by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
December 22, 2001
LOOKING FOR HOPE IN A DARK TIME
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Decades rarely begin and end neatly with rounded numbers. The Thirties began with the stock market crash in Oct. 29, 1929 and didn't end until Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. The Forties didn't end with Hiroshima, but lingered on through the "forgotten war" in Korea.
Most would agree the Fifties ended on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas; the Sixties ended when Richard Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974; the Seventies ended when Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president and Iran released the U.S. Embassy hostages on Jan. 20, 1981, and the Eighties ended when the Berlin Wall came down on Nov. 9, 1989.
Some might argue the Twentieth Century ended on that astonishing November night when Berliners took sledgehammers to the most hated symbol of the Cold War. It looked like we might enter a new era of global peace and cooperation and that the worst of the most blood-soaked century in human history would not be repeated.
But our nation squandered that opportunity. I still remember the totally bewildered look on President George H.W. Bush's face when the Berlin Wall came down. Deprived of the enemy that was the focus of our national energies for nearly five decades, Bush and the rest of our leaders didn't know what to do next.
Remember how some spoke then of "the peace dividend" and how all the money we used to spend on getting ready for a war with the Soviet Union would end up being spent on other needs? It never happened. Our nation had become so addicted to military spending and warmaking that defense spending continued to go up through the 1990s, even though the Soviet Union went from superpower to impoverished basket case in a matter of a few years time.
While the military establishment tried to create new enemies, Americans drifted through the 1990s in a haze of decadence and greed. The massive upward transfer of wealth that began in the 1980s accelerated in the 1990s as the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans pocketed almost all of the wealth created by the stock market boom.
The financial markets became the new obsession of the press, as it mostly abandoned international news coverage for business puffery and celebrity glitz. Politics became a shouting contest for the cable tv talk shows and government was seen to be irrelevant at best and the enemy of the people at worst.
Public service was for chumps and losers, not when you could make millions in stock options working for an Internet startup company.
But that world ended at 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001 when American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. An era where we could ignore the world and tend to our own private obsessions ended in that horrific instant. I doubt you'll get much of an argument if you say that the 1990s ended that day.
The world that was born on Sept. 11 doesn't inspire a great deal ofhope. I see our nation still struggling with economic uncertainty and the end of the sense of invulnerability that Americans once felt. I see our leaders using patriotism to mask power grabs and handouts to the well-off. I see a war being waged in an open-ended fashion on a nation that has seen too much death and destruction over the past two decades.
It's easy to drop bombs on a desolate, impoverished land. But even if Osama bin Laden's head ends up on a pike, it's safe to say this war won't be over. Today, Afghanistan. Tomorrow, Iraq? Somalia? Yemen? Malaysia? Indonesia? The Phillippines?
This war has never been about catching bin Laden and company. It's been about showing that the U.S, will bomb any nation it sees fit. It's not like there's any force that can stop the U.S. from doing what it will. America's economic and military power is unmatched. So too, unfortunately, is America's ignorance of and indifference to the rest of the world.
Is it too late for intelligent leadership to emerge from this crisis? Is it too much to ask our leaders to work to create a safer and more just world?
This is definitely a time for another vision of the world beyond our current dystopia to emerge. It's a time to question the present realities and work to shape new ones. It's a time for long-term solutions rather than quick fixes. It's a time for democracy to be vigorous; for citizens to question what's being done in their names.
Little of this is happening now in America. And this is not a good thing. We are in a new world clinging to the same old strategies of the Cold War - trashing civil liberties in the name of "national security;" paranoia, lies and misinformation instead of openness and truth; and enforced conformity that muzzles principled dissent.
This new era demands that Americans recognize this simple fact - if our leaders decide they will not stop waging war until there are no more threats against America, there will continue to be threats against America because of the permanent war being waged against those our leaders believe are our enemies.
Even before we started bombing Afghanistan, the U.S. has waged war in Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti and the Balkans since the Berlin Wall came down. We've been trying to pick a fight with China and are deeply involved in the narco war in Columbia. All this came during a decade that most Americans believed was a time of "peace and prosperity." But that veneer of tranquility has been stripped away and we are left with a seemingly unbreakable cycle of endless warmaking that creates new threats that requires still more warmaking.
Who will have the courage to say it's time the U.S. ends its addiction to war? Who will have the vision to say its time we shift our nation's resources from warmaking and enriching corporations and start investing in schools, health care and public infrastructure? Who will say that our nation's - indeed, the world's security - will ultimately depend upon sustainable development and a true commitment to social justice all over our planet?
It's too easy to be in despair in these dark days when it seems as if all the worst instincts of humanity are triumphant. In a time of despair, hope is a radical ideal. It also is the radicalism that's needed now - to question authority, to be passionate about democracy and truth, to not be discouraged when the majority ridicules your ideas and to uphold the simple notion that the highest form of patriotism is to speak out when your country is doing something wrong.
These are the ideals that must guide us in this uncertain new age. These are the ideals that can help us rise above the fear and paranoia, the helplessness and depression, the deep pain and confusion that this nation has experienced since Sept. 11. We have to believe that our nation and the world can become a better place. We have no choice but to shed our fears and embrace the hope that tomorrow will be better than today.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).