Kenneth Brooks, May 31: Memorial Day honors the war dead and their values

Memorial Day is the traditional holiday when Americans honor all who died in wars. The nation uses this day to reflect on the significance of their sacrifices, or it should. This is when Americans say "thank you."

It is not enough for those of us who benefited from other people's sacrifice to say "thank you" or to only observe a moment of silence. Those are empty gestures unless we treasure and safeguard the values those warriors died for. Otherwise, our displayed gratitude is as false as someone who gushes over a gift and then throws it in the trash.

Most people agree the war dead sacrificed their lives to preserve American values and its way of life. But nobody defines those values or way of life. They presume everybody knows those values are of the highest order. This generalization allows political leaders to include almost any character trait in this national image that is convenient for the occasion. They included some new traits that destroy old values and ways of living.

Hitler and Hirohito had grandiose plans for Germany and Japan as superior nations destined to rule the lesser nations and people of the world. We honor many of our war dead this Memorial Day for sacrificing their lives in World War II, fighting to prevent Germany and Japan from gaining this goal.

The United States developed military might from the World War II effort and became the world's superpower. Ironically, the allied victory changed the system of American values and way of life those people died to preserve.

Many Americans assume superior wisdom and superior cultural standards for the United States because of its superpower status. They show this belief with their often-repeated claim that only the United States can solve the various problems in the world and must thus exert its superpowers and wisdom to do it.

Many Americans presume a destiny for the United States as international police enforcer and nation-building instiller of democracy without a hint of humbleness. Their expressed motives to spread democratic freedoms are different, but their air of arrogant national superiority equals that of those defeated World War II nations Germany and Japan.

Few Americans agree the United States' new role as international moralist and law enforcer resembles Hitler's Germany, Hirohito's Japan or Stalin's Soviet Union. They believe we use our powers selflessly to set up peaceful democracies in the world, while those nations sought brutal dictatorial international dominance. They ignore that economic and military power is coercion when used beyond one's borders. It becomes a form of dictatorial domination except when used in defense.

Often, power corrupts people's values and it distorts how they see the world. The United States experiences this fate as the effort to maintain military superpower status drains resources and destroys the quality of life as if an enemy force did it intentionally.

The United States still has about 425 military bases nat ionally after closing 91 during the past 20 years or so. Also, it has more bases worldwide in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and various islands. Many people in Congress are clamoring that we need more to fulfill our superpower status as the world's law enforcer.

Most Americans believe our superpower and international cop status increases our national security. The opposite is true. The United States stations troops worldwide in areas prone to military conflicts. It commits military and economic resources to protect Israel, South Korea, Taiwan and Europe. Those commitments drag us into most international conflicts and civil wars even when our security isn't threatened. We can expect a constant money drain and a steady stream of new war dead defending those commitments.

Increasingly, the United States chooses sides based on an American definition of disputing groups' cultural worthiness and not as neutral arbitrators. It doesn't even choose side based on a consistent moral standard. We ris k American military lives defending autocratic Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and in an opposites way by attacking autocratic Iraq to change it to a democracy. This inconsistent support for values undermines respect for the United States and for democracy.

Only a foolish nation creates enemies and disrespectful allies for itself this way. Not even a super military power can continue this conduct with impunity as evidenced by the attacks on the USS Cole, the 9/11 Twin Towers attacks and others. These attacks result from our conflicting foreign policy.

Americans must show that superpower defines United States' economic and military might, but not its character. There was a time before the nation gained superpower status that everybody knew this. We Americans need to redefine our confused value system to improve national security and to show appreciation for the sacrifices of the war dead.