First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Optimism, Pessimism, War, and Oil
A recent column by the L.A. Times's editorial-page editor talked about the difference between optimism and pessimism. His conclusion was that if optimism means going merrily off to war thinking it can be won in a few weeks, he'd rather be a pessimist.
The whole issue of optimism vs. pessimism is a specious one.
But if it were a real issue, then who is the foolish optimist?
Think of Winston Churchill. Such a pessimist! He believed that Hitler would plunge Europe into war, and that the only way to stop him was to intervene militarily while he was still weak.
It was the optimists of that time who thought they could deal with Hitler by appeasement; who blamed their own past actions for Hitler's rage.
Today, we have people who blame America for the rage of our terrorist enemies, and who believe that if we just deal with them by negotiation or police action, they'll eventually go away.
It's the pessimists, not the optimists, who believe that if we don't fight them, relentlessly and thoroughly, denying them any safe haven and depriving them of potential weapons of mass destruction, we will face terrible havoc.
How has history judged the optimists and pessimists of 1938?
George W. Bush is an optimist about the future of America.
But he was and is a pessimist about the war against terrorism. He knows it won't just go away. He knows that our freedom and safety can only be maintained by firm action that will cost the lives of some Americans in order to protect us all.
That's why he sent our troops to Afghanistan and to Iraq. Because he refused to be an optimist about what it would cost to deal with our enemies.
We have no shortage of Neville Chamberlains in our country today.
But please, let's not put them in charge of protecting our future.
Speaking of foolish optimism ...
There is only a finite amount of oil in the world.
Everybody knows this.
Someday, we'll run out.
It will be gone.
Meanwhile, our insatiable thirst for oil -- which we burn -- has put enormous sums of money into the hands of fanatics who hate us and everything we stand for, and who use that oil money to fund the terrorists who murder Jews and Americans wherever they can.
We can't burn oil forever.
And it's bad strategy to base our economy on cheap oil when we have to buy at least some of it from our enemies.
Optimists tell us that the free market will eventually deal with the problem. Their theory is that as oil gets harder to extract cheaply, the price will go up; then other forms of energy will become economically attractive and we'll switch over to them.
Therefore, they say, government should stay out of the business of trying to limit the use of oil or encourage alternate energy sources.
Here's why their optimism is nothing short of suicidal.
First, there's no guarantee that without intense government-funded research and financial incentives now, the new energy sources will be available in quantities large enough to replace oil when it does run out.
In other words, if we wait until it's an emergency, our economy could easily crash and burn for lack of energy sources sufficient to drive it.
It's easy to supply energy for an economy that's only a tenth the size of the world's economy today. The question is, how many people will die in the resulting chaos and famine, before a new free-market equilibrium is established?
Second, how stupid do we have to be to wait until we run out of oil before acting to prevent its waste as a fuel? Petroleum is a vital source of plastics. We could use it for that purpose for hundreds of generations -- if we didn't burn any more of it. But if we wait till we've burned all the cheap petroleum, it won't be just fuel that we have to replace.
Third, market forces don't do anything for our national defense, our national security. We had a clear warning back in the 1970s with the first oil embargo. What if terrorism in the Middle East specifically targets all oil exports, from many countries?
And even if they keep the oil flowing, why are we pumping money into the pockets of militant extremists who want to destroy us? Why are we subsidizing our enemies, when instead we could be subsidizing the research that might set us free from our addiction to oil?
You notice that I haven't said anything about polluting the environment. Because this is not an environmental issue.
In the long run, it's an issue of whether we wish to provide for our children the same kind of prosperity that we've luxuriated in as a nation since World War II.
It is foolish optimism bordering on criminal neglect that we continue to think that our future will be all right as long as we find new ways to extract oil from proven reserves.
Instead of extracting it, we ought to be preserving it.
Congress ought to be giving incentives and then creating mandates that require hybrid vehicles to predominate within the next five years.
Within the next fifteen years, we must move beyond hybrids to means of transportation that don't burn oil at all.
Within thirty years, we must handle our transportation needs without burning anything at all.
I made the numbers up. Maybe where I said five years, it should be ten.
Then again, maybe where I said thirty years, we'll find ourselves wishing that somebody had insisted on fifteen.
Predicting the exact moment when our dependence on petroleum will destroy us is pointless.
What is certain is this: We will run out of oil that is cheap enough to burn. We don't know when, but we do know it will happen.
And on that day, our children will curse their forebears who burned this precious resource, and therefore their future, just because they didn't want the government to interfere with the free market, or some other such nonsense.
The government interferes with the free market constantly. By its very existence, government distorts the market. So let's turn that distortion to our benefit. Let's enforce a savings program. But instead of putting money in the bank, let's put oil there.
Oil in the bank ... so our children and grandchildren for a hundred generations can slowly draw it out to build with it instead of burn it.
Oil in the bank ... so we'll be free of the threat of fanatics who seek to murder their enemies -- including us -- with weapons paid for at our gas pumps.
Do you want to know who funded Osama bin Laden? We did. And we continue to do it every time we fill up.
You don't have to be an environmental fanatic to demand that we control our greed for oil.
In fact, you have to be six kinds of dumb not to insist on it.
But ... foresight just isn't the American way. We always seem to wait until our own house is burning before we notice there's a wildfire.
Oh, it won't reach us here, we tell ourselves. We'll be safe.
Talk about foolish optimism.
The Kerry campaign recently sent an outraged email to their supporters, accusing President Bush's campaign of comparing Kerry to Hitler.
They even linked to the Bush site so their supporters could be outraged when they saw the Bush ad for themselves.
The trouble was, the Bush ad they were complaining about consisted of speeches and ads by outspoken supporters of Kerry, showing the hateful, venomous, extremist statements of people like Michael Moore, George Soros, and Al Gore.
The connection with Hitler was made by Kerry's supporters against President Bush. Kerry never complained about his supporters' smears of a wartime president; he only complained when Bush called attention to their hate campaign.
There is one moderate candidate, and it's President Bush. It's precisely because he's a moderate that the Left is so rabid in their attacks on him.
If it was a vast right-wing conspiracy that held President Clinton accountable for perjury he actually committed, why aren't we hearing about the vast left-wing conspiracy attacking Bush for the awful crime of ... being a Republican?
When Michael Moore in his recent propaganda film ridicules President Bush for continuing his session with schoolchildren for five whole minutes after hearing about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center, let's ask ourselves: What else should the President have done? Rushed from the room and frightened the children? Was he supposed to leap into an airplane and patrol the skies himself?
Besides, it was not clear until fifteen minutes after the first crash that there was more than just one plane involved, and therefore that it was a terrorist attack.
But what do we expect from Moore? He's a hero of the Left because he tells lies about the Right.
If President Bush weren't such a good president, his enemies wouldn't have to lie about him outrageously in order to defeat him.
And what does it say about America's intelligentsia that they would rather believe lies than admit that George W. Bush has been smarter, on the issues that matter, than they are?
Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.