November 11, 2003

A Most UnCivil War - -

You know something is happening here
But you don't know what it is . . .
Do you, Mr. Jones?
-from Ballad of a Thin Man
Bob Dylan

By the evening of September 11, 2001 I was filled with dread. Although I was saddened and alarmed by the attacks that morning, I felt distant and fairly safe from terrorists. It occurred to me that, all things being equal, the thoughtless, aggressive drivers on the streets around my office were a greater threat. The previous day I had nearly been run over by a woman in an SUV exiting a parking lot at thirty miles an hour without looking in my direction. On a daily basis, I felt more vulnerable to the virulence of cultural selfishness and violence that seemed to grip more and more of my fellow Americans. The events of that morning did not refocus my fear toward a foreign threat. The dread I felt was a grim foreboding of how we as a nation would react to the indignity.

Because of influences and experiences I have described elsewhere*, I have always been aware of the chasm between the Great American Dream/Myth and the reality it pretends to mask. Long convinced that an event as cataclysmic as those morning attacks was inevitable, I was equally certain that those who held the mask would pull it tighter, repaint its cracking gilt, then armor it.

To those installed (questionably) as authoritative decision-makers in our government, the response was instantaneous, decidedly unmeasured, and swift. Taking a page right out of Goering, they declared War. Unfortunately, they succeeded in declaring War not only against al-Qaida (a relatively small organization of religious zealots funded by a very rich man who had perpetrated this and several other similar attacks during the previous twenty years), but also against several nations of uncertain linkage and a sizeable part of the American citizenry. In the bargain, they managed to alienate other governments and peoples, friend and foe alike.

There were those of us who cried out for caution and prudence. Condoning neither terror nor reckless response against it, we suggested a strengthening of our defenses and an examination of our own possible contribution to the rising tide of distrust and resentment toward us. We were at best ignored, at worst vilified as traitors. It was simple - "someone must pay!" And so we are paying - with dollars, with lives, with fear. We are impoverishing ourselves and future generations to fight a war in which victory is just impossible. And we are no safer.

A popular Western leader, at the start of World War II, proclaimed at the time that fear was what we most had to fear. The Bush Administration has done little but exploit and capitalize on fear. It appears to value fear as a precious commodity. It has declared War on common sense, charity, honest introspection, truth, justice, democracy, key sections of our Constitution, and freedom itself. What we as Americans are forced to support is a sort of "road rage writ large". There is evidence that our careening adventure will require more: more human fuel as Washington explores a reinstitution of the draft; more paranoia as legislation limiting rights, privacy, and freedom slinks through Congress under-opposed; more money as "neoconservatives" clear away the last vestiges of the welfare state and mortgage our lives to the corporate state.

This humble writer is constitutionally incapable of a dispassionate analysis of our current plight. Let us, however, for the moment give President Bush, his advisors, and loyal followers the benefit of the doubt. Many people during the past twenty-six months have attributed to these officials adjectives ranging from "stupid" to "the Anti-Christ". I number myself among them. Although it is very difficult, let us imagine that their motives are righteous - that they see a terrible threat to life and liberty and think that years of concerted military action and diminishing freedom is the only way to save our country. If they are right, think what that will mean to every living thing on this planet. I am in my fifties; I have struggled much of my life; I doubt I could endure such a prospect.

Others have suggested that our president feels that he is called by his god to lead us to Rapture and Armageddon. All I can say to that is, "How terminally arrogant or desperately sick!" If either is true, this man needs incarceration and/or antipsychotic medication, and we're all in deep doo-doo until he gets them.

Regardless of his religious proclivities, it is most likely that this president - like several before him - is the agent of a coalition of men and women of enormous wealth and power who want more of the same. Some of these people are probably altruistic to some degree; others are decidedly not. All of them, however, are intellectual and emotional slaves to a view of humanity and its host planet that is narrow, desolate, and utterly devoid of imagination: in a word - inhuman.

Reflect on the implication: this president and his people may have no faith that in a nation which has distinguished itself for its innovation, creativity, collective courage, compassion, vision, and leadership we can find no one to guide us constructively, rationally, and peacefully through these dire times. If such are not to be found and elevated, then surely we are not the great nation we purport to be. Our intellectual, moral, and spiritual poverty is laid bare to the world. We are a nation at War, but the stark truth is that we are at War with ourselves.

So far, we have defined the War within our nation as a struggle between Right and Left. Perhaps that is, as a starting point, for the good, since it does focus and polarize the main principles. But regardless of where we might find ourselves on the spectrum of political alliance and preference, we must fight this War ruthlessly in such a way that all except the fundamentally evil may taste true victory and peace. What an opportunity! And what an enormous task!

The way truly forward , I believe, is well marked with many signs that say, "We must . . ."

We must craft a coalition to elect a new government in 2004, but that must be the barest beginning.

We must realize that the next government will only be a step back from the slaughter. Without a deep examination of our own contribution to this predicament, we will in short order find ourselves in an even darker place. The roots and vines of this choking weed run deep and range far.

We must systematically withdraw our military from foreign lands, even those to which we have been "invited", except where our presence is part of a wise and legal coalition of many nations. We must replace strategic alliances with moral alliances, abandoning corrupted, brutal governments, throttling down our mostly indiscriminate distribution of the instruments of death.

At the same time, we must fulfill our commitment to protect our own citizens on our own ground. We must match the courage and sacrifice of our military people with all the support we can muster. We also must ensure that when they fight, kill, die, and sustain wounds, they do so for the cause of freedom, not corporate profits. We must rein in the military-industrial monster. And we must recommit to international law.

We must hold corporations, their leaders, their employees, their stakeholders to fiscal, social, and moral accountability. We must have the vision and courage to expel and disown business ventures that take without giving back. We must discover models and incentives to create a common wealth from open cooperation, rather than from stealthy competition.

We must hold tightly every elected official to the precious law that he/she is our servant. We must revive old ways, and devise new ways, to guarantee that our government cannot be sold to the highest bidders. We must see that it is not "big government" or "small government", but good government that is necessary.

We must abandon the notion that governmental secrecy is "in the national interest." It is not. Our cherished organs of secrecy have at best been porous and at worst have tried to hide from us the many idiotic follies anunforgivablele sins of many of our governments. We certainly have not prevented the proliferation of terrible weapons throughout the world. In fact, our "intelligence community" has tried to prevent us from knowing that we have been the source of much of that proliferation. We must insist on truth and openness. We can handle the truth - we must handle it.

We must grasp democracy as if we were about to lose it. We are. We must turn our eyes from "Bread and Circus" and actively, constantly participate in the essence of democracy: self-government. We will find so many things to do in addition to voting. We must revive an educational context in which we learn to be effective social beings, rather than "resources" for production and consumption. Economy must serve us - rather than we serving it.

We must convene the best minds we can find in economics, education, science, organization, creativity, public service, communication, and spiritual thought and put them hard at work to find true and lasting solutions.

We must each of us take personal responsibility for our country. Anyone who thinks they are "apolitical" are just in denial. For that matter, perhaps we are all in denial, to some degree, of how much danger we are in.

We can win this War. We must.

*see "In Search of a Nation's Soul", published in ddjangoWIrE on 10/14/2003

© 2003, Ted Donlan

Be at peace.