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They Would be Giant Slayers

DonquixoteAnd Don Quixote said,

“…see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them…”

“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”

“Obviously,” replied Don Quixote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”

– Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote



In 1964, then American President Lyndon Johnson declared war to overcome poverty. Subsequently, successive leaders in various countries joined the fight and the War on Poverty has now been fought for almost seven decades in nations around the world.

The result? More poverty, the continuing growth of the welfare state started under Roosevelt and continual tax increases to help pay for it all.

President Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs and introduced a number of new measures and increased funding to fight the import and distribution of illegal drugs to the United States. Once again, various world leaders joined the fray and once again the result was the opposite of what was intended – more drugs; not to mention more violence, more crime and more corruption.

Since 9/11, world leaders have followed American President George W. Bush’s call for a global War on Terrorism. That has resulted, as we are reminded every day, to increased terrorism and a Middle East region destabilized by wars and conflicts into which western nations have been drawn

Do you see a trend emerging here?

It seems that when our leaders gird up their loins and declare war on something it usually results in the proliferation of whatever it is they intended to defeat. They change laws, often at the expense of civil liberties and constitutional rights, throw truck loads of tax dollars at the issue and hold summits in glamourous international locations surrounded by a phalanx of security personnel that, not unlike the Praetorian Guard of the old Roman Empire, are in place to protect them from – us.

In the end, it is a lot of sound, expense and fury which seems to accomplish little for the effort and the money spent. Leaders come and go but the pointless Wars on Whatever continue to very little purpose.

Somebody suggested to me on Facebook recently that if government declaring war on something has the perverse effect of creating more of what we’re supposed to be fighting,  perhaps we should ask our governments to declare war on employment and money to see how that works out.

I believe these ‘wars’ are poorly conceived and lack any kind of coordinated strategy. I believe they are little more than political rhetoric supported by wasted effort to provide the appearance of doing something without really doing much of anything at all.

In other words – failed leadership that puts politics ahead of leading.

Take reducing greenhouse gas emissions for example. It’s a big topic around the world and Canada is being criticized for once again failing to even come close to meeting the reduction target to which it committed.

The discussion always focuses around extremes; climate change does/doesn’t exist, regulating carbon will kill jobs/create jobs, regulation is better than cap and trade/neither is good – yadda yadda yadda. But here’s the thing. If you want to make a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions beyond getting the world’s major emitters like India, China and Russia to do something productive, simply ban drive thru windows at fast food restaurants, coffee shops and the Liquor Barn (for that DUI in a hurry).

Think about that.

Virtually every MacDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Wendy’s, Tim Hortons, Dunkin Donuts, etc ad infinitum has a drive thru window at which lines of cars inch their way forward as the spew greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Ban the drive thru and make people shut off their car and actually walk into the facility to get their java or their cheese-shingle on a bun like we used to do just thirty years ago.

It won’t resolve all of the issues around greenhouse gas emissions but it would accomplish considerably more than all of the political posturing and environmentalist protesting has so far. No tax increase or carbon regulations, cap and trade system bureaucracies required. Just shut down drive thru windows and stop hundreds of thousands of cars wasting gas and generating unnecessary emissions into the atmosphere virtually every hour of every day.

It won’t happen, of course because it isn’t sexy enough for politicians or punitive enough for environmentalists. They demand punishing complexity to elevate the ’cause’ to a level of hysterical importance.

There has to be a War on Climate Change that involves experts and politicians coming together at Green Summits in exotic locales to set new emissions targets most nations won’t come close to achieving. There has to be discussions with industry and business, environmental protests (always a fun outing on a sunny summer day), continual environmental assessments, forums and conventions, along with, endless debate and politicking in the world’s various legislatures and assemblies including the United Nations and, of course, during every election campaign.

Major issues require complex, multi-tiered strategies – a war, if you will, in order to overcome the threat. Only – we don’t overcome them. We simply make them worse.

In the end, a War on Climate Change will be just like all of the other Wars on Whatever, expensive, overly complex and ultimately pointless. If past history is any guide, it will most likely achieve the opposite desired effect or will create new problems based on the law of unintended consequences for which our governments will be totally unprepared.

I’ve often commented that what is missing in virtually all world leaders these days is vision but there’s something else missing as well – common sense and the courage to simply do what is right in the right way at the right time.

It has often been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee and I think that is a fair description of how our political leadership functions these days. They have grand sweeping rhetoric that is unmatched by their actions and which usually creates more problems than it resolves.

Our leaders create giants from windmills and then like a pack of Don Quixotes, sally forth to slay them but in the end, their efforts are as failed and delusional as those of  Cervantes’ Spanish knight.

If I had any advice for today political leaders at the G7 it would be – please don’t declare war on anything else. The simple truth is that you’re not very good at it; we can’t afford it and the world is suffering enough as it is from all the failed wars you have already declared.


© 2015 Maggie’s Bear

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  • Donna Hornick

    A near-perfect if not perfect analysis!

    • MaggiesBear

      thank you

  • damorris

    These “wars” are fought for a very good reason; they work,for the politician declaring the war. And his supporters are ecstatic when their guy makes a bold declaration.

    “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” wouldn’t work with today’s over stimulated crowd,they don’t want to relax and think about any issue or situation,they just want to be led into the next war by their hero.

    The wars are a nice complement to the state of fear we are held in by various interested parties, we MUST fear “X”, and our leaders have the courage to declare war on it!

    Works beautifully on the sheeple.

    • MaggiesBear

      Politics is to achievement what stasis is to change.

  • damorris

    LBJ declared war on poverty in his State of the Union address of Jan. 1964. It was just one of many wars the USA lost in that era.

    • MaggiesBear

      I don’t know why I typed 1971. Even I knew LBJ wasn’t president in the 70s. Thanks for pointing out the typo.

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  • oldwhiteguy

    it has been an observation, that whenever governments or experts want to pick our pockets, those things that have for thousands of years been quite simple, now have become very complex and require the vast amount of knowledge possessed by our political masters and their experts. then of course we must expend the wealth generated by the people, not by the government or the experts, to fix something that is not broken and really not a problem, ie climate change.

    • MaggiesBear

      Where we used to simply do what was necessary to fix things, now we must fight them as if they were the enemy. It’s one of my major kicks against Stephen Harper, he has to have enemies to fight and when there are none around — he creates one; charities, the auditor general, the Supreme Court, the Parliamentary Budget Office, Elections Canada, Ontario….name it — he’s fought it.

      • oldwhiteguy

        I think the media have been creating mr. harpers enemies or bogeymen. the supreme court is definitely an enemy of freedom in Canada. the rest are organizations that want to perpetuate their power. I have seen very little concern for individual freedom from any of them. as long as it is their particular brand in control they think all is well.