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.