As I was driving to work one morning a few weeks ago I was flipping between radio stations searching for decent music. I stumbled upon a station playing a compilation song. Perhaps this is a local phenomenon, but I’d guess not. I couldn’t tell you the song it was put to because I didn’t listen for very long. It was some sort of tribute to the US troops fighting the war in Iraq or other various places. It was a touching song, with snippets from people who called in to offer their support and well wishes. I felt like vomiting. I changed the station settling on a Jewel song which wasn’t much of an improvement. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against offering words of support to our troops, but I don’t want to hear a tacky radio compilation of poor voice quality recordings intermingled with music. It reminded me of my drive back from Denver after September 11th, 2001. I’d been flying to San Francisco the morning of September 11th, and when they grounded all air traffic we were forced to divert to Denver. I won’t go into details, but I ended up managing to borrow a car from my company’s Denver sales office to get me back home. I didn’t want to wait out the air traffic nightmare to get me home.
Along my long drive home I flipped endlessly between radio stations, and it seemed that compilation songs were everywhere. I finally stopped at a Target en route to buy some CDs so I had other options. I don’t think I was ever bothered by compilation songs before that drive home, but now whenever I hear one I go right back to that trip. I’m not sure why it stirs up such a negative response from me; the trip back wasn’t all that horrible. I did have an intense longing to get back home as quickly as possible. I think every single person who had my cell phone number (and even some who didn’t have it before that day) called me on September 11th to make sure I was safe. They all knew I was a frequent flier and wanted to make sure that by some crazy coincidence I wasn’t on one of the ill-fated flights. I felt tremendously loved; family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances called to check on me. I think many people felt an urge to just hunker down with their families after such a tragedy, and that was certainly the case for me. I needed to get back home as quickly as possible, driving all the way from Denver to Lincoln, Nebraska in one evening, and continuing home the next morning.
I wasn’t one to want to sit and watch the news coverage of the tragedy for hours upon hours though. Mostly I wanted to be home, to feel grounded, and return to some sort of normalcy. Listening to the compilation songs was only making me think more about the tragic events, and was bringing me down. Some people need to deal with catastrophes by learning all that they can about why it happened. I need to move on quickly so I don’t bog myself down with depressing details. That may sound callous, but that is how I function. I guess I am the same way with the war in Iraq. I catch my updates on The Daily Show, but aside from that I mostly tune it out. I know I am guilty of a “not my problem” mentality. There is a group of people who periodically hold up “bring the troops home” signs along my drive home from work. They stand on the sides of a busy intersection with “honk for peace” signs as well. I never honk. I try to avert my eyes. It isn’t that I don’t want peace, or that I don’t want the troops to come home, because I do. I just don’t want to think about it any more than I have to.
Before the 2004 presidential election I got all fired up wanting to get rid of Bush, but it didn’t happen. Our country is now in far worse shape then it was even in 2004. I tell myself that if thinking about it didn’t help, not thinking about it isn’t going make it worse and at least I am spared the mental anguish along the way. I’ll keep flipping away from compilation songs because listening to them isn’t the answer. Somehow we managed to get in this position as a country, and I can’t help but feel that it is because so many other people just don’t want to think about it either. The songs might provide some comfort to the families who have members serving in the armed forces, but they aren’t changing the status quo. Spreading democracy through warfare makes about as much sense as chopping off an arm to cure a hangnail, but there we are. Perhaps one day we will wake up and realize that it isn’t the responsibility of the United States to save the rest of the countries of the world from themselves. 4000 years of fighting isn’t going to end because we say “don’t you want to be like us?” I would say that generally people don’t like it when you occupy their country and tell them you know what is best for them. I can also attest to the fact that I don’t enjoy being encouraged to live in fear of what might happen. The more we fear, the more likely we are to have something to be afraid of.
I’m not sure why I felt compelled to write this post, it has been sitting in my drafts for quite a while unpublished. I think my desire to post it is fueled by the fact that I want to wake up from my slumber, but I’m still rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I listened to part of the interim report on the progress in Iraq yesterday. I was most struck by the tone our president used before opening up to questions from reporters. Most of all it seems our president wants us to be afraid, afraid of terrorists, afraid for the future of Iraq, afraid of Iran, afraid, afraid, and afraid. His presidency has been one built almost entirely on fear. This presidency is a sharp contrast from other presidencies in dark times for our country. I think FDR was quite wise when he gave his inaugural address:
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the
Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present
situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth,
the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing
conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has
endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm
belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning,
unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into
advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and
vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which
is essential to victory.
While our president certainly does a good job of pointing out who were are supposed to fear, he is lacking the frankness and honesty required to overcome the fear. It seems as though we are supposed to behave as obedient children, doing as we are told, not questioning the great patriarch who knows better than we do. The only way this strategy can be effective is if we as a country are all too afraid to speak out against it. I’m not going to live in fear anymore. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t in our country’s best interest to remain fearful long-term, this does nothing but fuel hate, resentment, and greed.