Thursday, June 13, 2013

America needs an "adult" conversation about how war no longer solves complex problems

When neuroscientist, Dr. Carl Hart, appearing on On Point with Tom Ashbrook on NPR, commented that up to now the American conversation about drugs had been an "adolescent" conversation, and that he wished to have an "adult" conversation, as a prelude to his call for the end to the 'war on drugs' and the decriminalization of all drugs, (as opposed to their legalization)...bells went off in my head.
It was Earle Birney, late, Canadian poet extraordinaire, who dubbed Canada an "adolescent" nation many decades ago, and hoped he would 'grow up' before it was too late.
However, having spent nearly half a decade working in the U.S. and more recently observing the volcano of emerging stories about whistleblowing, institutional over-reach,  force-feeding of prisoners at Guantanamo (recently decried as unethical in the New England Journal of Medicine), the dozens of thousands of sexual assault complaints in the American military and the "chain-of-command" sanctity of the old-boys' network between the Joint Chiefs and the Senator Carl Levin, I found the question of an adolescent country leaping to the front of my mind.
Why is it that America today seems like an "improvised explosive device" about to explode?
Why is that the "adolescent" characterization of the country, by Dr. Carl Hart, on their traditional approach to illicit drugs, seems so applicable to the broader issues infecting the body politic?
Founded as an orphan and rebellious child of England, refusing to submit to the 'tyranny' of kings and taxes without representation, picking up the guns and the arrows and the canons and throwing the "tea" into Boston harbour, they 'won' their independence through sheer force of human will aided and abetted by their intimate relationship with the technology of the time.
Leaving home is by its very nature, an adolescent stage of one's development. It is essential to the potential achievement of one's full potential.
Over the centuries that followed, of course, the American experiment included "making friends" with the former "tyrant", England.
But that experiment also imprinted a rebellious, and somewhat simplistic clinging to the pride of accomplishment that was achieved through the war of independence and to the history of "freedom" that they believed was conceived in their new "incubator" of ideas of democrary and a new frontier on the American psyche.
In America, if one listens carefully, "nothing is impossible" if they truly set their minds, hearts, and guns to achieve it!
Only problem is that the sheer force of will, including all the hard power on the planet, is insufficient to untangle and re-arrange some of the more gordion knots of bureaucracy (including a military footing to all bureaucracies) and the new world's realities of globalization, terrorism, religious fanatacism, and the tsunami of individualism that sees all eyes and ears fixated on little screens alive with digital bubbles of data, most of it rising like soda bubbles in their favourite soft drink, signifying little more than a taste of sugar without a trace or nourishment.
Those fixations, and the complications that emerge from a public that is addicted to its own narcissism, giving hardly a glance to the weighty and significant issues facing the country, through full engagement in the debate process, except to throw invectives at those elected to make decisions on their behalf,
and now able to fire those invectives across all time and all space from their own little digital 'rifles'....the words replacing the much older canons balls and musket shots...as if the re-enactment of those former battles, while now enshrined in their own historic re-enactments as summer festivals so no one will forget to remember, has now moved onto a new battleground and 'theater' of war, the internet.
It too, in American psychic and intellctual and archetypal terms, is now a place of war, given the flurry of news stories about cyber-espionage and the charges that China is the new England, the new enemy.
Where will America flee, in their headstrong determination to flee from and then defeat the enemy, that is the DNA of their political ancestry?
As a high school teacher for nearly a quarter-century, I have watched these adolescent over-simplifications of the issues, linked to the turbulent writhing of the hormones of adolesence, pour out in literally hundreds of classroom discussions, a few even with some important personal history in tow...e.g. "I'm glad my mother rejected the advice she was given when she became pregnant with me," came the startling words of a grade ten co-ed, in a conversation about the merits and dangers of abortion.
However, it is well past time for the American body politic to have an adult conversation, about the roots of its ancestry, and their fading appropriatness in a much more complex and somewhat both more and less civilized world in which being Number One is no longer sustainable, not even for their Goliathian military...when the world's poor and starving are the new David's.
It is time that that kind of simplistic sling-shot logic of slaying the dragon enemy was laid down to a permanent rest, shipped off to the museums which cover the American landscape like forts, canons and statues to fallen heroes.
It is time to take off the war-chanting, and myopic blinkers that attempt to re-create an origin no longer achieveable, without shedding the glory that once was. Gatsby, through Fitzgerald, needs to be re-visited, to once again demonstrate that the past cannot, will not and must not be purchased with the gold that was yester-century's achievement.
Things really are much more complicated than those video games, and the war-history and its poetry would have us believe....and it is time to put down all the arms in all the wars and begin the long, arduous process of learning both to listen and to talk straight to both friends and enemies within and without.
The president of South Korea, a woman, cannot be all wrong in her recent entente with the infantile North, can she?

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