At the commencement ceremony held on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University on Dec. 19, 2009, the speaker was honored with the degree of doctor of humane letters and upheld as an exemplary individual before the assembled hundreds of IU graduates. One might have thought that the recipient of this signal distinction was some large-hearted benefactor to the human race.
Maybe a scientist who had dedicated many years of selfless toil to the discovery of a cure for a killer disease. Or a humanitarian who had established schools and hospitals in underserved parts of the world. Possibly an apostle of peace who had worked tirelessly to resolve a festering international conflict. Someone whose heroic efforts had prevented loss of life amid present and future generations of concerned parties in a prolonged conflict.
Unfortunately such reasonable expectations are wide off the mark in regard to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the invited speaker at the winter commencement. The secretary has been best known since 2006 as a prominent enabler of the wars that have ravaged life and society in Iraq and Afghanistan. His most conspicuous recent achievement was advocating the escalation of a merciless war waged in Afghanistan by a powerful, technologically superior military against a country whose essentially defenseless population is innocent of complicity in perpetrating attacks on the United States.
Hunger, homelessness and pestilence stalk the land. We are not talking here about Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip, Iraq or Pakistan. The territory in question is distant from the occupied, war-ravaged regions of the world where cruise missiles and ordnance have turned once proud cities into rubble and devastated the economic infrastructure of nations and where the wretched of the earth, the living dead, the maimed or injured survivors of aerial bombardment and ground battles -- orphans, bereaved parents, wives, husbands and other victims of violence -- crowd in their millions or are herded into refugee camps.
This country situated thousands of miles from the theater of war in West, Central and South Asia is none other the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the world.