How did I get in this handbasket?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

If you read nothing else today.... this. It is perhaps one of the best posts about the situation in Iraq I have read. It is all the better as it is from a boots-on-the-ground source who can speak to the nature of events infinitely better than an armchair carper like myself.

It breaks my heart that we - all of us, as citizens, taxpayers, and complicit consumers of media - have allowed this to happen to our sons and daughters especially ones as honorable as this commentator.

But more, there is tremendous shame at the immeasurable damage done to that ineffable spirit of our nation, not our zeitgeist, but that image of ourselves as a nation that we aspire to. We aspire to be the nation our 'mythology' says we are. Our national mythology says we are for freedom, truth, justice, opportunity, equality, tolerance, and helping out the underdog. And, while no we are no unassailable paragon of virtue - in the grand sweep of humanity, especially the abattoir of the 20th century, we have achieved those aims better than most.

This is not mere sloganeering either - the French have their "Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite," but when you really exhort the French to what makes France so great you really get "Linguistic Superiority, Xenophobia, and really quite excellent cuisine." Theirs is a tagline, ours is us, at our core, as we really want to be, and be perceived.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, was passed primarily because activists, protesters, and people of conscience frequently appealed to our mythology. By this I mean they appealed to our conception of ourselves as a nation - that all men are created equal - and pointed out that in America it simply was not so. When said often enough, loudly enough, the country knew it had to "put up, or shut up." We had to honor that "promissory note to which every American was to fall heir," that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of, or we had to eventually admit we were not who we said we were.

Americans, simply cannot do this.

Think about that for a second. We would rather reshape the nation than reshape how we think of ourselves. I'm not saying we do so quickly, but when we can no longer deny our shortcomings, we do not accept them - we actually change.

We, like all nations, peoples, and cultures - especially when strong - have done horrible unconscionable things in our history.; things no one can really defend. Sometimes we can look back and as explanation (but not excuse) and say it was: a short-lived lapse in national character; or a tiny event in the maelstrom of Cold War brinkmanship-by-proxy; or our part in a overarching culture that was bigoted, ignorant and unevolved, sometimes we have no explanation at all.

But this. This war (technically not a war, just manifest evidence of the sheer cravenness of those that claim to represent us), this war brings us to a place we have not been before. We are a powerful nation - perhaps the most powerful - and we have attacked, unprovoked, a vastly weaker nation that posed no real threat to us.

We are now an Aggressor Nation.

We have entered the realm of Nations tread by The Soviet Union. Germany of 1914-1918 & 1933-1945, Serbia, or most ironically, Iraq circa 1991. People know Germany as an entirely different country now - but the spectre of their aggression haunts them like Banquo's ghost - just in the back of the world's consciousness. George W. Bush has taken us to this Godforsaken landscape. He has harmed this nation in a way no terrorist could - he has made us less than we are and hope to be.

As profoundly unhappy as I am about what we as a nation are doing and where we are going, I still admire the sheer awesome power of our mythology and how when appealed to, often inspires us as a nation to do The Right Thing. I also pray that it will get us out of the mess we are in now.


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