Monday
May262008

« Compassion Day »

To honor whatever it is that one honors on Memorial Day, I chose to watch the film Why We Fight (Wikipedia). Of course, as my earlier Memorial Day missives will reflect, I am not precious about the day and its typical rituals of nationalistic bullshit. The documentary features a multifaceted look at the military-industrial-corporate-thinktank complex and questions civilians, politicians, and military alike what motivates this nation to go to war. There is a lot of talk about how Ike predicted (rightly) the massive system which now must be fed our billions of dollars, our young men and women, and helped along by a cheerleading media. What disturbs most is that it is allowed to take over by a public that is lulled to sleep by sensational news, bullshit "reality" TV, working two jobs to get by, and the host of other distractions we face in daily life.

But I also heard a rebroadcast of an episode of Fresh Air (NPR) featuring a Marine and a journalist who have written a book about fallen soldiers and how the Marines dispatch such officers to not only break the news of a combat death, but to help look after the family for as long as it takes for grief to work itself out. The officer told gripping stories of how ritualized the whole thing is in the Corps. It was hard to not choke up and get a bit teared up at some of the things he said. The point was made at how the Corps was trained to be utmost efficient and good at being a killing machine, but this story demonstrated a great deal of mercy and steadfastness in taking care of the family, and indeed a fallen brother or sister, even past the burial. It was genuinely touching to hear. War, terrible though it is, at least doesn't eclipse all the best parts of a man, or even the potential for the human image to shine through what is inherently a dehumanizing institution—the military.

But I like to reach deeper. Jesus taught to love one's enemies. He didn't say this so that they might trample upon you time and time again as you prove your weakness and vulnerability, but that they might be rendered as non-enemies. I heard of a Hasidic tale that had two men talking about love. One said, 'do you love me?' The other said, 'sure I do.' The first asked, 'what hurts me?' to which the second said, 'I don't know what hurts you.' The first came back, saying, 'how can you say you love me if you don't know what hurts me?'

America has done a good job of wrapping itself in the flag for a good while, but none so much as since 9/11. And it all seems so packaged and contrived. It has to be. If we ever had to confront the real reasons for 9/11, our heads would explode. So the easier way is to just declare that "they hate us for our freedom" and other such nonsense. We are cavalier like this in a time when the world grows ever more complex and daunting. But just give us the snappy soundbite reasoning. What is not pleasant to remember is that the world is hurting, and that too often, it is hurting not just because nature can deal some blows—earthquakes, storms, tsunamis, etc. —but that there is plenty of shit that comes down because of man made social constructs—economics, politics, and their dirty-deed-doing comrade, war. The world is mostly hurt today by a corrupt economic model which America champions but one that ultimately is a shameful, destructive thing. So I posit that America has forgotten how to hurt in sympathy with the rest of the world, and because we have forgotten how to hurt, we can remain blind to the real suffering that exists, in part due to our success. As long as we can remain ignorant of this hurt, we can never say that we love the world enough to bring our precious democratic values, our liberty, and all that other jibberish talk.

America has not these values to offer another land because they do not exist here like we think they do. What we have is a military that will aid big business in its expansion into other territories, intruding into the political workings of other nations, and a media that will turn enough of a blind eye so that people here don't really know what is going on. In that vacuum, people feel of no consequence in relation to the system. But the rest of the world isn't so duped. So why are we so surprised that a 9/11 happens? Maybe because so many Americans are without clue as to what really is going on in the world and that contemporary events don't just happen out of the blue? Americans don't like to admit what effects our way of life has in the world. That blindness has earned us 9/11. People argue that our way of life 'must be great because people flock to it.' Shallow argument, I think. Our way of life is hitting the dead end that was inevitable. A world in uproar is part of the sign that the party is coming to an end. And what has been clearer to us that something is wrong than 9/11?

Yet here we are, throwing completely unconscionable amounts of money at the problem with nary a clue to what is really the problem.

It's the economy, stupid.

The world is not willing to be our factory forever. Or our slaves forever. Or our doormats forever. But somehow, all attempts are made to cling to the status quo of easy motoring (as Kunstler says), endless mall shopping, and all this other consumption-based activity, no matter what price the nation must really pay in money, blood, international goodwill, etc. Yet our economists talk about how the consumer activity constitutes 2/3 of our economic activity. They talk about how the consumer feels good or bad, almost as if to scare people into consuming so the economy doesn't falter. I think that is a form of mental slavery, quite unbecoming a nation that fancies itself free and democratic. It is certainly a form of manipulation.

Our economy is founded on serving the needs of others in one great economic circle jerk-slash-merry-go-round from which hardly anyone can escape. Who knows what to do to break out of that? We're trained to produce and consume so that we might be good citizens—er, consumers (the new patriotism it seems). There is a sort of fear instilled in people so that we won't try to avoid our responsibility to the system. It really is the religion of the land. But this economy is different from the one based on real self-sufficiency in an earlier America, or in many parts of the world even now, and certainly in pre-industrial societies where there was no factory to make goods for ready consumption. And, since much of the world is enjoying a growing trend toward industrialism, the social strains are there the same as they were when Britain, the US, and Europe were confronted with the stress of abandoning rural life for urban-industrial settings. America forgot, that is what it is. We were there, experiencing the dislocation from rural, isolated people who were pressed (or drawn) into the cities.

America forgot what it was to have that upheaval. Now we are on the other side of the equation, and we can't understand how the rest of the world feels. I'll bet it feels rather the same as when early industrialists started in on their radical social transformation in the name of progress. Not every farmer who was lured from the farm, or forced off the farm embraced the urban-industrial lifestyle. So it is with other peasants around the world who see change as threatening and not altogether necessary if it means their land or resources will be taken away without real compensation. This is where America has failed to understand what hurts people and nations. This is where America has failed to show compassion in the real sense of the word—suffering with. This is where America cannot say it loves other people or places enough to bring them democracy or liberty of any of that. This is also where America cannot think of itself as a Christian nation. (This is a jab at those righty evangelicals and fundamentalists who say such nonsense.) America cannot foist any more economic injustice upon the world and expect cooperation. September 11 was the wakeup call for that. This means that everything must change or it will be changed for us.

Jesus of Nazareth was essentially a nobody from no place worth mentioning. But, as theologian Marcus Borg emphasizes, he was a man defined by and who defined compassion—suffering with. I think to be Christ-like is to understand suffering of another; to know what hurts a person. I will repeat again that you and me don't have enemies in Iraq or Afghanistan. But what we do have is a problem of thinking we are separated from one another—as if they haven't suffered the same (and worse) as we've suffered. I can't find it in my heart to hate another peasant in a far off land, or even in Mexico, about 20 miles from here. I've been told by my "leadership" that I have enemies out there, and that people are out to get what is mine, and I have to fight them before they attack me. That is the rhetoric these days, and it works as well as in any time and place. But who are our enemies but for other humans who hurt and feel just like you and me, and frankly, have been pushed into more desperate places in their souls than we have? If humans are our enemies, then we'd better get busy killing people, because there sure are plenty of them out there! But if they aren't, maybe killing gets us nowhere, and maybe on a day like Memorial Day we need to realize what a colossally stupid thing we do when we march off to war and engage in a fruitless pursuit that has proven itself to be that time and time again, and no amount of spending and media hype will ever prove anything to the contrary.

I frankly don't know what to think of vets now, seeing how most of them fought wars that were dubious, and a couple wars now were fought with so-called "volunteers." Part of me thinks these volunteers are blind fools, but really I just have to have pity on the poor souls who think that the military is a good place to be in this day and age. Touching as it was to hear how the Marines look after their dead, I still think that sort of ritualistic care should be put into avoiding the whole franchise of war in the first place. One day, let us hope that Memorial Day would be able to actually memorialize ALL the war dead, because there would be no more coming home draped in flags.

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