Friday, January 23, 2009

Mixed Feelings

I have been having really mixed feelings of pride and shame in my country the past couple of days. It’s uncomfortable.

Pride that we elected an African-American as President, of course. Pride in the steps he has already taken toward restoring the values of this great nation: restoring openness in government, reducing the influence of lobbying, closing Guantanamo and the network of illegal prisons, establishing a plan to remove occupation troops from Iraq, appointing two outstanding envoys to troubled parts of the globe.

“I think this not only keeps my campaign promise, but goes toward renewing principles set by our founding fathers.”

No fan of Hillary Clinton, how could I not be moved by her reception at the Department of State on Thursday? How could I not have derived a sense that we are indeed turning in the right direction when I listened to her speak to her new staff?

But the response of a large part of this nation to this change of direction fills me with a very deep shame to be a citizen of the same nation. How can such a major part of our leadership and our citizenry be so cowardly, so terror-filled, so utterly afraid of a small band of men that poses a threat to individual lives but no threat to us as a nation whatever?

Terrorists simply pose no “national security” threat. Positing the worst case scenario, that a nuclear device destroys an entire city, does that cause the United States to be unable to continue functioning as a national entity? It does not even come close, even if that city is Washington, DC. Certainly this is a serious threat, and one to be taken seriously, but it simply is not a “national security” issue.

Terrorists pose a threat to national security only if you define national security as “a threat to any individual American life.” (In my opinion that is a pretty stupid way to define it, and what one really means when one does that is, “national security means keeping me, personally, safe.”) Given that definition, sending Americans into Iraq and having more than 4000 of them killed is a damned poor way to accomplish national security.

Three thousand of our citizens die every single month on our highways, and we don’t care. There is no outcry, no demand for action, no outrage. That fact goes utterly unnoticed by our leadership, and unremarked by our media. Three thousand deaths per month, 36,000 lives every single year, is simply the cost of doing business.

There are undoubtedly a few people who are terrified of our highways and freeways, but the vast majority of us jump behind the wheel without a single thought of being killed. Not only do we join the throng on our roads, but a majority of us drive like absolute maniacs, adding to the carnage by speeding recklessly and violating traffic laws right and left. Of course we blame the insurance companies for charging high rates, giving no thought to our insane driving habits. But that’s for another essay. Meanwhile we slaughter 3000 of each other on our highways every single month.

But the thought of 3000 people being killed one time sends us into a frenzy of terror and an irresponsible abandonment of principles upon which this nation was founded.

While 53% of the public thinks that torture should not be used under any circumstances, a full 40% think that it should be. Four in ten of the people of this nation are so fearful for their individual lives that they are willing for inhumane methods to be used to preserve them in their suburban homes with their SUV’s and their big-screen TV’s.

A prison in Afghanistan was attacked by a Taliban army, and our leaders use that to fearmonger against “terrorists” being held in continental prisons for fear that those prisons will “be attacked” despite the certain fact that there are no Taliban armies in the continental US.

American prisons hold people like the man that bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building. They hold Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and the Unabomber. But Americans are so freaked out and terror-filled by these Muslims that they have instilled them with superhuman powers and decided that they cannot be contained by these same prisons. Americans are filled with an unreasoning terror that they will escape and roam our streets, killing us by the thousands. They will, of course be unstoppable by any law enforcement or military forces which might be deployed against them.

People who think thusly are not people with whom I want to share a nation.

“The President believes that when we uphold the principles upon which this nation was founded that we have taken a step toward making the nation more safe.”

That is a man with whom I am proud to share a nation.

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