The banality of everyday life is suffocating. Even events of seeming significance shrink into nothing. I’ve been have a lot of trouble caring, lately. My work, the 24-hour news cycle, all the little pictures that facebook’s news-feed serves me, they seem irrelevant. I have bigger things to worry about.
Has corruption entered the American character? I know, I know, Americans have never had pure hearts. What I mean to ask, “Is America on the decline?” Has the war on terror caused us to accept a bunker mentality? America is in the vicelike grip of fear. Our backgrounds have been turned into potential terrorist battlefields. Let me tell you something, the idea of the bureaucratic agency called the Department of Homeland security frightens me. Do we really want the tentacles of the federal government reaching into every crevice of our lives?
Face it, we can’t protect our malls from suicide bombers. And that prospect scares me. What happens to America when they hit the heartland? Will the people clamor for the government to take their civil liberties? The sad thing is that I am certain that this will be the response. I am beleaguered on both sides: The ever-present specter of tyranny is equally as destructive as a terrorist’s bomb.
Something deep within our souls changed that day, when the barbarians sacked Rome. The American Empire suddenly felt vulnerable. Our collective psyche is still wounded. Like fools, we turned to our strong leader George Bush, who turned out to be the biggest fool of them all. His Manichaean paranoia1 is dangerous. Disparate bands of Islamic terrorists and disparate totalitarian Islamist movements have been linked together into the monolith that is Islamo-fascism. We’ve raised our children under the dark cloud of terror. This is all they’ve known. This is almost all I’ve known. I was just aware enough to know that 9/11 changed everything, but I didn’t know anything about that everything that had been changed.
I have glimpses. I remember a time when you felt a slight twinge when the airplane landed and could give your loved ones a hug right before they boarded the airplane. These kids will have grown up in America under siege. As long as they can remember, you’re supposed to submit. You’re supposed to take off your shoes. Your luggage occasionally has a paper in it saying that TSA conducted a search. You’re supposed to smile and thank them for protecting our country. For us, security is a hassle. For them, it’s natural to leave the hair gel at home, or put it in a plastic baggie.
They’re growing up in a world where the phrase “The American Way” is foreign. Truth is trashed for expedience. The institutions of justice are tossed aside for the prerogative of the executive. They may read in the history books about a different America, not hated by the international community, full of dreams and full of the entrepreneurial, the frontier spirit. Alas, they hear, that time is over. We are a different America who faces a different threat, unlike any other.
Not I, you say. But maybe you’re like me, under another level of the cloud cover. Worried about the internal threat, I run the trouble of ignoring the fact that I’ve allowed them to frame the debate. The fear still envelopes me. We need to beyond the fear and quantify the threat in a realistic manner.
I also chastise the scoffers who think there’s no threat at all. I won’t take the time to address them, but I will say that the threat of terror is very real and will continue to remain real no matter what happens in Iraq. The question becomes: How do we address terror without fighting a war on terror? How do we fight without fear? How do we keep ourselves safe without security consuming our lives? How do we undo so many mistakes? How do we reframe the debate?
One answer is that we cling tenaciously to our traditions.2 I mean various things by tradition. Most especially, Iâ€™m referring to our institutions of justice and government. If we give those up, then all is for naught. We must also preserve our moral traditions. This has nothing to do with gay marriage. This has everything to do with our belief that every human being has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Of course, this isnâ€™t enough. Itâ€™s not enough just to believe that we need traditions. In order to reaffirm tradition, we need to defeat the bunker mentality, the Manichaean mentality. We need to end the war on terror. We need to work with the international community to make terrorism unacceptable and a crime against humanity. We need to work with the international community to create an acceptable mechanism for punishing states that sponsor terror.
Americans need to be prepared for the next attack. We need to not become panicked animals who need to be herded by the government when that next attack hits. The Department of Homeland Security is just a bastion of pork-barrel spending. The real effect of terrorism is psychological. They can do nothing if we dust ourselves off. They can do nothing if every attack is met with swift emergency response. The casualties are reduced and quickly we return to our everyday lives. They canâ€™t break us if we donâ€™t submit.
Yet even all thatâ€™s not enough. Itâ€™s not a question of what we need to do, but implementation. Brzezinski asks, â€œWhere is the U.S. leader ready to say, â€˜Enough of this hysteria, stop this paranoiaâ€™? Even in the face of future terrorist attacks, the likelihood of which cannot be denied, let us show some sense. Let us be true to our traditions.â€ This is why Iâ€™m so worried about 2008. I see no one.
This is the problem I struggle with now: How to save America from the decline. I see many things that need to be done, but no will to do them. I canâ€™t do this alone. You canâ€™t do this alone. Unfortunately, I donâ€™t know what can be done as long as our current crop of candidates remains mediocre and politically un-courageous. I thought letting this all out would provide with the clarity to provide solutions, but I see nothing at this point. At least, nothing that will solve everything all at once.
For now, let me be courageous. Let yourselves be courageous. And maybe I can get some other young people to be courageous. Spread the word that the â€œwar on terrorâ€ is counterproductive. Tout Americaâ€™s traditions as the best way to protect the â€œhomeland.â€ Wherever you see false security, speak up.3 Donâ€™t let anyone get away with anything anymore. Donâ€™t let security be determined by politics. America deserves real solutions, not this madness. Tell all the politicians, when it comes to keeping America safe: No more bullshit.
If they tar you as unpatriotic, shout even louder. They want nothing but theater. We want real security. We want the security of civil liberties. We want the security of emergency response. We want the security of international institutions and international law. We want the security of justice, not some vague forever-war. Most of all, we want the security of not being afraid.
I think that if this happens, if America awakens and demands a return to her traditions, the so-called leaders may finally do something.
This is Phase 1: The Awakening.
1Brzezinski used this phrase when he was being interviewed on the Daily Show.
2I was surprised at Brzezinskiâ€™s line at the end of his article, mentioning that we should be true to our traditions. It spoke to me very much. I find it strange that now it is the conservatives who want to throw away tradition.
3This is the difficulty with the bureaucracy. The people no longer control how the nation keeps itself safe. Bureaucrats do. These people think theyâ€™re experts, but theyâ€™re just fucking things up.