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[Back to Essays]

America, Who Are You?

"Everything changed on September 11."
Don't believe them, notebook.
"America has lost its innocence!"
What? Again! America must be
a professional virgin.

Now is the time for every good cause
to ride its hobby horse harder:
If you are a sweetness-and-light dove,
you say, "I told you so! I told you so!
Now, more than ever, we must love
one another." And the hawks cry
"I told you so!" and beat the war drums
more frantically. And the religious cry
"I told you so! You are punished
for your sins!" And the left wing says,
"I told you so! Too long have you supported
dictators in exchange for oil" and
the right wing and Zionists and Arabs and
probably little old ladies talking to pigeons
in the park (all right, little old men too)
screech "I told you so!" And we all
feel ever so much better.

But who is this "you" they all told?
It's not you, is it?
It can't be me, because I, too,
told you so. There is hope
for humanity, because in this
we are all united: We all told you so.
Even bin Laden told you so.

The most powerful nation on earth --
what could we possibly fear?
Only the sky ("Look, Sweetie! There's
a big airplane! Can you say airplane?")
The air we breathe.
The water we drink.
The daily mail.
Some of our neighbors.
Things we may read or hear or see on TV.
The future.

The good old days, when all we had to fear
was our drugged and armed children.

said the headline after we'd bombed
Afghanistan for two nights.
What a relief! Let's go live
in the skies where it's safe
(unless you fear America).

Or shall we stay right here,
feet planted on terror firma.

Someone suggested it was kindness
that moved the networks to show over and over
for days the film of a tiny plane
moving (so slowly it seemed) into a distant tower,
which bursts into flame. They were helping us,
with repetition, to take it all in
and free ourselves of the horror.

I don't think so: The film was an unreality,
grainy, muffled. In the background, one tower --
just a black, unhuman stick in the gray air,
smoke-smudged, and then, as a small
female voice, oddly uninflected, says "Oh
my God oh my God my God (like one long word:
ohmygodomy...), a tiny silvery thing (a bird?)
seems to drift in from the right and move behind
the other brighter stick in the sky (we see
no impact), and then smoke and flame
surround the tower like a cloud
around a mountain summit. We hear no bang,
feel no heat, we are alive, and
(as if it could all be undone),
here comes that plane again and again
as, in the foreground, earnest anchors
explain how much and how many
that plane destroyed, how much anguish
(anguish, we are assured, we will never
be able to get over) it caused and
is causing, attaching to that repeating picture
more and more hatred and pain and speculation and
whatever other significance they can dredge up,
not making it more real, but making it sticky
with their glue so that we can't unstick it.

There is nothing to fear but fear itself. (And keep shopping.) Nothing to be terrified of but terror itself? How far can we take this? Is there nothing to enjoy but joy itself? Nothing to hate but hate, nothing exciting but excitement, nothing to be sad about but sadness? Are you apathetic only about apathy, happy only about happiness? Nothing to talk about but language itself? We say "I enjoy the sunset." Should we say instead, "I am enjoying joy and sunsetting the sunset"?

But terror is not terrifying. We go to movies or watch the news to relish terror. No, it's YOU I love, not love. It is what we've done to one another, what we may yet do that terrifies me, not terror.

Now we are going to make war on terrorism
and wreak Infinite Justice (what, kill
bin Laden 5,000 times?). What a relief!
Just when I was afraid we really HAD lost
our innocence.

Let that nation that has never sinned
drop the first (well...the second) bomb.

We think we are defending civilization
against barbarians. We are defending
barbarism against worse barbarism.
Why don't you and I sit this one out
and talk about creating a civilization.

The Greeks created the word "barbarism"
to describe those who speak alien languages,
incomprehensible to the Greeks (it wasn't
Greek to them), sounding like "barbar" or
berberberberber.... How comprehensible
are we to one another?

Some say our fallen towers
will unite us, an odd (if true) reversal
of the Biblical version of how we became
barbarbarbarians to one another in Babel.
(Or do they say our fallen towers will
untie us? Unite? Untie? Same letters.)
The fallen tower of psychobabel.

Right now, internationally, the news
is a rising din of berberberber
like the stereotypical madman, twiddling
his lips with two fingers: BBBBB

In the ashes of the fallen towers
a lover of peace finds, suddenly
that no one understands him.

4000 people killed (roughly -- very roughly). That's a lot of Americans. Not a lot of Jews, Armenians, Bosnians, Rwandans, etc., but a lot of Americans. That many in one day is something we can never forget...well, not right away. The last time more Americans were killed in a single day (unforgettable!) was in 1900 -- remember? That hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Texas, killed over 6000? What? You've forgotten?

But a hurricane is a natural force, has no human face (except for the victims). Well, the people who planned and executed the September 11 destruction had worked very hard to make themselves nonhuman natural forces -- though their remnants of human masks console us with the hope of human vengeance.

If the terrorists strike with equal "success" every day for three and a third years, killing 5000 of us every day, we will have lost 6,000,000. But that's a false comparison: The 6,000,000 Jews were a third of all Jews at the time. That would be the equivalent of over 80,000,000 Americans. They'd have to kill 5,000 of us every day for 16,000 days -- nearly 44 years. We'd get used to it! Which buildings went today? Who's missing?

Ridiculous. But it's been done.

How did Rome go under? In Caesar's time, war with barbarians occurred out in the boonies, the Third World of the time -- Spain, France, Germany, Britain, western Asia, north Africa. Our "loss of innocence" must be what Rome felt when the tribes, hordes, whatever had to be repelled (then could not be repelled), camped outside the gates of Rome.

But for centuries, as Rome, inwardly, ceased to be Rome, became a welfare state run by warring gangs, served by mercenary soldiers, entertained by, increasingly, bloody spectator sport (just a baby-step more brutal than "reality TV") with real people killing each other -- as Rome crumpled inward on itself, it still had the face of Rome, the unbeatable military technology, the superb legions, who swatted back the barbarians -- swarms of horseflies -- until they couldn't or wouldn't. Or so I've heard, but history books are like newspapers -- they always get it wrong. All I know about America I read in the newspapers and history books.

The terrorists killed 4000, not 6,000,000,
not 80,000,000. Time -- say, the passage of
110 years -- will kill however many
there are (how many of us are there? Who
is us?) -- a slow death. Hardly anyone
will notice. There will be no TV specials,
no celebrity benefits ("the lasts U.S. citizen
alive September 11, 2001, died today
in a hospital in Topeka..."), no rewards offered
for Time's head.

4000, not 6 million. For numbers like 6 million --
well, that's approximately the number
of American children being drugged on Ritalin
in American schools (over 8 million on this
or other psychiatric drugs) because they don't
sit still enough to please their teachers.

At first Rome absorbed the barbarians. They became part of the expanding empire (a melting pot?). But there came a point when the barbarians stopped becoming Romans, became a rising tide washing over Rome.

But during that time, within Rome -- not easily distinguished from Rome -- another civilization(?) had arisen with new values and emotions, what we call Christianity. The last waves of barbarians didn't become Roman, but they did become Christian -- another civilization (or barbarism) nearly gone now some say.

What shall we create in America
for people to dream of becoming
when "American" is no longer
an option? (Draft-dodgers
went to Canada. I don't think
that will work in what is coming,
what is trying to come.)

There's a mathematics to it. A civilization is a big game we all (we who are civilized) play with each other and the world. We create it and make it survive because of what it can give us and give the world (games to play, resources to be players and game makers). America's game, supposedly, has to do with individual freedom and prosperity for all.

But we'd be the last to know our own game. We mistake it for "democracy", rule by demos, the mob. We have never been a democracy. All our treasured human rights are restrictions on democracy: The majority may not restrict my right to speak or any minority's right to assemble, worship as it pleases... -- no, our basis is an attempt to fend off the opposing tyrannies of mob and king, mob and elite.

And what democracy we have (a few things we can all vote on) is based on education: The voters must be smart. This is to occur
in the schools where over 8 million kids are drugged for their own good...

Oh, get off it! That's YOUR hobby horse.
America gets blasted and the doves cry
"peace!", the hawks cry "War!", the
socialists cry, "See what you get
for exploiting the Third World", the
Christian Fundamentalists cry, "See
what you get for legalizing abortion
and tolerating Gay Rights," a poet friend
says tight-assed America must get in touch
with its vital soul (or something) and
I cry, "How can you have a civilization
where pseudo-scientists who believe
(as terrorists do, really) that people
are complicated animals to be controlled
by drugs (or submission to High Priests)
and other stimuli -- when people who
don't believe that people really exist
run our educational system and are taking over
our legal system, our churches and our
public health system?"

Well, it is MY hobby horse, so I give it
a longer pitch.)

Funny how the newspapers call bin Laden's chief advisor and planner, Ayman Al Zawahiri, head of the Egyptian Jihad (JEEHAAAD! -- sounds like something a cowboy yells while riding a bull), a "physician" or "surgeon". He's a psychiatrist and pharmacist by profession. And the guy who runs all terrorist training for bin Laden is a psychologist. (Now STOP that!)

OK -- but in Bosnia the whole bloody mess was run by a psychiatrist (Karadzic) and in the U.S.S.R., in Nazi Germany, in Apartheid South Africa....

I said GET OFF IT! After all,
follow the money, not the shrinks.
Everyone knows, if something stinks,
the scent will lead to money men making deals.
It's the international bankers, the military-
industrial complex, the drug cartels, the
oil cartel. If you must have an obsession,
why pick on shrinks? Why not capitalists
or communists or lawyers?

(Because at some point any resolution other than expanding ripples of chaos must result from making individuals sane -- for what was done on September 11 was an insane act, though we try to attach reasons to it -- slyness, yes, as Hitler was sly at first, but no less insane. There is no lasting solution that won't require sane exchange of communication among individuals; hence, we need sane individuals. But we've entrusted our "mental health" to a pseudo-science that shocks and medicates people into stupor, apathy, stillness, ineffectualness, violence and rage. Because we know all about lawyers, capitalists and communists and even bankers, but never look for the psychiatrist in the manger. Because suicide killers are nearly always on psychiatric medication [whether Arab terrorists or WASP American high schoolers]. Because...)

OK. OK. Enough. You were speaking
of the mathematics of civilization?

Yes -- the survival of a civilization or any game: We don't know what our game is, miscalling it democracy. But really we know. We know what's American as we know obscenity: when we see it. Or when we go somewhere else and can't be, do, have: No toilet paper, supermarkets, free libraries, free schools, cheap fuel, freedom to travel, political free-for-alls, etc. What will be missed will vary from country to country. (Canada, perhaps, proves only that what we mean by America is not simply one nation.)

The mathematics is simply that a civilization will survive while it gives us, its citizens, more than it takes from us and gives others more than it takes from them. It will flourish for a time if it simply gives to us, only taking from others, but in time others will rise against us (often, first, becoming us).

America's critics say we only take from others. (Some say we only take from our own.) Others say we bring freedom and prosperity to others: trade, technology, aid.
But when we feel we must do something and have no idea what to do, we bring bombs -- that's bad, but perhaps it is the best we can do in those cases -- and THAT is terrifying: How has our civilization so failed us that again and again we find the best thing to do is to drop bombs on people?

The doves have it wrong: We are not terrible for dropping bombs. Each time (Germany, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Bosnia, Kossovo, Afghanistan), MAYBE the bombing was evil; yet, persuasive arguments (enough so to persuade good people) can be made that in each case (even Vietnam?) the bombing saved lives.

Maybe it was wrong, but if it was right to drop explosives on human beings and their homes, then something is terribly wrong with a world in which such things can be right. And something is wrong with an alleged civilization that, in its alleged efforts to bring freedom and prosperity, finds itself again and again required to drop bombs on people. So whether the bombing is right or wrong, the need for it is wrong, and to debate the rightness and wrongness of dropping bombs is to distract ourselves from the wrongness of having to drop bombs.

But where we are really wrong is that we set ourselves up as a promise to the world of freedom and prosperity, but we fail to deliver and in some cases, support tyrants and exploit the poor (for example, get cheap fruit by supporting dictators who use cheap slave labor on plantations). And even where we don't promote tyranny and poverty, even where we try to help, bring hospitals and factories and food -- even where we try to help, just our failure to deliver freedom and prosperity, that alone, or even partial delivery, acts as a betrayal.

And when we, ourselves, are less free, less just than we claim -- when we are racist, for example -- the world feels personally betrayed. "How CAN you!" cry people whose lives are more miserable than the worst to be found in our inner cities and prisons; "How CAN you!" cry dictators with human blood dripping from their teeth. (Everyone has dreams. Beware of betraying the dreams we inspire.)

Unfair! Unfair! We try to help.
We try to share what we have. We really try.
Some of us do.

But that's not all: We promise freedom and prosperity to people who have no freedom, have almost nothing (no food, houses, cars, TVs, trees, jobs, education, furniture, medicine, running water, toilets -- people who live in cardboard and plastic and tarpaper and tinfoil houses, people who huddle in doorways and shit in gutters in desert nations plundered by tyrants and wealthy elites, people who have no vote, no freedom of speech, worship or even the right to live. And what freedoms exist, often, are denied to women. To such people, the very promise of freedom and prosperity (whether we try to deliver, DO deliver or not -- before the question of deliver can arise) -- the promise, if not so unreal as to be unheard -- will get us attacked, killed.

I saw a movie where an American GI, surrounded by thousands of starving Chinese kids fleeing the Japanese during World War II, offers one a piece of candy and is buried alive, crushed beneath a pile of kids. His buddies eventually retrieve his body. Helping people is dangerous. This was just a movie, but I'm told Somalia really happened.

Christ was not crucified for failing to free others, but for offering freedom. It's the tsar who frees the serfs who gets assassinated, seldom the tyrant. So even if we didn't inflict upon the world the United Fruit Company, nasty CIA covert operations and all the other horrors with which we are charged, and even if we've only given and given, taking nothing -- still...

Slaves are people who have been free,
lost their freedom, tried again and again
to regain freedom, failed, have given up,
learned to hate the very thought
of freedom (and mingled with that hate
is knowledge that they, too, have deprived
others of freedom). America, you are
a blazing match to all this tinder.
On your best behavior, you set the world
on fire.

Mention freedom to a slave,
and all the pain of past betrayals
and failures to go free
explodes in your face.
Or the explosion is controlled,
held in beneath servile smile
or sullen silence, waiting.

Then what CAN we do for slaves? We can feed a slave, get him rest, medical care, good nutrition. When he is fed and rested, we can have him look at things: "Look at the sky. Good. Look at that house. Good" -- hours and hours of this. After all, how can you free someone who has no idea where he is? And there's much more that can -- and must -- be done before it becomes safe to speak of help, much less of freedom.

But it is hard to do things like that while dropping bombs on people. How can we get people to look around when we are making their surroundings dangerous for them? (I fear our dropping food and bombs in one campaign will only make food dangerous.)

How many food packages
equals one bomb?
Are these SMART food packages,
or do they just feed anyone?

It takes a safe space -- safe enough for people to be willing to look and touch, say hello to one another, find out that they are still there, can have a present time, can trust others. We can't give a future to people who have no present, only a past -- and that, much distorted.

In any case, you can't give people a future -- you can give them the ability and willingness to create one.

The funny thing is, we HAVE to give people all of that, or, in self-defense, we must destroy them, because otherwise if we don't free them, they will eventually, destroy us. Because any game is better than no game at all, so they cling to what they have, and just the existence of America (even if we were gentle as lambs) threatens what they have.

The existence and impingement (merely by contact, unavoidable in this network of global media) of a powerful culture on a weak one overwhelms the weak one. "Weak" doesn't mean worse. Nothing on earth at this time can resist our movies, music, fashions, fast food, fast travel, television, slang -- nothing (so it seems to some) but the destruction of Western civilization can save the world from becoming the America they resent because they can't become it.

And they're correct. In this and this only the terrorists are correct. This is why killing a few thousand terrorists won't stop terrorism. The kindling is everywhere, and we are the lit match.

We must face up to our power, turn our powerful barbarism into a civilization so that we are able to give the world freedom that is freedom of play and prosperity that is not bloated slavery.

We (Europeans) destroyed the Indians with our lies, betrayals of treaties, lust for gold, diseases -- or so goes the history now in fashion. But if we had been fair, generous, loving, ethical, still our arrival would have ended Indian societies. Our numbers, guns, houses, liquor, prostitutes, art, printing, sanitation, agriculture, industry, lines of transport and communication -- overwhelming. The sight of it, the availability of it, the power of it: Indian children in proximity to it could not but grow up in a world alien to their parents. It would be too large a pill for Sioux or Iroquois or even Inca to swallow whole.

Suppose you're an Indian, and your tribe has sold the whites 100 square miles of forest and kept for itself thousands more, and suppose a year later the whites have left your thousands untouched, while their own land has become roads, fields, orchards, villages, farm houses, factories...and you, a young warrior whose relationship to your elders and your God is based on a sense of the permanence of forest, of the way things are and have always been and always will be. What do you feel if, having been away for a year, you return and find 100 square miles of forest gone, thousands of odd squarish houses, wide roads -- it's worse, much worse than seeing Manhattan minus two towers.

You haven't gotten smallpox, imbibed fire water, been shot, cheated, treated like someone less than human, but already your world has been undermined, treated like something other than (less than) the human or sacred world you thought you lived in, has been doomed, become, not so much a bad world as a luxury, a culture -- in a crowded world -- that needs thousands of miles of land to support a few thousand hunter-gatherers.

In this imaginary world of ungreedy, angelic Whites, you retreat deep into the forest, determined to live as you've always lived, but your children roam. They are curious. One comes home in White Man's clothes. He's the talk of the tribe. He teaches the young people White Man's songs. Fearful tribal elders kill or exile him, but curiosity grows among the young.

There are, perhaps, no such angelic Whites. But if there had been, still, their culture would have spread and destroyed faster than smallpox.

So what can a powerful civilization do?
Must we be the Arab world's Typhoid Mary?
The seductive pod people who, smiling,
urge others to fall asleep and become us?
Must we destroy even those we try to help,
And then destroy with bombs and guns and
high finance those who resist
destruction by other means?

We ALL experience it: Childhood is a civilization unto itself, overwhelmed by the adult world. We see this in our sullen, violent adolescents. How many adults survive with imagination, wonder, quickness of feeling? With the certainty that it all comes out all right and that we are immortal? (Remember being a child?)

Some good person invented a buffer zone called Kindergarten. It teaches children to be there in a place called a classroom, makes it safe for them, so that, later, learning can occur.

But then the children are asked to study. They have been shown that a school can be a pleasant place, with games, singing, story-telling. But no one has told them what study is what it's purposes are, why they SHOULD study or how.

(I studied because I knew if I did well, it would please parents and teachers. Now my parents and teachers are dead. I have had to learn new reasons for study.)

(I will not say how, not knowing how to study, they fail to look up words in dictionaries, fail to understand, go out of communication with school, cease to pay attention, which is solved by drugging them... -- I won't go into that, because I do not want to begin to feel like a terrorist.)

This is a world full of overwhelmed children,
but some children fight back.

It would help if there were more gradual steps to adulthood. (Teach us how to study and why. Do not attack the values learned as children.) It would help if schools and jobs invited imagination. It would help if we knew we were ageless, unlimited immortal beings, just as most children know. It would help if we could avoid the build up of accumulated loss and pain as we grow.

All this is possible. If the adult world were saner, it would welcome the best parts of childhood.

The most powerful nation on earth had better be sane enough to welcome what is best in other nations. We are doomed to conquer the world and/or lose ourselves. Get used to it: The world is going to become America or destroy America -- or both.
Because we exist and are powerful, our presence (and Coca Cola, MacDonalds, Lilley, the CIA, the World Bank, Nike...) will -- DOES -- overwhelm less powerful cultures, and they become us (or parodies of us), or they try to destroy us. Europe has become us, as have parts of Asia and South America -- and, to a degree, everywhere else. More and more the world will become America. Or America will be overwhelmed by barbarism. Or it will, and we will in any case be overwhelmed by barbarism -- our own.

Being American, most of us, given that choice, would prefer to see the world become us. But even those of us resigned to the slaughter of cattle, would prefer not to destroy others. We don't want to be the bad guys. We want to give others something good. We'd better make America something worth giving. We'd better sort out anew what it is we value about America. Is it smart bombs? Coca Cola? Prozac? What is it we want to share? Who or what would we have to be as a nation to be able to feed the people of Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia, then get them (without violence) to look around at things, touch things, know where and who they are?

That would be a very adult thing for us to do
and a very childlike thing: See the tree!

What kind of civilization is strong enough to assimilate the best of other civilizations?
Such a thing has never before been done. Rome has been done again and again.
Not all freedom is freedom. There's a freedom (the nearest word for it is "play") that reaches anyone: It's not a "cultural construct." It's what we are. Hold out to anyone a ball and he or she will know that play has begun. If that is the basis of our freedoms, we have something that others will receive, once they are no longer starved and exhausted and can be gotten to look around.

We are not very free. Even Americans, even those with food, money, cars, Constitutional rights, education -- we are only as free as we can change our minds, disagree, create games, play. Most of us do not do what we want to do. Most of us cannot be what we want to be. We are loosely stuck-together collections of fixed opinions. We are mostly rather grim, if you stand on a busy street and what our expressions as we pass.

Some would say, "We have given the world Coca Cola" and think they have said what's wrong with us. I don't drink the stuff, but America, like any culture, is a tangle of threads that is hard to disentangle. Coca Cola's thread is tangled up with free enterprise, ambition, self-reliance, ingenuity, resourcefulness, hard work and advancement of the individual -- not bad things, nor threads easily separable. Do a sloppy sorting out, and you discard much of what we are.

We had better find out that we are what we are: a power. And we'd better understand what power does, cannot help but do. Then we'd better find out WHO we are. Until we know that we are what we are, we can only betray ourselves and the world. Until we know who we are, we can give the alien world only bombs, becoming enemies to others and ourselves.

Terrorism is two kinds of unknownness: We don't know where it comes from (where they are, who they are -- they could be our neighbors!), and we don't know where it will strike. In a war, we know our enemies are right over there (in Germany, Japan, Russia); we know we are being attacked by the guys in the funny hats, and we know who to attack. In war we know more or less who will be attacked: Military targets, soldiers, munitions. Civilians don't expect to be primary targets. Targets are not random.

Terrorism: We are attacked, don't know by whom, don't know from where, don't know who will be attacked because it seems random.

There are degrees of this: The Pentagon was hardly a random target, indeed, a military symbol. If they'd only attacked the Pentagon, we'd feel less terror. World Trade Towers -- still, that's associated with globalization, the World Bank, big business, etc. Not entirely random. But ANY of us might get on a plane to visit Grandma or go on a vacation or take a business trip. Now THAT'S scary.

To a man with a hammer, all problems are nails.
And to someone who wants to pound nails,
every object is evaluated as a possible hammer.
No, child, that's not a toy,
it's a puppy. See, he yips
when you tug his ears. That means
it hurts him.
Yes, that heavy crystal ashtray
can pound your pegs, but you may
shatter it.

We must consider efficiency, the greatest good,
elegance, manners, the feelings of others.
A careful workman selects the correct tool
for the job.

If you try to cut metal with a wood saw,
you'll ruin the blade. If you try to
crack walnuts with a Mack truck,
you'll find the meat disintegrated, inedible.
If you pick your teeth with your fingernail
or clean your nose with your finger,
you will not be asked out in polite company.

And yes, child, you COULD make a lampshade
from the skin of a woman, but that is not
what a woman is for. And, no, child, that is not
the proper use of a plane full of live people.

Some say Americans dropping bombs on civilian targets (German cities, Hiroshima) was terrorism. Not quite: The source of the bombs was known. The enemy knew where to strike back. Hiroshima said to everyone in Japan, "You may be next," but the Japanese knew how to stop it. They knew to whom they had to speak and what they needed to say to stop it.

To whom should America speak and what should we say or do to stop the bombing? Shall we go to Osama bin Laden? How do we do that? And if we could and did, would we beg him to stop attacking us? And if we did, would that increase or decrease terrorist attacks on this power brought to its knees?

Even if we gave him what he may think he wants (abandon Israel? Pull bases out of Saudi Arabia? Give him money? Let him execute those of us he considers criminal?) -- yet our very existence dooms the alleged culture to which he clings. We would become no less a threat, but a far more inviting target.

So we have no one to go to. The Germans and the Japanese had us to go to. We were not terrorists -- bad enough, perhaps, but not terrorists. Not then, anyway.
I bring this up, because, in a deeper sense, we ARE terrorists: We are so powerful that our faintest commercial burps affect other nations in ways we don't even try to understand. Because we don't understand how we affect others, nor do they know who will be affected or when -- we cause random disorder, chaos. And because neither we nor others know who we are, we become an unknown source of random disorderings. No one knows what will be our next "target". And no one knows, when a target is hit, from whom this destruction came, because no one knows who we are.

The two unknowns.
We don't even know we do it.
We don't know that we are what we are.
The 2-ton gorilla in a room full of kittens
and butterflies and chickens and spiders --
and we don't know that we are!
And beyond knowing that, we don't know
WHO we are (nor does anyone else;
hence, terrified, they invent the Satan
they love to revile). How can we tell the world
who we are when we don't know.

So you see, we are not a terrorist government or a terrorist people, but we are a terror. Like terrorists, we, in our ignorance, have made ourselves a natural force, but, having a human face, we create the illusion that attacking us as people can neutralize us as a natural force. Attacking us as a people (like shooting at people being swept up by a tornado) only drives us deeper into the unknownness that makes us a nonhuman force.

"We are not our buildings" said
our orators. But what are we?
Flags? Bombs? In the flash of that blast
I think we did have a glimpse, a confused
idea, but an idea. We know America
when we see it.

It's not that we Americans aren't doing
our best. It's just that we don't know
what we're doing, we don't know that
we are doing what we're doing and
we don't know who is doing even
the few things we think (if we can
believe the News) we're doing. But
within those limitations, we are
doing our best.

Those who attacked us, on the other hand,
know precisely what they are doing
and who they are. The only thing they
don't know at all is that they're doing
what they're doing on some other planet
in some other millennium long ago to some
hideous enemy long dead. Unfortunately,
as they roam their ghost planet
(which mimics our own, as the landscape
of a nightmare coincides with one's bedroom
and the wrinkles on one's sheets),
their bombs explode only in THIS world,
blowing up our uncertainties,
urging us to become the monsters
for which, so vividly, they've mistaken us.

We need to understand ourselves fast, and a brief glimpse isn't enough, not if we hope to tell others who we are. We need to know that we are Americans, that we are the most powerful nation on earth, and what that means (for example, it doesn't mean "all-powerful" or most virtuous or most likely to survive longest); we need to know how powerful power is and how helpless in the absence of knowledge and responsibility (which can make of a powerful barbarism a civilization). And we need to know who we are as Americans, and, this being America, not a monarchy or aristocracy, that means that each American needs to know who he or she is as an American.

There's a crisis. We try to decide what to do without even finding out who is deciding or that anyone exists who is supposed to decide. We never can resolve our indecisions, not knowing who or that we are, but take some dramatic action designed to create the illusion that our leaders know what they're doing -- we're in good hands.

We can't resolve our indecisions because we don't know who we are as a nation. And, in our relations with other nations, we don't even know THAT we are. We have no idea how we impinge on the world.

If we begin to realize THAT we are and that billions of people have a love/hate thing for us, that we stand for things quite alien to our ideas about ourselves, that our tastes as consumers create and destroy other economies, that our freedoms destabilize governments -- if we realize that we are what we are, we rise above "natural force" and become less terrifying. Then we can look at who we are. When we discover or rediscover who we are (something in me insists on saying, "Hint: we are not people who drug children to make them sit still or who replace freedom of speech with political correctness or replace the concept of personal responsibility with the psychobabble of universal victimhood and unearned self-esteem; we are not people who medicate our emotions out of view; we are not people who equate freedom with an absence of any distinction between right and wrong...") --

When we find out who we are, we can begin
to decide what we want to do in the world
when we grow up.

And when we've decided that, we can set about attacking the world's enemies, making up for damage caused in the past, and becoming an asset, not a liability, to ourselves and other nations. And THEN we can begin to get the slaves to look about them and find out where they are and discover their shackles to be shadows through which they can step.

Right now we are skipping most of these steps. We are working on attacking the world's enemies without first having found out that we are who we are and what we should be doing. Walt Kelly gave us what could become our epitaph: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

America, you begin to learn painfully
that you are, and you've had glimpses
in the rocket's red glare, of who you are.
Take a longer look, please. Winter is coming:
The day in which Rome was not built
is getting shorter.

copyright c. 2003 by Dean Blehert

Last Updated: December 13, 2004