I came of age in those amazing times when America learned to hate war and long for peace. I grew up chanting “All we are saying, is give Peace a chance” along with John Lennon and many blue jean clad peers. We all boarded the “Peace Train” and pinned our hopes on a world that wanted peace as badly as we did. We recognized war as a terrible thing, tearing people, families, children, homes, villages, cities, and nations apart and emphasizing the fault lines of hate that run through human history. We did not want to go to war in Vietnam.
As we aged our anti-war message mellowed. We learned the lessons of expediency. With Katie we watched two planes fly into the Twin Towers; we watched those proud towers which pierced our skies burn to ash, melt, and fall over our iconic city. While many of us peaceniks did not want to go to war in Iraq and had real doubts about those weapons of mass destruction, we felt that if we seemed unprepared for some military style of retaliation we would only invite more attacks. We recognized the need to mount a good defense in terms of domestic security systems, and a good offense in terms of a willingness to find and hunt down our enemies and to be ready to meet them on a battlefield. War reared its ugly head again and our chorus of “give Peace a chance” dwindled until it was almost just a silent wish. But that refrain is still there; it is the bass line of our existence. When our strong yearning for peace was met by the revelation that anti-American sentiment around the world was about to become the treble line of our existence, we girded our loins (well the loins of our soldiers) to do more war, war seemingly without end, as it is unclear how all the hostilities that face us around the globe will ever give way to tolerance and peaceful coexistence. It looks as if our contretemps with Islamic extremists will be quite hard to unravel, and then we face other unhappy campers in far flung corners of the world. It looks like we will become way more weary of war before the people of earth will ever reach some kind of equanimity and détente.
So when I saw what happened with the chemical weapons in Syria; when I saw that a peaceful solution was found that seems to be functioning; when I see Syria’s chemical weapons being destroyed by Syria without our having to brings our missiles to bear, then it does not matter who looks weak and who did or didn’t get to strut their hawkishness. I am simply thankful and since it is Thanksgiving, what better week is there to express my thankfulness. And when I see Iran asking us to consider a bargain, a deal, however small that deal may be, I am again thankful, although with lots of reservations – a kind of wait and see thankfulness that that little bass line, John Lennon’s line, “give Peace a chance” just got a little bit louder; not rocking the car louder, but the car next to you knows you are listening to the tune louder. I guess you could say that I am tentatively thankful, hoping this will turn into full blown thankfulness and that this trend of working things out will continue. Happy Thanksgiving! Listen to the bass line.
This is the view from the cheap seats.
Photo credits: taken by Shamil Zhumatov, Reuters; shared by Fadhel Hawramany on Google+; Cheese-making in Kazakhstan
The admonition of our forefathers that “all men (and women) are created equal” does guide a lot our decisions as Americans and lately seems to keep leading us back to another old adage, that one that says “no good deed goes unpunished”. The fact that it seemed wrong to many Americans to enjoy relative prosperity while many others around the world seemed to languish in poverty led to a belief that, although Americans lost all of their jobs, the jobs that were created in places where no boom has gone before (in recent memory) convinced us that this was, in some twisted self-effacing way, a good thing for the whole world in the long run. Allowing others to make puny wages doing jobs that provided Americans with great incomes could be justified because it would eventually lift up workers around the world, assuage our national guilt, and usher in a future that guaranteed human rights for all. Not that we necessarily had a choice. Globalization happened. Actually, of course, average Americans did not send their jobs to other nations; their jobs were yanked away and bestowed elsewhere. Still it is somewhat comforting to believe that losing our jobs makes us better Americans, adhering to the ideals that formed the basis of our nation and the ideals that people around the world have found admirable and desirable.
I don’t think we have been quite as happy with the realities of the road to globalization. It will take many generations, probably, for global economics to raise the standard of living for everyone. In the meantime, Americans are left in a sort of economic backwater, a zone where all but the wealthiest Americans are stuck treading water, and rather brackish water at that. We don’t really want to be in this financial limbo and we may not stay here for long. Hopefully we will find a way up and out, a way back to the prosperity that makes America hum, that calms twitchy Republican plutocrats, and gives us back our optimistic spirit. What we can’t know is how long it will take for this to happen, and whether we will be able to pull another rabbit out of our magic hat and find the next thing or things that will take us to a new prosperity. Perhaps on our enforced hiatus from prosperity we will learn to enjoy a bit of languishing, to slow down a bit and embrace a simpler lifestyle that values intangibles like family and friends and leisure and that does not so much rely on collecting more and more stuff, things, objects we never have any time to appreciate.
Must everyone in America have granite countertops and stainless steel appliances? I just saw that photo that you see at the top of this post, taken by someone at Reuters and shared on Google+ that shows a Central Asian mother and daughter making cheese. They are squatting in a hut with a straw floor forming perfect mounds of fresh cheese on a wooden board probably getting ready to sell their cheeses at the local market. Obviously the contrast between these two “kitchen” scenarios exposes the distance the world must travel before there is any real economic global equality of opportunity. If we find a way to restore the upward trajectory of our economy the distance among nations will continue to widen or at least maintain its current proportions. However, I don’t expect that we will lag behind on purpose waiting for people in other nations to catch up.
In addition, economics is not the only sphere of human activity that has been stirred by globalization. An absolute torrent of hostility has been released, most of it religious in nature between people who adhere to a set of stern religious laws and have practiced this demanding religion since antiquity. So we find ourselves in the midst of a religious firestorm, a maelstrom that was unforeseen by most of us. If you read science fiction, especially Frank Herbert’s Dune books, the idea of jihad probably did not come as a total surprise, but still, who knew; not us “ugly” Americans. We did not know that modern communication devices like computers and especially cell phones, and the penchant for tourism that arose with transportation advances and increased prosperity would, just like disturbing a hive of hornets, produce culture shock after culture shock, foment anger and violent reactionary responses that would lead to the threat of terrorism that has arrived on America’s (and the rest of the industrialized world’s) doorstep and which has become a new fact of life.
Who knew that there are many people who would want to resist globalization, who treasure their traditional lifestyle, their religious isolation and who, once change began to rock their world, awoke to a passion of missionary zeal that Allah requires once the infidel is right in your backyard. Christians ought to understand the often unintentional cruelties of the call to carry a foreign religious mission to “pagans” and “nonbelievers”. Many of us did not foresee that what seemed like just simple economic change would resonate through every level of the diverse cultures around the world and make diversity one of the largest issues involved in globalization. Untangling these belief issues and lifestyle issues requires delicacy and time, not strong weapons in the American arsenal. We are spontaneous, well-meaning, earnest, clueless; bulls in the china shop of global human interactions. We are not known for either patience or delicacy.
Now that globalization has begun, it probably can’t be stopped unless we go into another “dark” age which seems unlikely. But the globalizations we are experiencing will probably not do away with nations, nor will it probably do away with religions, at least not in any of our lifetimes. Can we wend our ways through the minefields of culture shock and religious intolerance and economic rises and falls to form a more perfect union of the world’s nations that could bring to our little planet health and peace? That is the challenge of this particular era of human history. Will environmental forces trump all of it and drown us in global environmental crisis? We live with that challenge right now. Yikes. I wish I believed that this all arose from our belief that all men are created equal (and perhaps some of it did) but most of this nexus of change arose from greed. Oh well, we are what we are. Surprise! The key words here are delicacy and time.
It is be very difficult for the American people to know what approach we should take in the Middle East. We have just ended one war that killed too many American soldiers, maimed too many others, and killed too many Iraqis also. We are still involved in another costly war where more American soldiers are dying or coming home with extreme injuries they must learn to live with. We haven’t exactly been appreciated in our role as “liberators” who saved Iraq and Afghanistan from what basically amounted to “domestic violence”; from an extreme leader in the case of Iraq and an extreme religious sect in the case of Afghanistan. Of course we were accidental “liberators” who interfered in domestic violence because it was spilling over into attacks on America and Europe, in increasingly escalating terrorist activities that we could not afford to ignore. We do seem to have bought ourselves a temporary lull in explosive attacks outside of the Middle East. How long this will last we cannot say as the hate that lies behind terrorist attacks does not seem to have abated.
Now, as we prepare to leave Afghanistan and amid the irony of having the troops we trained kill their trainers, we are facing new trials in the Middle East. In Libya our ambassador was murdered with malice, it seems, and in Syria we have an absolutely sorrowful mess, with innocent people dying every day and a leader basically committing genocide against his people in order to retain power. If Assad wins now, Syria will probably be locked down tighter than a maximum security prison. Egypt is now a Muslim nation and it is one of our greatest dilemmas right now to learn how to distinguish the extremists who hate America from the moderates who would be happy to try peaceful coexistence. And we have Iran, Iran, Iran, with a government that seems to enjoy taunting America and Israel and taking us all to the edge of war. I don’t know about you, but I am not a “hawk”. I do not want another war in the Middle East right now. We need some time to recoup from the last 11 years and more. We need to let the troops who fought so bravely retire to a more peaceful life with their families. We need to train up new troops who will be fresh and ready to go at some future date. Do we have any time to catch our breath? Will we have to come up with a strong response to the red line drawn by Israel in relation to Iran’s nuclear goals? Will we send a drone or do a pre-emptive strike? Will it be enough to almost send a drone or threaten to do a pre-emptive strike? What does Israel have in mind in response to the red line? I’m certain that if a stern response becomes absolutely necessary then America will do what it must.
Is there a quick way to end hostilities between American (and other western nations) and the Middle Eastern nations where terrorists find safe harbor to harry surrounding countries? Will it take decades to learn to share our crowded and suddenly small planet and to accept each others differences? We want to see families in the Middle East living ordinary lives in the home towns they love but with the rights they deserve.
As for why we don’t know why our President didn’t realize or didn’t share that the death of Chris Stevens in Libya was the result of a terrorist attack, I only know what we are told by news outlets. Was this situation set up to make Obama look clueless so close to the election? Anything is possible. Were our national security agencies guilty of withholding information? Why would they do this? Did Obama chose to ignore the intelligence for some reason? If so, what reason? We’ll probably learn the truth about this some day. Could it have been prevented? That we will never really know. It is clear that we did not believe our Ambassador to Libya was in imminent danger and it was a very sobering lesson to learn.
It is clear that living for decades with the uncertainties we are facing in the Middle East recalls the years of the cold war and doesn’t sit comfortably with any of us who lived through those times. It appears that these particular tensions will resolve slowly, unless the red line kills us all. Most of us, except for a few warmongers, don’t have a clue about what America should do. We are dreaming of peaceful coexistence, however, we accept that we may not get this particular outcome at this particular time.
Iran is now providing us with the newest “Fear Factor” episode in the daily parade of aggressive world leaders who hate America and want to inflict pain on America. Iran wants nukes. We are not sure why Iran wants nukes, but we are sure that letting an aggressive nation who hates America develop nukes is probably not a good idea. (I am not even including Iran’s dysfunctional relationship with Israel in this discussion.)
Iran says they want nukes to use for peaceful purposes. They want to provide energy to the people of Iran. This is a laudable goal. Why would anyone need to be secretive about it? I can see that it might provoke anger when the world will not believe what you say, when they want to enter your country and poke around to see if you are being truthful.
But why are your borders closed in the first place? What are you doing in there that the world is not welcome to see? I know the culture of the 21st century can be invasive, as we are seeing in other Arab nations. I am guessing that you are trying to keep out these cultural influences so Iran can remain Iran. But in trying to hold off the world and stop progress Iran seems to us to be keeping its citizens in the prison of a time warp. It seems to us impossible, controlling, and artificial to hold the world out forever.
Is Iran like the “small dog” who barks a lot because s/he feels threatened or is Iran imperialistic? Does the nation want to be “top dog” and rule the world? This is what we worry about. We are not sure, based on the hostile rhetoric we hear, about what Iran’s true goals are. This is why we worry that Iran is developing nukes as weapons and not just for peaceful purposes.
Iranian leaders project hate, they project paranoia, and they project a chauvinism that often leads nations to attack other nations. They keep defying the world and taking it to the edge of war, as in their current threats to close the Straits of Hormuz. It may just be the protective stance of a beleaguered nation, or it may be a set-up to hostilities that involve more than an exchange of hateful words and threats. We want to like you Iran, but as things stand, we cannot know if your bite is worse than your bark.
The sad thing is that it is difficult to imagine any Iran scenario that does not eventually involve armed conflict. I hope we find another way to relate to Iran. Of course, we cannot really exclude Israel from any discussion about Iran because Israel is our BFF and Iran refuses to even admit their existence. Any solution that involves only Iranian-American relations is unacceptable. Any solution that involves Iranian-American-Israeli relations seems impossible. So far we have not come up with any ways to turn Iran from a “hater” into a friend.