Bipolar America

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"Don't
feel like Satan but I am to them.
So
I try to forget it any way I can."

~ Neil Young

Most
of us recognize that we fall short. If we are honest, we acknowledge
that others might have legitimate grievances with us. For a man
to dislike me and perhaps even wish me ill it is not necessary for
him to be evil or stupid or misinformed. All that is necessary is
for him to see not my aspirations or my efforts to fulfill them
but the dark chasm that divides the two. Being able to see yourself
as others see you is a blessing, however difficult and distasteful
the sight might be.

But
as Americans, we seem not to recognize this same gap between aspiration
and actuality in our national behavior.

The
reasons we ignore it are many. Not least among them is the fact
that our rulers and their media lapdogs misdirect and misinform
us for the very purpose of keeping us ignorant. They like their
power and their privilege. They like us fat, dumb and happy. Those
sins are theirs to answer for but their sins do not excuse ours.

A
man is not excused for the evil he does because those around him
tell him what a great guy he is. It is up to each of us to discover
and act on what is right. And the fact that our politicians, media,
and power brokers tell us that America is nothing but wonderful
and that is why some other people hate us does not mean that we
are excused if we fail to find and acknowledge the truth for ourselves.
This is not a call to self-loathing but to truth. And the truth,
and the truth alone, will keep us free.

When
another country is struck by disaster – earthquake, hurricane, flood
– America and Americans are the first to help. We are also the first
to rain bombs down on other nations. We did it in Serbia. We continue
to do so in Iraq nearly every day. If the people of the nation in
question do not do as we wish – dump Saddam, give their homeland
to the KLA, whatever we want that day – we drop more bombs. Our
bombs kill innocents, women and children. They destroy churches
and marketplaces and pharmaceutical factories. This is also a true
thing about us.

We
say that the people who have perpetrated Tuesday's terrorist attacks
on us are different from us. We say that they do not place the same
value on human life as we do. Is that true? Do Islamic fundamentalists
kill a million and a half of their unborn babies each year? I don't
know if they do or not, but it seems like a reasonable question.
I know that we do. It is one more true thing about us.

We
rebuilt Europe, enemy and ally alike, and Japan after World War
II. Americans fed, housed, and doctored most of a continent. We
asked for nothing in return, which is exactly what we got. Americans
can't even get a kind word from many of the people we put back on
their feet let alone a few bucks worth of the interest on the loan.
But we would do it for them again. Even the French. Another true
thing about who we are.

Today
we enforce economic sanctions in Iraq and Cuba that inflict extreme
hardship on the people of those nations. That hardship includes
denying food and medical care to women and children. People die
because of our sanctions. We do it because our government does not
like their leaders. Does not like their systems of government. The
Iraqi embargo is as much a true thing about America as the Marshall
Plan.

For
how long can we continue to reconcile these two sets of truths about
America?

Will
the politicians, the military-industrial complex and their media
flunkies suddenly see the light and begin to act toward other nations
as the people of America act toward the people of other nations?
Or will we inexorably slide down the slippery slope into the pit
of our shortcomings?

In
the coming time, America will attempt to exact justice for the evil
that has been done. Not from more innocents, we all hope. In my
view, that action is both necessary and appropriate.

In
the coming time we will hear calls from the usual suspects asking
us to give up freedom in return for security. They have already
begun. We must resist. We have already given up too much freedom
and security remains an illusion. The only way to be safe is to
never feel secure. We cannot protect ourselves by becoming someone
else. We must become more American, not less.

In
the coming time, we will grieve for the dead. We will build monuments
to those we have lost. This also is necessary and appropriate. We
need to mourn loss. Heroism and innocence should be honored. But
if that is all we do, all of it will come to nothing or worse.

As
a people, we must look at ourselves and see the dark of the chasm
of our own failures while never forgetting the light of our aspirations
and our efforts and our successes. The American nation frequently
fails to behave as the American people would behave at their best.
This can no longer go unnoticed, un-remarked, unchallenged. Americans
must remake our government into something more like ourselves. Something
more truly American.

Americans
are live-and-let-live people. America is no longer a live-and-let-live
country because our government and its acolytes want to rule the
world. I, for one, do not do not believe Americans want to rule
the world. Do you? Certainly, the world does not want to be ruled
by America. Would you? Americans must learn to see ourselves as
others see us and to treat the people of the rest of the world as
we would have them treat us.

If
this great tragedy can awaken us from our bipolar dream state so
that we acknowledge the difference between who we are becoming and
who we want to be, we might yet create the best possible memorial
to our dead. We might yet bring a halt to the American Empire that
bombs and starves our neighbors. We might yet rekindle the American
Republic that lives in peace with its neighbors.

September
15, 2001

Ed
Cobb [send him mail] is
a printer in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. He is a northerner by
birth, a southerner by choice, and a Catholic by the grace of God.

Ed
Cobb Archives

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