In 1964, Lyndon Johnson was the first U.S. President to provide the commencement address to the cadets of the United States Coast Guard Academy. He rallied the cadets and explained, in the words of Winston Churchill, that “civilization will not last, freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless mankind unites together to defend them.” And President Johnson’s administration understood those words all too well, being as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof – confronting one foreign crisis after another.
From assisting the South Vietnamese to defeat Communist aggression, to signing a treaty with the Soviet Union to ban nuclear weapons in outer space, to signing a treaty to prohibit the transfer of nuclear weapons to other nations, and to backing down the Cubans in Guantanamo Bay, these were serious times for our nation. And the world knew it.
Today, we too face serious times.
Right now, we have terrorists taking control of cities in Iraq and controlling 50% of Syria. Iran is moving ever closer to nuclear capability, and North Korea is building a nuclear arsenal, while testing long-range missiles that could strike the U.S. mainland. Russia has flexed its military muscle, and invaded the Republic of Georgia and Ukraine. China is modernizing its weapons with fighter jets, developing prototypes for hypersonic missiles, and building ballistic missile submarines. Our own nation’s borders are so porous that even the U.S. Border Patrol admits that they don’t know who is coming across the border, or whether they wish us well or ill.
Even so, and faced with these threats to peace and freedom around the world, do you know what President Obama identified as the “core” of their military service, when he addressed the cadets earlier this month? Climate change.
Yep. Climate change.
The world is on fire and President Obama is calling upon these cadets to “to start reducing” its carbon emissions now, although he never explained exactly how they could make a difference. On the other hand, China (which is the largest holder of U.S. debt) is now building one or two new coal-fired power stations per week, until at least 2030. It was in 2007 that China overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest carbon emitter and now produces twice as much as the U.S., and 50% of all coal combusted globally.
He also told cadets that climate change is a key pillar of American global leadership. Really? Soon, China alone will be responsible for 40% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, and that’s even based on the agreement we just made with them to reduce carbon emissions.
He also explained to the cadets that when he meets with leaders around the world, “it (climate change) is often at the top of our agenda – a core element of our diplomacy.” Really? How about the murdering of Christians in Muslim war zones, or the trafficking of children by the millions in China, the manipulation of gas prices by Russia, or the ever increasing national debt of the United States, which should we default, would threaten currencies worldwide? Does any of this ever come up, in passing or over coffee?
Speeches like President Obama’s to the cadets makes some Americans wonder where if we have our priorities in order, and despite the imperfection of the past, it makes us wish for a time when America better knew what was most important, and, more critically, understood the order in which it must all be done.
Obama could have reminded the cadets, and their families, of the legacy of the Coast Guard, and how they have served our nation honorably. In World War II, they were among the first casualties of war on the day after Pearl Harbor. He could have inspired them by explaining how Coast Guardsmen were piloting the landing craft on D-day, when our soldiers hit the beaches at Normandy. Or how the Coast Guard rescued over 1,500 soldiers that day when their boats had been sunk by enemy fire.
He could have inspired them with any number of stories of selflessness and love of country. But he didn’t.
And so I am reminded of the expression, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned”. It comes to mind because of the obliviousness of the President’s remarks to the most pressing threats facing our country, and because not only did Nero “fiddle” while his people suffered, he was a poor leader in a time of crisis, as well.
Although it’s only an expression (especially since the fiddle did not exist in ancient Rome), the danger of ignoring what’s most important is still as destructive as it was in 11 A.D. when Rome burned. The question for us all, especially to those whom we elect to public office, is simply this: What are you fiddling with, while our “Rome” is burning?
Image credit: Jon McNaughton