Monday, July 7, 2014

Burgers and Bombs

I didn't live one sentient day in the 80s.
I turned 10 the same year civilization turned 2000.
I was 11 when the towers fell,
14 when Bush was re-elected,
18 when Obama became our first black president,
and before I hit 26 I'll have 3 children, 2 jobs, $145,000 in debt and no home to call my own.

I am an American, and





Last week we all eagerly took a day off - a Friday - feeling the break was well-deserved, hard as we all work. In origin, it's a day to celebrate our independence, but in practice it's a chance to honor whatever it is that we believe America stands for. It's a chance to consider, to reflect, to observe "Our America." If we have nothing else, we cannot deny our freedom to paint our own portrait of Life in America and live within it. We all took a day off yesterday to celebrate our own image of America, to take a moment of reverence, of pride, of appreciation.

We sat in the grass and "ooh-ed" and "ahh-ed" with full bellies and drunken heads as brilliant explosions criss-crossed the sky above us. And we did it with this remarkable ability to segregate ourselves from certain truths, certain realities. We did it with this unparalleled ability to pretend that we are somehow detached, as if, somehow, we are not responsible for the experience of a young girl, growing up on her family's farm.

She walks out into the field behind the home she shares with three generations of her family. Standing under a crystal clear blue sky, the sun warming the top of her head, she looks up as her grandmother calls her name. Above her there appears this inexplicably bright light, like a fireball. Her eyes shift focus from her grandmother's face to this burning light. She marvels at it, "What is that?" And then, suddenly, there is nothing. There is a flash of light that consumes her sight, and she cannot hear. For a moment, nothing exists...there is only the light and the impossible silence.

Slowly, her vision and hearing fade back. Her ears are ringing and full of the sound of raging fire, her head is pounding and her eyes are full of black soot. She blinks and squints through the dust, focusing her eyes on her feet and slowly raising her head to meet the corpse of her grandmother, dismembered and burning on the ground in front of her.

And while we cracked another beer, while we reached for another bite of barbecued beef, halfway around the world this story is no fiction, it is the reality of their experience, it is life for that girl and her family. She used to love beautiful days with cloudless skies. Now she trembles beneath them for fear of another missile. She and many others live in that nightmare, because people like you and I do nothing to stop it.

We allow our money to be spent on it. These taxes that everyone complains about? This money we hate to see taken from us? It is collected nonetheless, and with that money the powerful imply our consent to spend it as they see fit. And what do they spend it on? What do they spend it on most?

We are a nation at war.

Let that sink in.

America is not the individual story you’ve written for yourself. It is not about you, living your life, working hard at your honest job just to scratch out a living and take care of your family. Sure, you bust your ass, you deserve some time off, and of course you realize that you could never act against every injustice in the world. The weight of every tragedy is not your burden to bear! For the sake of your sanity and survival you have to settle for doing your small part, because you can't save the world. It’s a fair assessment of our state of affairs. But that is your story…and the rest of the world doesn’t see your story.  That little girl and her grandmother don't see that. The rest of the world doesn't see that.

They see America.

They stare down the global American image, the face of our nation that is presented to the rest of the world. They don't see millions of individuals, somehow inexplicably separate from an isolated group of violent warmongers, career soldiers, and corrupt politicians. They don't see some secretive organization prying through their emails, telephone calls, and internet traffic. They don't draw any distinction between you and me, the drone operator unleashing hellfire, the General who puts down the order or the agent who gathered the intelligence. No, they just see

AMERICA. Home of the free.

America, who is responsible for slaughter,
for bloodshed,
for misery,
and anguish
and fear.

And it’s because we are free to be blissfully ignorant that these atrocities occur. We are free to build our lives, to abstain from politics, to choose to only participate in that which creates an experience of joy, comfort, and self-satisfaction. That’s why crooked men sit in liar’s chairs and drop bombs with our name scrawled across them. Because we are free to live inside our own little portrait of Life in America, free from the guilt of our government's misdeeds, free to escape from the pressures of our daily grind and the burden of the Pain of the World, and people are dying for that freedom.  Not just soldiers, not just Americans, but innocent people, children around the globe are suffering for our right to cover our ears and shut our eyes tight.

We are free to turn a blind eye, but that is not the freedom that sparked the first revolution. The freedom we need today is a freedom we are denied: the freedom to resist, to question, to challenge, to refuse.  The freedom to take risks, to wrest control of our nation and its vast resources from the hands of selfish men and restore it to its rightful owners - the People of the United States. With great struggle and great sacrifice we can elevate ourselves and the rest of the world to new heights of innovation and prosperity. 

But first, we need to learn how to revolt.