Where We Are, and Where We Are Not

Email Print

This past Monday
I was sitting in the dentist's chair having white fillings placed
on two of my teeth. It is a procedure used for old codgers such
as myself who have worn out their original teeth by either brushing
too vigorously, or by grinding. Trial by dentistry found me guilty
on both counts. The science in the process is amazing. I likened
it to basically welding the new material onto the existing tooth
using a cool welding torch. Obviously, I am not a student of dentistry.
As the procedure was underway, I was thinking how fortunate I am
to be living in a time and place where this painless treatment is
available. While a shot of Novocain in the checkbook might have
helped, I left the office thinking how great technology has been
to my generation.

The next day
I had a follow-up visit with my ophthalmologist to make a final
check on a retinal reattachment he had recently performed. He was
able to complete this repair job with laser surgery. In this procedure,
my eye was dilated and the doc held a pencil-shaped device up to
my eye and flashed a pattern of light bursts around the retina.
I confess that it is similar to staring into the sun but it was
essentially painless and best of all, it was successful. Again,
I was impressed with the good benefits we have from living in a
technologically advanced world. I have vision in both of my eyes
today that would have been lost were it not for available technology.
And if this were fifty years earlier, I would likely be feeling
around for my false teeth each morning rather than enjoying sight
and an extension on the life of my natural teeth.

On my drive
home, while still glowing from these excellent feelings of technological
good fortune, I recalled one of the points made in the book, The
World Is Flat
by Thomas Friedman. Although Friedman spends
about two-thirds of his book describing how the world has become
flattened, meaning the playing field of global economics and competition
is now level (or flat) due to available technology, much of the
planet remains unflattened. The areas that are unflattened are those
that are lacking in technology or are suffering from repressive,
totalitarian rule preventing their access to the global economy.
As an example, much of certain areas in India and China are enjoying
growth in their economies and advances in their educational infrastructures
because they have been able to use Internet services and other technologies
to their advantage. This has happened at a time when both countries
were able to rid themselves of their former isolationist attitudes.
It also happened at a time when both countries were abundantly supplied
with workforces willing to work for less at jobs that some people
might balk at. But even within these two countries, many of their
citizens are still living a third world lifestyle. All it takes
to be left out of the technology party is to be physically, educationally,
or politically isolated from the resources required to use the technology.

A number of
countries suffer from complete isolation and are missing almost
all that technology has to offer. Some countries are missing out
because they lack an educated workforce, some are lacking other
resources, and some are still under repressive leaders who refuse
to utilize the opportunities beneficial to their existence. Perhaps
for ideological reasons, some countries refuse to join in free trade
agreements, or just refuse to do business with diverse cultures.

If we look
at where we are in this burst of technological growth, the picture
looks bright and we are in a good place. That is, when the "we"
refers to the people who are lucky enough to be consuming and benefiting
from the advancing technologies. But if the "we" includes
all inhabitants on spaceship Earth, then we are not all in a good

Friedman then
describes a number of populations who suffer from repression on
a variety of levels. His contention is that the countries that are
isolated — whether by choice or by circumstance — are the homes
to some of the world's most humiliated, and to the poorest of the
poor. To state it very briefly, people living in poor conditions
become susceptible to the influence of radical leaders. The very
poor feel humiliated by the rest of the progressive world. They
believe they have been humiliated by the rich. This humiliation
leads to resentment. Another angle on that theme is the folks living
outside the circle of wealth and progress blame their station in
life on America and on countries backed by, or doing business with
America. Taking this conclusion a step further shows us why the
most isolated and poorest of all support attacks against America.

A reference
is made to the article, We Are All Bin Laden written by the
Muslim writer, Dr. Da'd Bin Telfa in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.
In this piece, the point is raised that "not a single fatwa
has been issued calling for the killing of bin Laden, on the pretext
that bin Laden proclaims u2018there is no God other than Allah'".
The conclusion is made that much of the Islamic population supports
the notion that America took one on the chin during the 9/11 attacks
and that we deserved it.

I detected
a number of zingers in the book. For me, a zinger is a piece of
new information or a point that sticks in my memory. A zinger is
a statement or realization with the volume turned all the way up.
It follows you throughout the day and night just ringing away; the
message blaring over and over. The book contains an abundance of
zingers dealing with economics, education, world health, religion,
politics, and a host of social issues. But the group of zingers
that has the smoke pouring out of my ears describes how President
Bush has handled the response to 9/11 and how this response affects
the flattened as well as the unflattened world.

the 9/11 attacks, instead of summoning the nation to make the necessary
sacrifices and to address some of our fiscal, energy, science, and
education shortfalls, our president summoned us to go shopping."
Friedman compares (or contrasts) President Bush's 9/11 response
to former president Kennedy's response to the post Sputnik era:

Kennedy understood that the competition with the Soviet Union
was not a space race but a science race, which was really an education
race. Yet the way he chose to get Americans excited about sacrificing
and buckling down to do what it took to win the Cold War — which
required a large-scale push in science and engineering — was by
laying out the vision of putting a man on the moon, not a missile
into Moscow. … If President Bush made energy independence his
moon shot, in one fell swoop he would dry up revenue for terrorism,
force Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia onto the path
of reform — strengthen the dollar, and improve his own standing
in Europe by doing something huge to reduce global warming."

Instead, Bush
chose to export fear rather than hope. By exploiting the emotions
surrounding 9/11 for political purposes, Bush drove a wedge between
Americans and created an unprecedented political polarization. Further,
by choosing to export fear, we chose to import everyone else's fears.

Friedman cites
the article, Under Our Very Noses by Adrian Karatnycky (National
Review, November 5, 2001) to show that the 9/11 hijackers were
not religious fundamentalists but adherents of an extreme, violent
political cult. Further, the founders of al-Qaeda were less of a
religious phenomenon and more of a political one. It boils down
to our enemies being more accurately described or defined by their
hatred of being left out and humiliated than by their hatred toward
Americans per se.

following the 9/11 attacks, I confess to supporting President Bush
because he is the commander in chief of our armed forces and because
we had been attacked on our home soil. Until that event, I had held
a reserved opinion of Bush. He had not been someone who I could
vote for or support, but the war veteran in me said the guy is the
leader of our troops and like him or not, he had a job to do. I
think my experience paralleled that of many vets and many Americans
in general. The war on terror seemed to be the right action. The
trouble was the enemy did not have an address. It was dissimilar
from the attack on Pearl Harbor because at least the Japanese had
a place they called home.

As the war
on terror bogged down and the best targets in Afghanistan were turned
to dust, we started hearing of Iraq's involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
We were told the Iraqis fostered terrorism and supported Bin Laden.
We were told they were building weapons capable of destroying us.
We were shown satellite photos of factories where weapons of terror
were being made. We were assured they had nukes and were readying
their production for an attack on our country.

So Bush and
his chickenhawks
convinced most of the rest of Washington to support an attack on
Iraq to take out the weapons, remove Saddam Hussein, and destroy
that base of terror. We were told it would be a cakewalk. We expected
the country to surrender to CNN reporters like they did in Gulf
I under Bush41. The expense of the war would be paid by the oil
we would take from Iraq. And the people would all be so happy to
have Saddam ousted that they would welcome the American dream of
democracy. I confess to believing the lies being told by the post
and his circle of toadies.

Well, here
it is more than four years after the 9/11 attacks and American soldiers
are being killed every day in Iraq. Our budget deficit is at a record
high as we try to pay for this war that just will not stop. The
citizens of Iraq apparently hate us, as do many others. The preemptive
strike on Iraq has turned into a colossal mistake.

And here is
my zinger: we are still there! Saddam is out, the weapons of mass
destruction never existed, and the price of oil is at an all-time
high, over 2,000 Americans gave their lives for this mistake, and
we are still hiding for cover at every security flinch. And here
is another: Nothing I have written here is news. This information
was available to us before the '04 elections yet the war
still won re-election! So I guess that the onus of
where we are (or aren't) belongs on us.

14, 2006

Woolley [send him mail]
is a disabled Vietnam veteran living in Miami, Florida. He served
with the 9th Infantry Division in The Mekong Delta in
a Ranger unit doing reconnaissance 1968–69 where he received
a gunshot wound to the head leaving one side severely paralyzed.
He is a father of four grown children and grandfather of seven,
including a set of triplets.

Woolley Archives

Email Print