Sunday, June 1, 2008

High Anxiety

This was a manic weekend.

It was Shellie's birthday this weekend and I was invited to her annual get-together this year. Her tradition is to have dinner at a sushi restaurant, then go bowling afterward. The group consisted of Shellie, her husband, two of her friends who recently moved back from Dallas, and her veterinary friend from when she was in college. The sushi place (Midori Sushi) was excellent. A wonderful time was had by all. The bowling was okay ... I would say I enjoyed bowling again, and the company was good, but I really would rather not go again under the same circumstances. It seems that like everything else these days, somehow in the last couple of decades they've decided it wasn't enough to bowl and chat with everyone but now they need to blast you with music the whole time. I'll also add that my tastes in music are not the same as their's, and leave it at that. I was relieved that we were heading out when the blacklights came on and the alleged disco music blasted. I discovered that there is yet another hell and it is in a bowling alley of all places. On the positive side, though, I really enjoyed meeting Shellie's friends, and my bowling ball kind of still fits my hand. Oh, and did I say that the sushi was good? For the record, I bowled a 104 and a 102 (I think)...

Tonight I was invited by a few of the ANK folks to get together to eat dinner at Cheddar's and see a movie at Mike & Annette's place. The food at Cheddar's was okay, but our waiter was awful. I believe that we finally ended up leaving a 60 cent tip. The guy hardly stopped at the table, had a frown on his face the whole time, walked around in circles, and forgot to bring our soups, and those were just a few of the offenses. There really is no excuse for service like that.

The movie we saw was "The Kingdom" and the reason I bring it up is because it ties into my anticipated comments about terrorism. The movie was very well-done, but as I told the other folks, I wouldn't have called it "enjoyable." It was more thought-provoking than enjoyable, and I have had more than my share of provocation lately. In any case, this film kind of let the air out of some of the comments I planned to write about since it really did cover it pretty well. So I'll keep my terrorism comments kind of brief and refer you to this movie for some of the background. While the film was fiction, the overall circumstances were far from fiction.

Terrorism -- What is it? Webster's online dictionary defines it as, "The systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion." I believe this is a good definition, and for this discussion I'll stay with it. Since September 11, 2001 we have heard a lot about terrorism, and I believe that many people feel that terrorism started after the systematic death and destruction that took place on that day. Terrorism has been around throughout history: Several examples are the Spanish Inquisition, the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan in the 1970s, McVey's bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, several bombings/shootings of doctors and clinics that performed abortions, and the list goes on. Terrorism is not confined to extremists in the Middle Eastern countries. So when our government decided to take-on terrorism by declaring a "war on terror," these are the kind of actions we have sought to wipe-out.

I really don't think we can wage war against "terror." Terrorism is a means of coercion and not a specific ideological belief. We cannot wage war against the instrument used by specific groups to coerce other groups to their way of thinking. We can wage war against others with whom we disagree. This, I believe, is the dirty little secret that people don't want to admit to themselves. To admit what we're really fighting against makes what happened on September 11 much too clear. Why did September 11 really happen? It happened because an extremist group in the Middle East did not like Western presence in their culture. They felt that we went into their country in search for energy (oil) and in the process adversely affected their belief and value systems. The United States has been somewhat lucky throughout its relatively short history to avoid having retaliation of this kind happen on its soil, primarily due to distance and being surrounded by two large oceans. September 11 was a message from these extremists saying, "Get the heck out of our country or we'll do this again, we've figured out how to get to you." Were we right in our actions in the Middle East leading up to or following September 11? I'm in no position to say - I don't have enough information. What I can say is that cultural change is inevitable, and there are always people who are going to very much dislike it. I'm sure the United States hasn't been entirely careful about its impact on other countries' cultures, but that's sometimes unavoidable or an unintended consequence of interacting with people. In other words I feel that the September 11 terrorist events were no more justifiable than the bombing of abortion clinics, regardless of the message being sent.

Given this discussion, I cannot see a way we can win a war against terrorism, given that we can't really wage war against it. It's the same reason we can't wage war against drugs. Before we can win this war, we need to admit to ourselves what it is we're really fighting against. I believe we owe it to the people who died on September 11, 2001 and the military men and women who are defending our country to clearly define what it is we're really trying to do. Only once we make that clear can we then indicate when we've won the war, we can work toward that end, and life can start to return to normal, albeit changed in many ways by the events that have happened. To declare we're going to wipe out a means of coercing people to one's ideology is foolish, and a goal that we will never achieve. We haven't been able to eliminate terrorism within our own culture, so we are certainly not going to do so in someone else's.

What we have done to our own culture within the past seven years is also inexcusable though. After September 11, 2001 there was a lot of talk about not giving-into the terrorists and to show that liberty and freedom will prevail. Following that declaration our own people (through government) have systematically nibbled away at the freedoms and liberties that we all enjoy in the name of protecting people against terrorism. Benjamin Franklin's now cliched quote, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety," never has rung true more than now. Admittedly there were areas where the U.S. had gotten pretty lax about some security, and in several cases there was a need to ramp-up security where practical. However, we've gone to the extremes of having people take off their shoes in the airport and can't carry a reasonably-sized bottle of shampoo in their luggage. We're treated like criminals in our own country. Will this thwart a potential attack? Sure. Will it raise the bar for people who are persistently trying to launch an attack? Absolutely...and raise the bar they will. If we had the magic bullet (no pun intended) that would prevent this kind of attack, surely that same means could be used to prevent all crime. Fact is that criminals, terrorists, or anyone who is persistently trying to harm another person isn't going to "play by the rules," and the only thing that we're doing by targeting the symptoms in the manner we are doing now is moving our society closer and closer to authoritarianism or totalitarianism. I am also not so naive to think that this is the result of some great conspiracy within our government (as some vocal individuals have) - it is actually because it is what we, the people, have asked of our government. Getting back what we've given up to gain some "temporary safety" would take more knowledge than I have and more typing than I can do here.

Finally, I'd like you to consider the origin of the ideologies involved in many of the actions I've spoken about here: The Middle Eastern extremists, the abortion bombings, our own responses to terrorism, and many of the conflicts throughout history. Many of these have very specific origins. Before you can understand why someone has chosen the path they have taken, especially when they're ones that are different from our own, we need to look inward and take a look at why we believe and act the way we do. It takes a lot of discipline and an open mind to do that, and until people have taken the time to do that, they will never understand why things are as they are. Until we really understand the "why" we will never be able to work on the "how."

1 comment:

JC said...

You probably saw this on my blog, but apparently some Americans are fond of calling the French "cheese eating surrender monkeys". Kind of funny. What's funnier is that in response, the French have taken to calling us "burger-eating invasion monkeys". I have to think that they're right.

"That's all I have to say about that." -- Forrest Gump