A Missed Opportunity

January 22, 2002

KUNM, 89.9 fm, Albuquerque, NM

It seemed, last September and October, that America might be thrown into a kind of self-examination, as if the confrontation with a violent and angry world might shock us enough to ask questions about ourselves that we had not been asking for many years. We seemed poised, post 9/11, to wonder if we were doing everything exactly right. The economy was floundering, military doctrines of the past were not much good against terrorists who do not inhabit an indentifiable territory and are no use whatsoever against anthrax. The stock market was collapsing. We had an opportunity to ask some profound questions.

Then the President and Mayor Guiliani and Governor Johnson and the Chamber of Commerce took us out of the questioning mode. They said we could get back to normal by spending, reviving the world economy, the global demand for American goods, the spread of American materialism.

In effect, although many people globally see our high rise and glitter, sex and violence, movies and me-firstism as a threat to their most important communal or cultural values, we will ignore that. Although their religions, their family relations their collective traditions may not survive the onslaught of our individualism, fast trade and quick time, we nevertheless will seek to resume our economic expansion as if it were good for them.

We have not yet stopped to ask how profit on the corporate annual report in New York may be loss on the family farm outside New Delhi. We have not yet stopped to ask why not only terrorists were clapping after September 11th but also angry intellectuals, academics, political party and agrarian leaders. There are many who do not want to become like us but have no voice and no power to resist the economic forces which come from corporate engines which are taking them over. As they are powerless, they are also angry.

After World War II America could be seen as a country that might be helpful without taking you over. It was a country that might send food without taking control of your government; it could be a country that would allow you to read books and change religions and speak your piece. It was a country where farm boys could grow up to be President and firemen could go to college and college boys could become firemen. These qualities made America historically unique. They also made us world leaders.

Today, it is fashionable for our leadership to do the John Wayne thing, to fire smart bombs and shoot first, ask questions later, take the bandits dead or alive, in a kind of frontier justice. It is fashionable, but blowing up hillsides is not what made America unique in the history of the world. It is not what gives us our peculiar moral strength. What would make us special would be to examine the symbolism of the World Trade Center, its meaning to those who do not love us, and be willing to learn. A John Wayne solution can keep us safe in the short run; listening, learning and adapting is all that will keep us safe in the long run.