Tom Brokaw, the long-time anchor of NBC’s Nightly News, delivered a sobering message to a business group in New York on October 5. Drawing on 38 years of broadcast journalism experience, including several visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, the South Dakota native warned his audience: There are people in this world who hate America and we better learn to get along with them.
“We all have to work harder at understanding an enemy that is too eager to sacrifice his body to do great harm to what we hold dear,” pronounced Brokaw. “We cannot ignore hundreds of millions of young Muslims who love our culture and hate our government; who envy our success but disdain our pluralism, and most of all, who are enraged by our sense of entitlement…
“I think we have to work harder at understanding this conflicted world in which too many young Muslims in politically and economically oppressive regimes are influenced by devout, intelligent and fanatical religious teachers. Just as they are frustrated -- not just in Iraq but also in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- by the absence of economic and social opportunity within their own societies, they are inclined to lash out against the West. Young and old Muslims believe we are too eager to control their lives and too reticent to deal with the long-standing and deathly feud between the Palestinians and the Israelis, a situation that is getting too little attention from both parties during the course of this presidential dialog.”
Brokaw, who will be leaving his anchor duties at NBC in December, said about 30 percent of the world’s population is Christian and 20 percent of its population is Muslim. “In the next 20 years or so, that will change,” he said. By 2025, he said, the Muslim population will grow to 30 percent of the world, exceeding the population of Christians.
“The primary challenge of our time is not only to secure our nation and to defeat militarily the forces of terrorism, but also to bank the fires of hostility burning out of control, to neutralize the hatred, to expedite not just global competition economically and politically, but also global understanding. It’s a monumental task. And it requires a carefully calibrated mix of military might and diplomatic finesse...
“In this uncertain new world, I strongly believe that ideas are equally important to military power. It is not enough to be feared alone, for fear is not a complete defense against the zealotry of those who are at war with the Western world and the ideas of the rule of law, tolerance, modernity and gender equality.”
Brokaw, the man who wrote a best-selling book about the people who lived through World War II, the people he names “the greatest generation,” called the challenge we face in this clash of cultures a challenge as great as the cold war or the proliferation of communism were.
He said every American has a stake in this challenge and all of us must engage in the effort to find resolution. “Participation is not just invited but required; it is a fundamental obligation of citizenship,” he said.
Brokaw expressed concern about the condition of our democratic society. “I am persuaded we have become one country and two nations as a result of both parties determined to divide and conquer,” he said. “I am also persuaded during this time of profound change -- of challenges at home and abroad -- that is a schematic for structural weakness” at a time when there is a great need for finding common ground.
“I have no illusion that American politics should resemble spring break, when everyone gathers on the beach and loves everyone else,” Brokaw said. “But must it be scorched earth, all day, every day? In a country that seems to be so evenly divided -- when a handful of precincts in a couple of swing states can determine the outcome of a presidential election -- I know that is the battle plan for both parties. Couple that attitude with the modern tools of politicking and campaigning -- ruthlessly efficient mass marketed polls and surveys that map the electorate down to the fungus in their suburban yards, media campaigns and buys that target every paranoia, real or imagined -- and you have American politics as kill and kill again.
“That party machinery is reinforced, of course, by single interest organizations,” he continued. “The single interest citizens have become a power in American politics well beyond their numbers alone. They have the ability to make a surgical strike in the election process. To single out candidates… These people are members of the NRA, but they are also members of the teachers’ union. They are manufacturers and they are consumer activists. They are physicians and they are trial lawyers. In so doing, they often reduce the American electorate to a body that is less than the sum of its parts. They encourage the population of public servants who too willingly develop a myopia in which their vision is confined to the narrow interests that helped elect them. Their methods and their impact on the commonwealth have been well documented by the mass media but their money, their momentum, and their focus, is so considerable that mere exhibition is not enough for course correction.
“Having said that, those of us in my business also have a role in all this,” Brokaw confessed. “We need to spend less time on the minutia, less time on the horse race, less time on the gossip, and more time on the larger, over-arching issues that confront us all and present them in a way that the American voter feels they have been enlightened and not repelled by what they have seen or read.
“We have an unparalleled opportunity to define our time, and leave a lasting legacy,” Brokaw concluded. “We are all dazzled by the new technology that we have available to us now. It has changed the whole world. The Internet is the single most empowering development of my lifetime. But the fact of the matter is, you can look at the keyboard and hit the delete button and it won’t change poverty, or racism, or economic opportunity, or hostility toward who we are. It will do us little good to wire our world if we short circuit our secular and spiritual souls.”
tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
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