Binary thought has a time and place | Rich Elfers’ Politics in Focus

Do you know what black-and-white thinking is? It’s a way of seeing situations and events as moral choices between good and evil, right and wrong, either/or, with nothing in between. This type of thinking is absolutely essential in life-or-death situations. The choices are stark where dramatic decisive action is required. Most of the time, though, black-and-white thinking limits our options and causes us to see the world with too narrow a focus.

Do you know what black-and-white thinking is? It’s a way of seeing situations and events as moral choices between good and evil, right and wrong, either/or, with nothing in between.

This type of thinking is absolutely essential in life-or-death situations. The choices are stark where dramatic decisive action is required. Most of the time, though, black-and-white thinking limits our options and causes us to see the world with too narrow a focus.

President Dwight Eisenhower falls into the category of a black-and-white thinker. He was a great general during World War II who planned and executed the Normandy invasion of France, the largest amphibious invasion in world history. To do this he had to organize more than 300,000 soldiers, thousands of ships and planes, tanks and trucks, to be in the right place at the right time.

Failure would mean the death of thousands and the possible loss of the war against the Nazis. This is an example of black-and-white, life-and-death decision making. Itwas the best approach in this case.

Because of Eisenhower’s success in the defeat of fascism in Europe during World War II, the American people elected him to two terms as president in the 1950s. His goal was to give America peace for a generation after a world war, followed by the bloody Korean War. He reached his goal. Not one American soldier died during his administration from combat.

Eisenhower saw the world in black-and-white terms as a titanic struggle between Soviet communism and American democracy/capitalism. To stop the communists from taking over the world, the Eisenhower administration would subvert weak democracies that had elected leftist-leaning leaders.

Eisenhower used the CIA to overthrow the democratically-elected leaders of Iran, the Congo and Guatemala. It gained us 25 years of peace. In Iran, the U.S. government helped the shah return to power. This ushered in 25 years of repression and brutality upon the Iranian people.

He bought us a generation of peace, but at the cost of anger, hostility and distrust from the Iranians who sought revenge in 1979 by taking 50 American embassy staff in Tehran hostage for 444 days. We are still living with Eisenhower’s decision in dealing with Iran today. This is an example of black-and-white thinking with negative consequences.

Another black-and-white thinking president was Lyndon B. Johnson in regard to the Vietnam conflict. He escalated the war in Vietnam in the 1960s. Johnson bought into the Domino Theory, first promulgated by Eisenhower.

The theory goes that if South Vietnam fell to the communists, then, eventually all of Southeast Asia would fall like dominos set up next to each other. Next, the countries of South Asia would collapse before communism, and so on.

Many Americans and Vietnamese died because of Johnson and the Pentagon’s belief in this theory. Eventually it was proven false by President Richard Nixon who pitted the Chinese communists and the Soviet Union against each other. Nixon played on their shared suspicions and fears, allowing the U.S. to withdraw from the Vietnam conflict.

Looking back, it is obvious that this theory was flawed. It was based on the fear generated by the Cold War. The Domino Theory did not take into account the fact that the Vietnamese communists saw the Vietnam conflict as really a civil war between North and South, not solely as a struggle between communism and capitalism.

Additionally, the North Vietnamese saw the U.S. presence in the 1960s in their country as just one more foreign imperialist power. Before the Americans arrived, there had been the Chinese, the French and the Japanese. The Vietnamese kicked all of them out in turn.

Black-and-white thinking in regard to Johnson and Vietnam was a disaster both for his presidency and the nation. Had Johnson understood the Vietnamese in terms of their history rather than only as communists, we might never have gotten involved in Vietnam.

It’s my opinion that black-and-white, either/or type thinking occurs when either we are ignorant of all the facets and/or inexperienced in dealing with an issue. It also comes from fear that causes us to think with tunnel vision. At times of high danger, this is an effective defense, but during times where the stakes are not imminent, it blinds us to other, better options.

This type of thinking is common in the world today. Osama Bin Laden saw the world as a struggle between his brand of Islam and the West. It is also common today in U.S. politics where politicians are highly polarized into their either/or mentalities. The lack of the ability to compromise — the opposite of black and white thinking — has largely paralyzed our government.

There is a time and a place for black-and-white thinking, as with Eisenhower’s conquest of Nazism, but when it comes to our government, compromise is really what most Americans hunger for from their leaders.

More in Opinion

Concessions may be needed to enact carbon pricing

This is the sixth year Gov. Jay Inslee will try to convince lawmakers that the best means of fighting climate change is by making it more expensive to pollute.

Humility allows for tolerance of other’s opinions

Each of us has grown up in different circumstances. Each has been shaped by our life experiences. Each of us sees the world around us differently as a result. Why, then, should it be so difficult to understand that no two people will agree on every issue?

President Trump working toward the vision of our Founders

President Trump is working to return power and liberty to the people.

Inslee: ‘It’s our state’s destiny … to fight climate change’

In his State-of-the-State address, the governor made the case for an ambitious carbon tax.

Culture, politics have and continue to shape race relations

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”

Better luck this year, Eyman

2017 was a stinky year for Tim Eyman. It ended with a thud last week when he confessed to not collecting enough signatures to get onto the ballot a measure that would reduce car tab fees and kneecap Sound Transit.

Fake news or bad reporting?

This has not been a good month for reporting. But one wrong fact does not fake news make.

Don’t label all Trump supporters as racist

While the column correctly points out that Trump supporters are happy with his performance and still enthusiastically support him, Mr. Elfers had to inject the liberal “lie” that Trump supporters are racist.

Political turmoil makes nations stronger

Finish this sentence: “What doesn’t kill you___________.” This is how I introduced my recent continuing education class entitled, “President Trump a Year Later.” Of course, this quote is normally completed with the words, “makes you stronger.”

U.S., Russia agree on Middle East situation

Since Russia helped Syria’s Bashar al-Assad stay in power and helped to defeat ISIS, are Russia and the U.S. at odds in the Middle East? Is Russia threatening American dominance in the region? The answer to both is no.

Page-turners: Best books of 2017

Continuing an end-of-year tradition that dates back more than 15 years, the King County Library System has chosen its Best Books of 2017.

Anthem protests about equality, not disrespect

For all who write negative comments about the football players who took a knee and posted that “this is not the America we grew up in,” let me share a few of the personal events from my life growing up in Tacoma Washington as a white woman.