Ideas Cannot Be Defeated With Guns

I believe the rights in the U. S. Constitution apply to all people, not just Americans. The Declaration of Independence does not say all citizens of our country are created equal. It says, “…all men are created equal.” I interpret the word “men” to mean all of humanity regardless of gender. Although there is still work to be done, we are fortunate to live in a country with a government whose purpose is to preserve and defend these rights.

Many in the world are not as fortunate. However, we should not and cannot be the world’s police. Our attempts to force regime change with military strength have never worked. Not once has a nation become free that its own citizens did not lead the charge. We regularly underestimate the aspirational example we are to the world as an enormously successful nation whose citizens are free. Remember the Arab Spring? It is not over. Other people in the world really do aspire to the rights and freedoms we too often take for granted.

It seems to me that the spread of freedom in the 20th century was attributable more to our example than to our guns and diplomacy. Make no mistake, we need guns and diplomacy, but the example we set as a free people is our most powerful weapon. It is a weapon of persuasion, not coercion. For it to remain so in the 21st century, we must strengthen the ideas of freedom, not weaken them. None of us can see what will happen in the coming decades and absent sufficient knowledge of the future, we must rely on our principles to guide our actions.

Ideas, good or bad, cannot be defeated with guns. Yes, terrorists need to be stopped and the world will sacrifice a great deal of blood and treasure to do so. But guns, especially ours, will fertilize the hatred militant jihadis have for the west. Bad ideas and hatred will grow in the hearts of people that lose a child, parent or any loved one in a war with the west. Undoubtedly, the United States has the military might to defeat the terrorists but doing so alone would be a mistake. It would fertilize toxic ideas and a new crop of radical jihadis would grow. Haven’t we learned this lesson yet?

We dim the beacons of liberty and human rights when we torture prisoners, grow the surveillance state or attempt to spread freedom with guns and collateral damage. America’s behavior matters more to the citizens of the world than to its leaders. And it is the citizens of the world that will ultimately determine the outcome of our struggles and the kind of world we will live in.

Our government is not perfect, but I do believe our founders did the best job in human history. This doesn’t mean it can’t be made better. In fact, we should aspire to do so. What distinguishes the United States from other countries is not that we have elections — most nations do. It’s not that our government has distinct branches with checks and balances. The biggest difference is that our rights are not granted. They are not given to us by a monarch, a council, a church, a politburo, a dictator, a majority or even our own government.

The true genius of the founders was their recognition that our rights are inalienable. Our government did not grant them. Our rights exist and the purpose of our constitution is to form a government designed to protect them.

This idea is so powerful that men of Japanese descent whose families were unjustly confined to internment camps fought for it because they believed such liberty would one day apply fully to them and their descendants. This idea is so powerful that American Indians forced to endure hardship, whose ancestors were slaughtered by European immigrants, fought for it and helped raise the American Flag at Iwo Jima. This idea is so powerful that men mistreated under Jim Crow, whose ancestors were enslaved for 12 generations fought for it because they had  “ …a dream, that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed…” — Martin Luther King Jr.  I Have a Dream, 1963

I want to live in Gene Roddenberry’s universe. Warp drives and transporters would be nice but for me Roddenberry’s universe means no poverty, no hunger, unlimited education and so on. Freedom of speech is an inalienable right but freedom from want is an aspiration. The only real question is how much of Roddenberry’s Universe can we afford? I worry that buying too much of it now could undercut our economy enough to prevent us from achieving the prosperity required to sustain it.

All of us should set the best example we can for our country and the world. We should expect the same from our leaders. It is imperative that we abide by and seek to improve our founding principles. The good ideas that made us free and successful are far more powerful than our guns.

Ultimately, bad ideas can only be defeated with good ones. Is there some doubt that liberty, inalienable rights and equal treatment under the law are good ideas?

Our good ideas cannot defeat bad ideas if we do not live by them.

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