From: Democracy Now!
ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: One of the most poignant memories I have of my father was a trip that we took to Europe when I was about thirteen years old, and we went to Czechoslovokia and Poland and Italy and Greece and France and Germany. And everywhere we went, we were met by vast crowds of people, hundreds of thousands of people, who came out because they wanted to be near an American politician. And it wasn’t just because my father’s brother had been martyred three years before. The same thing happened to Eisenhower when he went to Kabul and Tehran. A million Muslim people met him on the street waving tiny little American flags. And what I remember as a boy is these crowds of people that were just hungry for American leadership, and they—not bullying. They knew the difference. And they were starved for a moral authority. And they proudly named their streets after our presidents, Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln and Roosevelt and Kennedy.
And I remember the day after 9/11, when the headline on the biggest newspaper in France, Le Monde, was “We’re All Americans Now.” And for three weeks after 9/11, thousands of Muslim people came out spontaneously onto the streets of Tehran to make candlelight vigils to show their support, their solidarity, their love for the United States of America. We were the most beloved nation on the face of the earth and in the history of mankind.
And it took 230 years of disciplined visionary leadership by Republican and Democratic presidents to build up those vast reservoirs of public love for our country. And in seven short years, through monumental arrogance and incompetence, this White House has drained those reservoirs dry. We are now, according to virtually every poll, the most hated nation and feared nation on earth. And anybody who says that it’s good for our national security when European youth, as a recent poll showed, hold Osama bin Laden in the same regard as they hold President Bush, and anybody who believes it’s good for our national security when Hezbollah is as popular in the Mideast as America has their head in an oil well.
You know, Abraham Lincoln said America—we’re doing things today that were inconceivable a few years ago. We’re torturing people in America. We’re eavesdropping on our citizens. We are having extraordinary renditions. We’ve suspend habeas corpus. We have these black prisons. And, you know, Abraham Lincoln said that America is a good nation—is a great nation, because we’re a good nation. And he warned that if we ever lose our goodness, we’ll quickly forfeit our greatness as well.
You know, people say in the White House that we have to do these things, because we’re under such terrible threat. But that’s a lie. When I was a little boy, we had 25,000 nuclear-tipped missiles pointing at our country from the Soviet Union with one guy able to press a button and vaporize most of our population. And we weren’t torturing people and eavesdropping on our citizens and suspending habeas corpus. During the Civil War, 659,000 Americans died. Our cities were burned and occupied by foreign—by hostile armies. And we didn’t engage in those kind of behaviors.
You know, during the Revolutionary War, George Washington was approached by his generals with the idea of torturing British soldiers to extract strategic information. At that time, the British were torturing our soldiers in New York Harbor on coffin ships and killing them by the dozens every day. Washington said to them, “I would rather lose the war, because this is the first nation in history that is based upon an idea, and the idea is one of essential human dignity and justice.” And he said, “We’re not—I’d rather the British continue to rule us than become—than to lose that.” And, you know, he established codes of conduct for the treatment of prisoners, fair treatment of prisoners and humane treatment. And the Hessians that he captured on Christmas Eve were so shocked by the good treatment they received from the American captors that after two weeks in prison, they agreed to walk unguarded all the way to POW camps in western Pennsylvania, and not a single one escaped.
During the Civil War, Lincoln’s general suggested—made the suggestion of torture, and he was so horrified by the idea, that he created a committee to establish a standards—a report with standards for the fair treatment and humane treatment of prisoners of war. And eighty years later, that document became the Geneva Convention.
During World War II, Eisenhower was asked about torturing Germans at a time when Nazis were torturing our prisoners and POWs. And Eisenhower said, “Americans don’t do that.” And he said—and during World War II, German soldiers surrendered to American soldiers by the thousands, because they had heard from their fathers, who fought in World War I, “Always surrender to an American, because Americans don’t torture people.”
You know, a few weeks ago, I had John Dean on my show on Air America. And John Dean, as you know, was the counselor to President Nixon during the Watergate scandal. And Dean said to me—Dean went to prison for his participation in the cover-up. And he said, “You know, we eavesdropped illegally on one office, and I went to jail for four months, and my boss was impeached and then forced to resign.” And he said, “These people have illegally eavesdropped on hundreds of thousands of Americans.” And he said, “Where’s the impeachment? Where are the convictions? Where’s the imprisonment? Where’s the jail term? Where is the American press? Where is the indignation?”
And, you know, we need to continually remind ourselves that the Bill of Rights is not a luxury we can no longer afford and that America is not just a place where people come to, you know, increase the size of their pile, and whoever dies with the most stuff wins. Our nation is an exemplary nation. And that’s the way the world regards us, and that’s what they want from us. And when we start lowering our standards, we lose our prestige, we lose our capacity to influence world events, and we lose the soul of our country. And we now need to gain that back.