ‘revolution in military affairs’.” It goes on to cite nine key sub-imperatives, two of which bother me considerably: One calls for “controlling the new ‘international commons of space and ‘cyberspace’ and the creation of ‘U.S. Space Forces’.” Another is to “reposition U.S. forces to respond to 21st century strategic realities by shifting permanently-based forces to Southeast Europe and Southeast Asia, and by changing naval deployment patterns to reflect growing U.S. strategic concerns in East Asia.”
This new imperative is based on three assumptions which are highly questionable seven years later: 1. the United States is “blessed with wealthy, powerful and democratic allies in every part of the world; 2. the United States “is in the midst of the longest economic expansion in its history;” and, 3. U.S. political and economic principles are almost universally embraced.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, we have squandered the first one, have had a severe setback in the second, and, in my opinion, the Report’s authors were seriously in error about the third.
This doctrine to have America rule the world may offend the sensibilities of U.S. citizens who were raised believing that all people are created equal, free to pursue happiness as they define it, not as it might be prescribed by those in power. And how offended might you be if you lived somewhere else in the world?
I’m old enough to remember some bitter lessons learned about people in the world who had their own ideas about what was good for the many, who insisted on foisting their values on the rest of society. The United States used to fight those movements not lead them. The United States used to be the world’s “good guy,” not the biggest bully on the planet.
Defending the “American Way” is one thing. Prescribing it to the rest of the world, willing or not, and enforcing it through coercion or muscle is quite another. The latter smells of totalitarianism or autocracy, hardly the founding ideals for the “world’s most successful democracy.”
Somewhere during these fifty seven years of evolving U.S. policy of domination, the phrase “our national interests” became a buzz word for politicians to use in their public statements. It was assumed that the public would identify with this phrase and assume if their leaders told them this or that policy was in their best interests then they had better go along with it. Under this rubric the American public has been manipulated into passive acceptance of a whole range of failed policies, misinformation, worldwide atrocities including genocide, vast sums of wasted tax-payer monies, corruption and crimes against humanity.
Thanks to some courageous people who have been close to the implementation of U.S. foreign policy and seen the nasty impact we are having on much of the world, the harsh realities are coming into the public spotlight. John Perkins’ 2006 bestseller Confessions of an Economic Hit Man was an example of one man “coming clean” in his role after some deep soul-searching. The new book A Game As Old As Empire written by more than a dozen people – some economic hit men and women, others who’ve been close to the action – reveals even more horror stories wrought on the rest of the world in order to support our lifestyles, our cherished “American Way” of life.
The question now is will the American people be willing to look at this aspect of our way of life and demand a change in the way we are represented in the world.
John Renesch is a businessman-turned-futurist, author of several books and international keynote speaker.
“Paul Nitze: The Man Who Brought Us the Cold War,” by Fred Kaplan, October 21, 2004, www.Slate.com
“A Report of Project for a New American Century,” September 2000