Checked Out of the War

Show of hands…  Who believes America is, right now, fighting World War III? 

I imagine the responses will be diverse.  Along party lines, most liberals seem to think that we really aren’t.  Many conservatives think we are.  As usual, I come down on the conservative side of things.  But it’s not a political issue to me, it seems obvious. 

For a really long time (hundreds of years), Islamic Fascists have been bent on destroying civilization — “civilization” defined any other way than theirs.  Of course, this is not all Muslims.  It’s not all Arabs.  It’s Islamic Fascism — a subset (of unknown size) of the Muslim world who have summarily decided that the way Islam should best be interpreted is as a directive to wipe out anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe … even other Muslims.

In the recent past, several catalysts have acted together to give these killers a much more significant reach than they once had, and to provoke them into acts of violence which have grown in frequency and ferocity.  First came the world’s recognition of an Israeli state after World War II.  Also, throughout the 20th century, the entire world has pumped billions of oil dollars into the hands of these fanatics.  And it hasn’t helped that the United States has involved itself in the affairs of almost every nation on earth, sometimes perceived as a significant intrusion.  Obviously, the US would love to mind its own business, but that’s not very realistic (and much more suited to a more complete discussion at another time).

In either case, the response to the slightest stimuli on the part of these Islama-fascist killers is amazing.  The whole mess caused by the paper in Denmark which published a set of defamatory cartoons targeting Muslims is a very vivid example.  It takes nothing to provoke a particular strain in the Muslim world to incredible violence.  And this violence threatens the entire civilized world, not just America and not just Israel.  How many commuter trains have to get blown up before we recognize this war as world-wide.

So, my real question is, “Why do Americans seem to be so checked out?”  There seems to be much more interest in American Idol and Dance with the Stars than in the war.  Why is that? 

I think I have a few answers…

First, it’s nasty business.  Nobody likes to dwell on people getting blown up.

Second, it’s far away.  As with every war since World War II, it’s hard for the American people to relate to the war, because the war is far away and doesn’t really change our way of life that much.  (Gas prices could be what changes that.)  It’s a testament to how powerful our nation is, really, but it’s also dangerous.  If we’re not paying attention, things can go from bad to worse quickly.

Third, Americans generally want to be left alone.  By comparison, we are a nation of law-abiding, respectful, independent, peaceful people.  And we’re kinda selfish with our time.  We don’t really like being involved in messes.  We certainly don’t like cleaning up other people’s messes.  We ride in on white horses and stick our noses into things reluctantly — only when pressed — because we don’t want to be bothered.  That’s a function of being really independent and being really busy.  We are generous, but only in the form of “Where do I send the check?” not in the sense of “Where can I fly to so I can help somebody?”.  We’d rather everyone just got along, and we could go back to our busy productive lives.

These next few are where it gets interesting…

Forth, the 24-7 media just wears on you.  It’s bad enough to talk about the war with friends and family.  But if you want to, you can submerse yourself in it around the clock.  And the longer something like a Middle East crisis or a war in Iraq drags on, the more desperate news outlets get for a new angle to it / something that will keep peoples’ attention and their ratings up.  That’s where a lot of the sensationalism and negativity come from — along with the fact that death sells and that the average person in the “mainstream media” tends to lean more progressive in their thinking (which comes out in their work).  So, the average citizen just gets pounded all day long by a negative portrayal of the war.  And who wants to cope with that!?  The problem is that, in a very real sense, the media is driving people away from paying attention to something that is very important and needs their involvement.

Firth, and this is a big one, the television has sucked our brains out of our heads.  I really believe that we get dumber the longer we watch that thing.  I’m also 100% sure that our attention span plummets.  The American people are so impatient these days, it’s amazing.  This comes out all over the place — in the line at the store, while driving, in how we interact with service people, and even in how we view the war on terror.  Haven’t killed Bin Laden yet, what’s the problem?  Haven’t setup a totally stable self-sustaining democracy in Iraq yet, get a move on?  Nevermind that it took 12 years to get a constitution signed in Japan after WWII.  Nevermind that we still have soldiers in Germany, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.  A lot of it’s just impatience and unrealistic expectations (and a lot of anger surrounding feelings that we shouldn’t have gone in there in the first place — which is a topic for another time).

Lastly, another big one, people feel helpless.  I pay way closer attention to all this stuff than most people I know, but the truth is that it feels like there’s nothing I can do about it.  After voting, placing a call to my three congressmen, writing a letter to the president and posting a blog entry, I’m done.  That’s the extent of my power.  When I vote, I feel like the two parties are no longer different enough for me to actually find candidates that really represent me.  They all know that as long as Joe is an inch to the right of Bill, then I’ll vote for Joe because I have to.  Even if I only agree with 20% of his platform.  So politicians seem to be mostly working for themselves, and I’m left feeling like I have no power to change the course of human events.  Most people, when faced with these feelings, just check out.  For me, it ends up being true that the only outlet I have for the frustration of powerlessness is 1) this blog, and 2) hammering friends with my opinion whenever we talk.  And I’m learning that I’ve gotta tone down the latter, or they’re gonna band together to ship me to Iran.

So, other than my getting shipped to Tehran, what’s it gonna take for Americans to start paying attention again?  And what’s it gonna take to win this war?  How do we lay politics aside and deal with some of these critical questions?  Can we even agree that there is a war?  I’m sure this will come up again, but I just wanted to throw some of these thoughts out — particularly the ones about the evil TV.  I’m about an inch away from ditching it all together.

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About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Christ. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long journey, learning to swim with the current of God's love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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7 Responses to Checked Out of the War

  1. brad says:

    War – yes, WW3 – we will see.
    I think a large problem with the lack of focus on the Iraq war stems from 3 issues on top of your first 2.
    1. lack of accountability. In previous world wars we had war bonds, rations, volunteer groups assembling radios, etc. This irresponsible Republican administration has decided to pass the buck (literally) to our children and grandchildren by going deeper in debt and giving tax cuts during war. Name one other time in any civilization, ever, when the popular had reduced taxes during war.
    2. Lack of scale. Our generation has a very hard time grasping the true scale of devastation in the previous world wars. Millions died on either side, in very horrific ways (WW1 especially).
    3. Lack of support. Vietnam was monumental in U.S. history because the population at large accepted that a person could love their country, support their military, and not support the war. I, personally, have some issues with the war. I think we should have focused on the “war on terror” and left Iraq for another day. We are now spread to thin to be effective in Afganistan, and too politically inept to stand up to Saudi Arabia and Yemen (true terrorist threat areas.)

    Hopefully, we will be able to control the muslim fanatics without an open-ended war. I still have faith that diplomacy and education can stop terrorists at their source.

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  2. Chris Miller says:

    Two comments – one for Jeff and the other for Brad:

    Re: reaction to the Dutch Mohammed cartoon.
    Jeff, I agree that the reaction to the cartoon illustrates how little stimulus is necessary to set off the terrorists. And I certainly don’t agree with a reaction that entails walking a bomb into a bus or a shopping mall. That said, in a way I respect the fact that so many Muslims DID respond to something that they perceived as degrading to their beliefs. I don’t condone the FORM that response took on the whole, but I respect that it did take place. I think as a supposedly “Christian” nation, too many of us have quietly taken the tolerance Koolade and are afraid to stand up for our beliefs. We get this nonstop message about how we shouldn’t be intolerant or force our beliefs on others, so when someone bad-mouths our Lord, too many of us (and I unfortunately include myself in “us”) just turn away and don’t rock the boat.

    Brad – re “irresponsible Republican tax cuts”
    You had to know someone reading this blog might have something to say about that, didn’t you? 🙂 First of all, I’m not crazy about many of the things Bush and the Republican congress have done (or not done) in the past several years. Frankly I think they’re all a bunch of spineless politicians trying to represent just enough of the populace to get re-elected and thus truly representing nobody. That said, I happen to agree with the tax cuts Bush pushed through in his first term. Not for political reasons, but because they were the right thing to do in terms of macroeconomics. The reality at the time was that our economy had entered a recession. In such situations, the government has a responsibility to fuel the economy with fiscal policy and the Fed has a responsibility to fuel the economy with monetary policy. Both must act in harmony to keep the economy strong. The Fed acted with sound monetary policy by lowering interest rates to bare bones levels. The federal government, led by Bush and the Republican Congress, did exactly the right thing economically by lowering taxes and increasing government spending. While the combination of those two actions may seem irresponsible, they are exactly the forces necessary to stimulate GDP growth. Now that GDP growth has rebounded and the economy is clicking along again, monetary and fiscal policy again need to act in unison to give the economy a “soft landing”. The Fed has been doing there part by raising interest rates (which apparently have finally plateaued). The government needs to cut spending and knock off the tax cuts. It infuriates me to see the Congress trying to pass a combined minimum wage increase + death tax cut bill (neither of which I agree with). So that’s my take on the cuts: definitely the right thing to do during the recession, but must be restrained now that we’re in a growth mode again.

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  3. Jeff Block says:

    Preach it, brother MBA! 🙂

    Just wanted to add the point that this administration has GOT to get spending under control. It blows my mind how NOT conservative the spending patterns of the in-power Republicans have been. Kinda hacks me off, actually. We need a fiscal conservation candidate in ’08!

    And a side note… This is one of the things I’ve never understood about all the people who hate Bush so much. People that stomp their feet and say things like “Bush didn’t fund ‘No Child Left Behind’!!!” must be missing the fact that we’ve spent twice as much money on education under Bush than under Clinton. More on social welfare programs. More on everything. I’d think the fiscal liberals among us would LOVE Bush!

    Are they just obligated to hate Republicans, even when they look just like Democrats? I don’t get it.

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  4. Brad Bull says:

    “the government has a responsibility to fuel the economy with fiscal policy” – How Keynesian of you

    Do you believe a sharp reduction in revenue for the government will limit their ability to effect fiscal change?

    Jeff, fiscal policy isn’t everything. I think most Democrats are unhappy with Bush’s foreign policy and attempts to legislate morality.

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  5. Jeff Block says:

    Brad, you’re addressing Chris on the first two things, so I’ll leave that to him.

    Re: most Democrats are unhappy with Bush’s foreign policy and attempts to legislate morality.

    Foreign policy … very legitimate. I have issues there too. And as long as people are proposing alternate solutions, I’m interested in hearing their ideas all-day-long. The problem is that there’s too much “Bush did everything wrong” from the left (not a plan) and “stay the course” from the right (neither a real plan nor an acknowledgement that most have become unconfortable with where we are).

    Bush legislating morality… I’m less comfortable with this. Bush is making calls on moral issues from his source of moral authority in the same way everyone else is. It’s dishonest to say that because he has a *different* source of moral authority that it’s automatically an illegitimate one (which is happening a lot). Atheism is just as much a philosophical basis for decision-making as Christian belief. Why is atheism “legitimate policy making” but Christian principle is “legislating morality”?

    This topic is already being discussed in a recent blog entry:  The Need for a Source of Moral Authority, posted 7/27. Come join the discussion.

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  6. Brad Bull says:

    JB,
    Good point, You are correct that Bush should make calls on moral issues based on his morality. I guess my object comes not from his morality, but from his prioritization. I think there are issues far more important that he could be dealing with. For example, (in my opinion) the federal government should not have imposed itself in the Terry Schiavo case. That time could have been much better spent.

    I am uncomfortable with your implication that George Bush’s beliefs are representative of Christian beliefs. I am Christian, but identify much more with Jimmy Carter and John Danforth as politicians who are also christians.

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  7. Jeff Block says:

    George Bush’s beliefs are representative of HIS Christian beliefs, not yours. Not all Christians believe the same thing. Unless it’s about the core of the Christian gospel (essentially, the answer to two questions: “Who is Jesus?” and “Who am I in relationship to them?”), then the fact that a Christian believes something differently than you do (your example of Terry Schiavo is excellent, over which there was much controversy) doesn’t make them not a Christian. It just makes them different from you.

    Being a Christian is about whether or not I follow Christ, not about whether I identify more closely with Jimmy Carter’s or George Bush’s or anyone else’s politics.

    As to the way Bush is prioritizing, I tend to agree with you. Great (most recent) example was that the whole marriage ammendment was brought back up right in the middle of major crises concerning Iraq, the Mexican border and gas prices. All of a sudden, in the middle of all that very important debate, we’re talking about the definition of marriage again. Obviously, I think that the issue of defining marriage is an important debate, but it’s hard to argue with the people who believes that the President was trying to change the subject because he wasn’t getting any traction on any of the other issues of the day and saw his poll numbers sinking in the process. Seems like a pretty shallow (weak, obvious) play for a few poll numbers. Can I *know* that’s what he was up to? No, but I strongly suspect it was. And it’s hard to have a lot of respect for someone who has their finger that blatantly up in the air to test which way the wind is blowing.

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