Posted tagged ‘John F. Kennedy’

Intelligence Is Overrated

October 29, 2009

The Coen Brothers, a multi-Oscar winning pair of neurotic and irreverent Hollywood filmmakers, made a so-so film in 2008 called “Burn After Reading” where the tagline was “Intelligence is Relative.”

The film deals with a CIA agent played by John Malkovich whose personal memoirs contained in a disk are accidentally discovered by two dimwitted gym trainers played by Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt. Though the film itself lacks the usual panache we have come to expect from Joel and Ethan Coen, the story is supposed to satirize the U.S. intelligence community and how everyday idiots can become bigger threats to national security than terrorists.

This film and Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film “The Informant!” are both spoofs of the ineptitude of government agents and the people who are in power in our country. One would think the smartest people in our society would be the ones in power, but that is not always the case.

The general American public would argue that our previous president, George W. Bush, was not the brightest bulb in the drawer despite reaching the office of President of the United States. He only became Commander in Chief because of his family name (his pappy was once the Prez as well) and the very nice Supreme Court who ruled controversial ballots in his favor over his challenger, Al Gore.

In our current administration, several Obama cabinet and lower cabinet members had trouble paying their taxes. This is especially ironic considering Democrats are traditionally the ones who favor higher taxes over lower ones. This goes to show that everyone is capable of either being stupid or ignoring the law.

But indeed it does make one wonder who really is in charge of our country. Do we actually have the smartest people in high public offices; or do we have bumbling idiots whom enough folks were gullible enough to vote for?

Then again, sometimes you had no choice who to vote for. I don’t think too many Americans were enthusiastic about either Bush or Gore, or even John Kerry for that matter. This past election, where we had a choice between a charismatic African American and a well-respected Vietnam War veteran, was one of the first elections in a while where the person, not the party, counted more.

All this shows that perhaps the best people aren’t the ones who are in positions of power. Politics and the art of governing a country are often times two very different monsters. Politics is show, theatre, intrigue, social networking. Governing a country is an intellectual task that requires knowledge of history, economics, mathematics, political theory, and multi-cultural understanding.

Those who want to enter politics are often in it for a variety of reasons. Some want to genuinely change the country (or city, or county, or state) for the better, others are in it for the fame/money/reputation, and some people might be in it for no other reason other than it seems like the right thing to do.

Those who get elected aren’t necessarily the ones with the best ideas. They are the ones who seem the most trustworthy, kind, patriotic, charismatic, and/or partisan. If you live in a hardcore red or blue state, you better feed the base or you will have no chance of collecting votes.

I have always believed that the real people who are qualified to be president, or senator, or any high public office, are usually in academia. They are law professors, college professors, or political scientists working for a think tank. They could even be journalists who have studied politics for a long length of time. Either way, people who understand politics, international relations, and history at a deeper level.

This is not to say that our current elected leaders do not have that expertise. Barack Obama was a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. Most of our other leaders have university degrees in political science, international studies, or law. I am not implying that Washington D.C. is full of nothing but power hungry dunderheads, though sometimes that assumption is tempting to make.

But there is somewhat of a backlash against intellectualism. Obama and Hillary Clinton were accused of being “elitists” who couldn’t relate to the everyday working man or woman. This explains why Obama tried to go bowling (and failed miserably) and Hillary was seen at a tavern chasing down brewskis. Republicans already have the “good old boy” reputation down solid, so it’s the Dems who need “work” in that area.

Some people think politicians who are overtly smart and intelligent are prone to ignore the everyday “Joe Six Pack” and their common problems. Others feel we need the best and brightest running our country, not those who can best identify with the little people.

Intelligence may be relative, but there will always be a place for smart people. Smart people assist in improving technology, science, medicine, the arts, and any other kind of research that helps society become better. When it comes to running a country, that might be a whole other story.

How much of politics is scientific and how much of it is an art? That might come down to whether you value book or street smarts more. There might be something said for the classic debate between intelligence and wisdom. A wise person is not necessarily the smartest one in the room. They are the ones with the most insight, sensitivity, life experience, and observational power. Intelligence is something that cannot be learned.

But can wisdom be learned? Or does it come more natural to some people compared to others? We assume that wise people make the best decisions in life, but what about intelligent folks? How, for example, did the Kennedy administration get us into the colossal blunder that was the Vietnam War when everyday military grunts on the ground knew all along this would be a mistake? There must be something said for proximity to the problem.

 All these questions can boggle the mind. Maybe we need intelligent people to answer them.

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Those JFK Assassination Conspiracy Theories May Not Be So Crazy After All

October 19, 2009

On November 22, 1963, something happened in Dallas that would haunt the American psyche for generations to come.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was gunned down in a motorcade in the heart of Dallas, Texas by an assassin’s bullet. He was later pronounced dead and was immediately replaced by then Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Lee Harvey Oswald, a former U.S. Marine and apparent defector, was charged with Kennedy’s murder. He was later gunned down by Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner who had shady connections with the Italian mafia. The Warren Commission, a federal investigation panel appointed by President Johnson to look into the assassination, deemed Oswald to be a “lone nut” who acted alone in slaying Kennedy.

These are the established “official” facts. Anything beyond this depends on your predisposition to believe any of the conspiracy theories that have been circulated over the years.

The New York Times recently reported that the CIA is still resistant to releasing documents from the early 1960s that could possibly shed some light on the assassination. If you believe the Warren Commission, Oswald was a “lone nut” who acted alone under no orders. If you believe Oliver Stone, an Oscar winning filmmaker whose controversial 1991 film “JFK” brought almost every major conspiracy theory into the public light, Oswald was anything but a lone wolf out to put his name in the history books.

The JFK assassination has been discussed many times before in the nearly 66 years that have passed since it happened. The image of John Kennedy Jr. saluting his dead father as his body was carried past him will forever be ingrained in our collective memories. It is not hard to view these conspiracy nuts as insensitive paranoid jerks that refuse to bury the past.

However, “conspiracy buffs” will argue that it is the rest of us who need to wake up. If we are so naïve to believe that it is impossible for our own president to be killed by means of conspiracy and deception, then we need to get out more. America may be the most free and democratic nation in the world, but we in no way immune to government/military corruption.

We all know that politicians sell their souls to special interest groups, corporations, and religious organizations in order to get their votes. We all know the military will cover up any scandal if it puts them in a bad light (My Lai massacre, anyone?). We should all be aware that during the Cold War, the CIA was doing things so secret even they probably had no idea what they were doing. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone.

It has been reported that shortly after 9/11, the CIA secretly authorized for top secret assassination teams to travel around the world killing al Qaeda leaders in retaliation for the attacks. This should sound familiar to anyone who knows about the “Wrath of God” operation set up by Mossad to kill Palestinians linked to the Black September terrorist group after the murders of 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Though the CIA supposedly cancelled the al Qaeda assassination plan before it could begin, it is not a stretch to imagine that this practice is nothing new.

So what does this all mean? That the CIA really did kill Kennedy? And for what reason? Because he refused to support the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which sought to remove Fidel Castro from power? Or perhaps it’s because he was soft on the Soviets after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and allowed them to swallow up more nations to Communism. Or maybe because he didn’t want to play ball in Vietnam. All of these theories have been spread around.

To be completely serious and objective, we can never know for sure until all these secretive documents have been released to the public. The government claims they contain top secret information that could jeopardize our national security if they are leaked. Even though the Cold War is long over, apparently our new enemies in the Middle East can catch on and learn something valuable if they got their hands on them.

What we do know for sure is that all options should be put on the table. It’s not unpatriotic to believe that our own government would kill our own Commander in Chief. The 1960s were a rough time in U.S. history. The paranoia of the Cold War during the 1950s had us seeing Communism everywhere, even in our own backyard. We just came off an apocalyptic nuclear showdown with the Soviets that brought us to the brink of mutual assured destruction. And of course, there was the Domino Theory (which some scholars believe to be a fabrication), which believed that if South Vietnam fell to Communism, all of East Asia would soon follow.

We lived in times that were unparalleled before in our nation’s history. The intelligence and military communities actually believed our way of life was being threatened by the Soviet Union and their umbrella states. Kennedy was accused within many circles (mostly unfairly) of being “soft on Communism” and letting the Soviets have their way. This “appeasement” argument believed that it was the lack of resolve against fascism in the 1930s that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and Imperial Japan.

All of this can possibly lead to many people concluding that Kennedy was killed because either he was too soft on Nikita Khrushchev, or Fidel Castro, or Ho Chi Minh, or all three of them. Whether he was or not is beside the point. What does matter is that many people believed he was not doing enough, and some of those voices came from within the Pentagon, CIA, and the White House.

This should lead any one of us to rethink our view of America and see that we are no different from any other country in the world. We may be bigger and richer than most others, but that does not mean we cannot do some terrible things in our own right. Critiquing our country is not the same as hating it. In fact, criticism means you love your country because you want it to improve and be better.

And we should all want it to be better. This is why it is essential that we learn about the activities of government, corporations, and other organizations/people that make important decisions in our country. This is why the media are so important. We need to keep the powers that be in check. If we do not, who is to say our current president or future presidents could not fall victim to assassination?

Thus, does this mean the CIA must be hiding something incriminating because they refuse to release so many documents? Possibly. Does this mean our country is continuing to be run by secret fascists who want nothing more than U.S. hegemony at all costs? I will not go that far, though there are plenty of people out there who would.

I think it is fair to say that we need to keep an open mind and rethink our definition of patriotism. If patriotism means loving your country no matter what decisions they make, then count me out. If patriotism means loving your country but being allowed to question your fellow countrymen with the desire to make things better, then I can get aboard with that. And all of us should, too.

It is no wonder why so many people today distrust their government. It didn’t start with Iraq, or torture allegations, or the JFK assassination, or Vietnam, or Watergate, or Monica Lewinsky, or Hurricane Katrina, or the Iran-Contra affair, it all started in 1776 when those colonists decided to form their own country free of monarchy, tyranny, and authoritarianism.

Things have been far from perfect since then, but it is the intrinsic human desire for freedom that will carry us well into the next century and beyond.

Sins of Foreign Policy Are Always Clearer in Hindsight

July 11, 2009
Robert S. McNamara remains one of the most controversial political figures in U.S. history.

Robert S. McNamara remains one of the most controversial political figures in U.S. history.

Things are always easier in hindsight. Ask George W. Bush. Ask FDR. Ask John F. Kennedy. Ask former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. Decisions that seemed so right at the time can later be proven to be so gravely wrong. And you’ll never figure this out until it’s all over. What a shame.

McNamara’s recent death has brought about a rebirth of decades-old debates about foreign policy, the Cold War, and the disastrous American adventure in Vietnam. One cannot help but to think about Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney when McNamara’s name is mentioned. All three men were hated in their day. They misled the American people, lied to them, and told them their decisions would protect them from evil. One lie followed another.

The Kennedy White House believed in the “Domino Theory,” a theoretical prediction that if one nation were to fall to Communism, their neighbors would do the same. If South Vietnam were to fall under Soviet influence; Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan would soon follow. Then Greece, France, West Germany, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan. Then eventually the whole Western world. Then us.

Historians have debated whether the Domino Theory was a plausible reality or just a product of irrational fear of losing American hegemony. And even if all of Southeast Asia were to fall to Communism, what would happen then? Would tyranny, poverty, despotism, and institutionalized atheism overcome our way of life? Would our national security come into serious jeopardy? All these possibilities were considered by the Kennedy administration.

But it is unfair to paint Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, McNamara, and Dean Rusk as the only ones who thought this way. The infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy thought the infiltration of Communism onto American soil wasn’t just a theory, but reality. His Communist witch hunts of the 1950s destroyed many people’s lives and blinded us to believing that the enemies were at our gates, when such fears proved to be nothing but just that: fear.

Much talk has come up about how such smart, intelligent, and enlightened men like Kennedy, McNamara, and Rusk got us so close to nuclear war and later architected a war in Vietnam that would take the lives of 58,000 U.S. troops and close to 2 million Vietnamese. People have argued that they were nothing but a bunch of liberal fascists, much like how Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice are considered right winged fascists.

But maybe all these accusations are a little off. Consider the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that I believe played a very significant role in beginning the Vietnam War. For thirteen days in October of 1962, the Soviet Union and United States went on the brink of total annihilation. Thanks to “mutual assured destruction,” or MAD for short, both sides had the ability and will to completely obliterate the other side. If one side launched their missiles and destroyed most of their enemy’s homeland, that side had the ability to return the favor. Thanks to B-52 bombers and nuclear submarines, this can happen.

Then Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev didn’t think Kennedy had the guts to kill more people than Adolph Hitler. Hitler had a whole war to slaughter millions. Kennedy just had one simple phone call to make. I hope you shudder when you think about this.

Kennedy later estimated that there was a 33%, or a one in three, chance of nuclear war breaking out at that moment. Rusk believed the odds were much lower. Either way, it was close. The presence of nuclear weapons in Cuba was intolerable. Fidel Castro could not have been trusted to not use them. The Soviets didn’t like our missiles in Turkey, a country just in their backyard. We compromised, mutually agreed to remove our missiles from both sites, and total annihilation was averted. Whew.

But we should not forget the impact of the Cuban Missile Crisis on the thinking of McNamara and Lyndon Johnson, who would later become president after Kennedy’s assassination. If the Domino Theory were to actually happen and all of East Asia were to fall to the Communist bloc, who is to say all of Asia wouldn’t become nuclear? Who is to say mass slaughter like what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime wouldn’t become the norm? No one could know for sure.

Let’s now wind the clock ahead forty years and think about 9/11 and the “War on Terror.” Think of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the catastrophic 9/11 that never happened. Political analysts have said that our country has changed its opinion on national defense and foreign policy ever since the Sept. 11 attacks. That might be true to some extent. Bush administration officials have defended their questionable practices of torture, invading two Middle Eastern countries, and domestic spying that these measures are necessary to protect our country from our enemies. Similar measures were done in the 1960s and 70s (and during World War II, the so-called “Good War”) under similar justifications.

I am in no way excusing Bush and his team for approving of torture, the horrors at Guantanamo Bay, and invading Iraq. These were decisions that were motivated by anger, greed, revenge, and pride. But then again, we said the same about Nixon when he increased bombing campaigns over North Vietnam and Cambodia. We said this when President Johnson increased our troop presence in a war that was “unwinnable.” Times might change, but mistakes do not.

But this is all easy to say in hindsight. They say hindsight is 20/20 because we know the outcomes and can accurately judge the wisdom of our decisions. But let us consider the fact that we were this close to total destruction in October 1962. Let us consider that from the comfort of our armchairs in the safety of our living rooms, politics and history seem like a piece of cake. Decisions are simple. Don’t escalate the Vietnam War. Don’t bomb Cambodia. Don’t support Saddam Hussein in his fight against Iran. Don’t approve of the Patriot Act. Don’t allow U.S. interrogators to use waterboarding to get information out of terror suspects. These decisions might seem easy and very straightforward 40 years after the fact, but they did not at the moment.

Robert S. McNamara came from a business background, as he was in charge of the Ford Motor Company before becoming Secretary of Defense. In his world, he was a number cruncher. His world was based on facts, figures, theories, and already proven models of success. That is how the business world operates. In foreign policy, there are also rules. We had just defeated fascism in Europe and the Pacific and were now moving on to defeat the Soviet empire. If it worked before, why can’t it work again?

That is why McNamara thought sending hundreds of thousands of more troops to Vietnam would win the war. That is how we defeated Hitler. The D-Day invasion was a large ground assault that aimed at pushing back our enemies till they gave up. Nixon thought bombing the Viet Cong would force them to surrender. That much ridiculed strategy made sense in Japan, when heavy bombing campaigns, ending in the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, broke their will to fight and made them accept unconditional surrender. Nixon and Johnson thought if it worked in the 1940s, why couldn’t it work in the 1960s?

Bush might have thought the same when he invaded Iraq in 2003. He probably figured it would be a short war and that military occupation wouldn’t be such a big deal. We occupied West Germany and Japan after WWII and look at where they are now. They are now first world democracies. Iraq could have a similar future if they would just get their act together.

President Obama is being criticized by his own supporters of not doing enough to reverse Bush-era policies relating to anti-terrorism. Instead of drawing back our forces in the Middle East, he is increasing them by sending 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The scheduled June 30 pullout of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities was a timetable agreed to by Bush, not Obama. Had McCain won the election, that pullout would have still happened.

Obama has not been the anti-war president that many of his peace loving liberal supporters have hoped for. He will completely withdraw from Iraq on the Iraqi government’s terms, not his own. He will increase our troop strength in Afghanistan, a country that is becoming very weary of our continued presence there. Meanwhile, back at home, people are getting tired of war. We voted for Obama to change things, not for them to remain the same. I suppose that’s how politics work. They make promises, and they later break them.

But Obama isn’t completely breaking his lofty campaign promises. He is shutting down Guantanamo Bay, but it’s moving a lot slower than some people expected. He promised to shut down military tribunals of terrorist suspects, but he has recently re-approved of them. What does this all mean? Simply put, the world is a lot simpler from the campaign trail. Once you get to the White House, read those daily memos, listen to important people in the Joint Chiefs, Pentagon, CIA, and State Department, the world becomes a little more complex. Just ask Kennedy, or McNamara, or even Bill Clinton.

Our current president is realizing that the world is a little more difficult to handle than he had previously thought. He criticized Bush for making bad decisions that further endangered the American people, but now he realizes that you can’t solve the world’s problems with a push of a button. You have to make tough decisions. Even decisions that are unpopular.

I am not saying that Bush did the right thing to protect us from further terrorist attacks. I am not saying that Robert S. McNamara shouldn’t be critiqued for getting us involved in Vietnam when we had no business of being there. Nor am I saying that Henry Kissinger’s “Realpolitik” Cold War strategy was a good idea. Killing others to save others is never that easy of a concept. We should never consider a war to be our only option to solve our problems. We should be more pragmatic in our approach and realize that our actions do have consequences, despite what we may think at the time.

But, regardless, we should not stick our nose at them and believe we wouldn’t make the same choices if we were in their position. If you had a 50-50 chance of destroying your country and other people’s countries, if falling dominoes were more of a reality than a theory, if your country were just attacked by 19 hijackers, your perspective would change. You wouldn’t look at the world the same way. If you had the weight of the world on your shoulders, those so-called “easy decisions” to do the right thing suddenly becomes much more difficult.

This is not to say that people cannot make the right choice. What one can say is that we should be careful to play the accusatory card before really understanding the circumstances behind the decisions made by important people. We should judge their actions, but we should do it in a spirit of humility, perceptiveness, and intelligence. Without that, we become full of “retrospective snobbery,” where we feel free to condemn the sins of the past before thinking about whether we would truly have done things differently.

We may never get the chance to start a war, but we can certainly talk about what we would do if we could. But we should do this remembering that all actions, both horrible and honorable, are a product of its time. And those of us with the gift of knowing how the future unfolds should always keep in mind that years from now, maybe after we’re dead, our actions will be judged by later generations. If we weren’t too kind to our predecessors, who is to say ours will be kind to us?

To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before…

May 6, 2009
"Star Trek" in theaters May 8, 2009.
“Star Trek” in theaters May 8, 2009.

 

Nerds everywhere cannot wait. Geeks are struggling to contain their excitement. Lonely sci-fi aficionados are about to burst a blood vessel in their brains from the basement of their parent’s house. Ready or not, “Star Trek” is coming.

Not your grandfather’s Star Trek, however. A new and improved Star Trek loaded with sexy young stars, state-of-the-art special effects, and mainstream media hype. The days of William Shatner’s awkward acting style and fake-looking cardboard set pieces are over. Star Trek has finally entered into the “hip” arena of American pop culture.

And it’s about bloody time.

I am not a real huge Star Trek fan. I’ve seen a few episodes from the original television series and anywhere from 10 to 15 episodes from “The Next Generation” series. I did not grow up watching Captain Kirk or Captain Picard in action. My hugest Star Trek memories are watching the movies, which are relatively lame when compared to the Star Wars franchise. Compared to some people, the role Star Trek played in my youth is minimal.

Nevertheless, I consider myself a casual Star Trek fan. I appreciate the series, empathize with the die-hard Trekkers (not Trekkies, apparently. That’s a politically incorrect moniker), and understand its significance to our culture. I think William Shatner is a pretty cool guy, despite his tendency…to…talk like…this…by taking a…lot …of…pauses…in between words…in a…sentence.

Mr. Spock, Sulu, Scotty, Chekov, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and Uhura are all characters that are forever ingrained in Americana. The Starship Enterprise is either a thing that makes you cringe in geekiness or smile in sentimentality. And don’t even me get started on the theme song. You know you know it. You know you’re humming it right now. Don’t worry. I am too.

But what significance does the release of “Star Trek” this Friday, May 8th have? J.J. Abrams, the creator of the television series “Lost” and the director of the outrageously corny “Mission: Impossible III” in 2006, is a hip new Hollywood director who seems to have taken an old and dying franchise and put some new life into it. I have not seen it yet, but I am guessing this new Star Trek outing will have all the exciting and expected elements that most summer blockbuster films can boast. Who needs “Transformers” when we have Klingons?

This new “Star Trek” films might prove that it’s okay to be a nerd. Being a fan of spaceships, funny looking aliens, and exploring “new life and new civilizations” should be something we embrace, not hide. We should love our geekdom, not shy away from it. Who cares what the rest of society thinks? If we think space is truly the final frontier, who is to say that we’re wrong?

Outer space is a very interesting concept, though. President John F. Kennedy, a man whom Barack Obama is often compared to, made space travel and mankind landing on the moon an exciting goal for America to strive toward. When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon on July 21, 1969 and said those famous words, that moment brought about a sense of accomplishment and pride to all who watched.

Since then, never in world history have people become that excited over a scientific accomplishment. Never has any scientific or medical breakthroughs since 1969 captured the hearts and imaginations of people quite like the moon landing. But now things are different. There is talk about NASA sending a man to Mars. However, with the economy being in the shape that it is now, that project has been put on hold. What a shame.

Thomas Friedman of The New York Times has suggested the need to go green as the new major scientific endeavor of the 21st century. If President Obama can promise that America will lead the charge on developing alternative and clean energy sources like Kennedy did with the space race, actual progress toward decreasing the world’s dependence on oil may happen.

In other words, in a small way, “Star Trek” could help spark our interest back into science. After the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, the U.S. government panicked that America was losing the scientific front of the Cold War to those backwards godless Communists. In an effort to catch up, in the 1950s and 60s America saw a huge investment by the federal government in public education thanks to the National Defense Education Act of 1958. That act allocated $887 billion to aid both public and private education in the United States.

Statistics show American school children are falling behind students in Asia and Europe in test scores and academic achievement. Shortly after the Sputnik launch, America was number one in children enrollment and performance. Today that is not the case. American kids, while still successful, are falling behind many kids in countries like China and India; where the future of the global economy seems to be heading.

“Star Trek” may not help revive the American school system, but it does send a message that being smart and interested in science can be cool. If progress is to be made in the 21st century, Americans need to embrace their inner nerd and boldly go where no one has gone before. Forget football games. Hang out in classrooms instead. That’s where all the cool kids are at.

If not, we might descend into death and decay like the Klingon empire. What we need is Americans everywhere to stop their ridiculous anti-intellectual machismo attitude and embrace a more scientific and progressive way of life that is much more logical. Those Vulcans were right about something.

Are you ready to do this? Good. Now make it so.

The Name’s Bond, James Bond: Agent 007 in the 21st Century

March 28, 2009
Daniel Craig in his second outing as the suave and sophisticated British secret agent.

Daniel Craig in his second outing as the suave and sophisticated British secret agent.

This past Tuesday the 22nd James Bond film, “Quantum of Solace,” made its way to DVD and Blu Ray. No one can deny the popularity of the Bond franchise and doubt that it will not continue to live on for years to come. Once shaken, always stirred.

But consider this: In today’s world of post-Cold War terrorism, multilateral foreign policy, anger toward the Bush administration’s neocon political agenda, and the scandals of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, there seems to be a trend in the Western world to reject the old ways of war, violence, espionage, and covert counterterrorism.

The new wave of optimism brought on by the Obama White House has many Americans thinking that the disastrous and costly “War on Terror” may finally come to an end. The reputation of America as being a country that tortures and invades oil-rich Middle Eastern countries may finally be put to rest.

So, in spite of all that, if, and I do mean if, a James Bond-type secret agent were to be working on behalf of the United States, would you approve of that?

Also consider what James Bond does in his career: he has a license to kill (meaning he can kill anyone he deems necessary to fulfill the mission), he violates nations’ sovereignty (agent 007 is a globe-trotting hero who pays little attention to other nation’s policy and law), and he often uses less than noble tactics to achieve his goals (in both “Licence to Kill” and “Quantum of Solace” Bond has his double-o status revoked, or at least something to that extent). This sounds like something I would not approve of.

I, of course, understand that James Bond is a fantasy character who does not really exist. He exists in his own world and serves the purpose of defeating evil all within the convenient confines of two hours. Bond is a fictional character, but the villains he faces are often not.

In the two newest Bond adventures, MI-6 is up against a mysterious organization called “Quantum,” an international crime syndicate who sponsors men like Le Chiffre and Dominic Greene, villains who could very well exist in the real world.

Le Chiffre is a banker who funds terrorism and goes into deep debt when he gambles his client’s money away in risky games of chance. Sound familiar? He should work for AIG. Dominic Greene is a quasi-environmentalist businessman who uses his power to control the water supply of Bolivia. Private corporations controlling the natural resources of third world countries have actually happened before. This is not the stuff of fantasy. The evils of Quantum could exist in our universe. They have people everywhere, of course.

That being said, what is the best way to rid the world of these super villains? Diplomacy? Asking the United Nations to intervene? Unilateral military action? Or perhaps covert espionage in the form of the CIA or MI-6. These are all viable options.

But consider the larger picture: if there were actually James Bond-style secret agents existing in our world, how would you respond? Would you gladly accept them as necessary to defeat the evils of the world, or would you reject them as violent, archaic relics of a bygone age? As M called Bond in “GoldenEye,” Bond is “sexist misogynist dinosaur.”

If peaceful diplomacy is the wave of the future, are secret agents a thing of the past? Have we reached such an enlightened age that reason, negotiation, and international cooperation are more useful and practical tools to solve world conflicts? This is definitely something to ponder about. Diplomacy and multinational cooperation may help prevent nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certainly feel that this is what we should do.

During the Bush administration, Americans rejected the Bush Doctrine of using violence to uphold and protect domestic and international interests. Blood for oil or the protection of Israel are unjustified reasons to violate a nation’s sovereignty and invade them. Americans have also rejected using torture to get information out of “terror” suspects. Jack Bauer of “24” fame would not fly by well in today’s world.

Yet, every practice of the Bush administration that Americans and people everywhere seem to hate are exactly those done by James Bond. We chastise men like Dick Cheney or Karl Rove for making America just as bad as terrorists. We responded to 9/11 by staging 9/11s of our own, everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems people believe America is better than that, that we are the defenders of justice and peace, not propagators of violence, chaos, and evil.

Consider President John F. Kennedy and his policy toward Vietnam. Kennedy, a huge James Bond fan who considered “From Russia With Love” to be one of his favorite novels of all time, authorized covert operations to exist in Vietnam before major troop escalations began. Being cautious of sending too many combat troops into Southeast Asia, President Kennedy allowed secret operations occur in South and North Vietnam to assist military advisers who were there to help train the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam).

This continued even after Kennedy’s assassination. In 1964 the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) was formed by President Lyndon Johnson to help secretly fight the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Their operations helped expand the war and gathered information that inspired the U.S. to send more troops to Southeast Asia after the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Today most Americans view the Vietnam War as unnecessary, costly, and completely not worth it. Did U.S. intelligence help us in our anti-Communist crusade there? Maybe. Or maybe it helped escalate the violence and led to 58,000 U.S. servicemen losing their lives for nothing.

Speaking of faulty intelligence, don’t even talk about WMDs, Iraq, and Saddam Hussein. We all know how that turned out. In short, perhaps intelligence is overrated and only leads to more war instead of peace. Maybe there are facts that we will never know.

I have no problem with James Bond existing in the world of fantasy. He provides entertaining films and books for millions of people to enjoy. I’ve seen every movie and plan to see more in the future. However, I am not so sure if I would be comfortable with James Bond existing in the world of reality. Then again, maybe he does and we just don’t know about it. The Patriot Act could give someone the authority to do such things in the name of national security. Or possibly it doesn’t.

His name may be Bond, James Bond; and he likes his vodka martini shaken but not stirred, but his license to kill may create more problems than it solves. Should we have our own James Bond in this uncertain, fear-driven 21st century world? Or will that only further radicalize our enemies and tarnish the reputation of the United States of America?

As Bond tells a bartender in “Casino Royale,”

“Do I look like I give a damn?”