Of Cabbages and Kings

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”

– The Walrus and the Carpenter, by Lewis Carroll

The death of a President of the United States of America always presents itself as a time for a bit of national self-reflection; a time, as it were, to talk of cabbages and kings. Gerald Ford’s passing is no exception, although I fear that the execution of a madman may steal the center stage for a bit. Still, I am sure that there will be news specials, articles and books aplenty in the coming weeks and months, which should be quite interesting, since Ford was President during one of the more unsettled periods of our recent history.

Gerald Ford was a decent president, in both meanings of the phrase. He was, perhaps, not the best of our Presidents, but certainly not the worst. He also seemed to be a decent man, understanding concepts like discretion (a trait which is not shared by all living ex-Presidents). Ford gave an interview a couple of years ago which has been held under wraps, to be made public only after he had died. Of course, it was no time at all before the first snippets of that interview made its way to the press, with the headlines reading, “Ford disagreed with Bush on invading Iraq.” Of course, as you’d expect, the article’s characterization of Ford’s remarks differed somewhat from what he actually said.

One of Ford’s comments was he disagreed with the Bush administration’s justification for going to war; on this point, I would have to agree with Ford. He did also disagreed with the invading of Iraq itself; what really struck me about this was not his disagreement with the invasion, but it was his reasoning; Ford didn’t think we should involve ourselves if it was not directly related to our national security: “Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people… I just don’t think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.

On one hand, I can see his point, and I think many, many Americans would agree as well. However, what struck me was this: That line of reasoning would result in making America the totally selfish nation that much of the world already thinks we are. Isn’t that the height of selfishness, to say that we will only free people if it’s in our own best interests? How does this relate to Isaiah 58? If we really did adopt this kind of philosophy, then where would it stop? Do we withhold charity as well, if it’s not in our national interest? Again, I understand what Ford is saying, and understand that he had to have been impacted by the Vietnam fiasco. His thoughts deserve to be considered.

I think that we as a country need to decide what kind of a country we are. Will we only fight to protect our own? We could be like Switzerland, who, as I understand, won’t join in other wars, but whose law requires that each man be issued a gun in case they need to defend their own borders. If this is true, then they are not anti-violence, they just only care about themselves.

Of course, Iraq raises many issues, and I’m not dealing with all of them, just focusing on this one point: is it ok, either militarily or by other means, to only take care of ourselves? Do we have an obligation to use our resources to free those in bondage, or should we let the Hitlers of the world have their way?

I respected President Ford for his loyalty, his discretion, his humility, and his commitment to his ideals. I’m looking forward to reading the full text of this interview.

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2 Responses to Of Cabbages and Kings

  1. me says:

    Certainly there is more to freedom than politics. But, “every yoke” seems pretty broad. I do agree that “freedom” should be defined. If, for example, you define freedom as “nothin’ left to lose,” then I guess the Kurds in Iraq were pretty free already.

    Perhaps we should further define what a nation’s sovereignty means- does that include the rule of Hitler, Stalin, Ceausescu or Saddam, each of whom murdered great numbers of their own people? Do we read Romans 13:1 to mean that these men were doing God’s will for their particular nations?

    Certainly “freeing” means more than just changing a form of government (and certainly doesn’t mean replacing one dictator for another, as in the case of Rome). However, it always gets complicated when we start applying spiritual principles to secular governments (not that we shouldn’t; I’m just saying it gets complicated). For example, loving our neighbor as ourselves challenges the American (and every other national) way of life…

  2. Quixote says:

    Though there are some who would advocate a narrow definition of national self-interest, most would agree that we do have a responsibility beyond our own borders.

    An equally important question, it seems to me, is by what means should a nation “free” other peoples. If “lesser means” are not effectual, does one nation’s definition of freedom overrule the sovereignty of another?

    The Romans were genuinely convinced that they had a superior governmental system (perhaps they did) and insisted that all other peoples submit to it, making them, as it were, an offer they couldn’t refuse. Is this the model of American geopolitical strategy?

    Do the teachings of Jesus apply in any meaningful way to the manner in which we advocate freedom? Perhaps, Jesus would even define freedom differently than did our founding fathers.

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