Friday, September 24, 2010

The Heartland Speaks

This is about a week old now, but I think the subject matter is pretty nearly timeless. At least, it's certainly applicable to any time in the past decade or so. And Elkhart, Indiana is only about seventy-five miles from where I'm typing this.
ELKHART, IND. - The Afghan war began more than half a lifetime ago for the teenagers in Adam Meyers's world history class. Some of his students think the terrorist attack that prompted the war was an airplane accident. To them, al-Qaeda remains a mystery, the Taliban an enigma.

The American battle for Afghanistan? "It doesn't register," Meyers said.

"We should just end it. Bring the troops home," said Ashley Ivory, 17, who thinks the war is doing nothing to stop terrorists. "They're just sneaking in here while we're over there. We don't have enough eyes."

The views of the students and the community around them echo a growing national skepticism about U.S. involvement in a distant war that will soon enter its 10th year and register its 1,270th U.S. casualty. A majority of Americans say the war has not been worth its cost, an opinion voiced frequently in Elkhart, a hard-luck town that sees the conflict through the lens of loss and economic hardship.
Skepticism about US involvement in a distant war? So far, so good. Maybe there's hope. Or, reading on ... maybe not.
Views in Elkhart tend toward exasperation, a collective throwing-up of hands, rather than the competing emotions of anger and pride over the Iraq war at its combustible peak. Even people who think U.S. troops should keep fighting tend to say so in reluctant tones.

"We're stuck. I just wish we could pull out, but we can't," said Becky Cole, an office manager having a drink recently at the Bulldog, a restaurant in east Elkhart. "The one thing I hate about it is we've been there nine years."

On the next stool, her friend Richard Meyers, a plant manager who lost his job in a downsizing four months ago, was drinking what he called a poor man's martini - Miller Lite with four olives. He was more blunt.

"We send our kids over there and bring them back in body bags. The answer? Japan," Meyers said, suggesting that the United States should drop a nuclear bomb. "The longer we're over there, the more we're going to pay."
I'll give Ms. Cole the benefit of the doubt, in that I'm not sure whom she means by "we." If she means ordinary subjects of the Empire, such as herself or me, that's true; we definitely can't get The Troops out of Afghanistan, nor any other segment of the Empire. If she means our national leadership, my question is: why not? Of course they could. They just don't want to. As for Mr. Meyers, I don't suppose it occurs to him that he's given a rather incomplete picture of the process: we send "kids" to Afghanistan, where some are installed in body bags, and some kill lots of the swarthy natives and don't trouble about body bags. Some, indeed, form gangs and hunt the wogs for sport and trophy body parts. Others -- the lucky ones, for sure -- merely repair some trucks or cook some meals, and eventually return in one piece, more or less. Since the natives aren't real to Mr. Meyers, it's easy for him to prescribe a nuclear remedy for the problem that their existence seems to pose for we Americans, who are the crown and center of the universe. To which I can say only: may he choke on his poor man's martini.

It doesn't get better:
From the front door of his secondhand shop down the street, Don Fisher watches the comings and goings at the Shoecrafts' home. He was fond of Justin and considers Blue Shoecraft a real friend. But he has not stopped by.

"I need to go down and hug him, and I just can't bring myself to do it," Fisher said. "Because I know that when I do, I'm going to cry, too."

Fisher is an Army veteran who voted twice for George W. Bush and backed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over Obama. Although polls show stronger support for the war among Republicans than Democrats, Fisher says he always considered the Afghan war unwinnable. The billions in taxpayer dollars should be spent on "people who are sleeping under bridges or living out of food banks," he said.

Yet he is torn between withdrawing now and fighting toward some sort of equilibrium.

"We've been there too long, way too long. I just think it's a useless war," said Fisher, a soldier from 1958 to 1967. "But we can't really pull out now, because the other nations would think we're cowards."
Difficult to think of an adequate reply to that. It's a shame we can't call a pre-action briefing for the next few hundred Afghan women and children who are going to be ripped into bloody pieces by American high explosives. We could explain to them why they have to die: because otherwise, America's global public image (as ferocious and merciless warriors) might suffer. I'm sure they'd understand the necessity.

But Mr. Fisher's just a man. Maybe if we hear from a gentle, nurturing woman, we can be encouraged. Here we go:
Sue Glaser is among those who think the war must be fought and fought hard, for the safety of the United States and the future of women in Afghanistan. A retired furniture designer, Glaser feels "sick about the boys," but says she believes a military pullout ahead of Obama's 2011 timetable would amount to surrender.

"We should go in with both barrels and see if we can win it. We've got to get the Taliban out of there," Glaser said. "If we let them get away with it, our children are going to be fighting them."
Don't you just love the way people can use metaphors to avoid actually saying what they mean? "Go in with both barrels." What does that really mean? The only thing it can mean is kill. Kill more. Kill lots more. Where we once murdered one, murder ten. Or a hundred. Maybe a thousand. Otherwise, "our children are going to be fighting them." Well, don't worry, Ms. Glaser, your children will indeed be fighting them. Please don't pretend to be distressed at the idea. You wouldn't have it any other way.

The great American economic collapse: it can't come soon enough.


Mimi said...

Jim, this strikes me as one of your strongest posts ever; so true--depressingly so. Will it ever be possible for people to see through the government propaganda, lies, and manipulaions to truth? I'm not optimistic. But how can they so breezily toss off killing humans? Or thinking of people a tad different from them as somehow not quite as human? It's so sad and so horrifying to see and hear this kind of thing. Will the few voices such as yours ever have an impact? You're the Bible scholar; what's that quote about "crying in the wilderness," anyway?

Jim Wetzel said...

Thank you, Mimi, for your kind words. "Bible scholar" am I none, unless you can be a Bible scholar these days without knowing first-century Greek, which I, regrettably, don't. Isaiah 40:3, quoted (approximately) in some of the gospels, says, "A voice is calling, 'Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.' " (The quotations in the gospels identify this voice with John the Baptist.)

I think, concerning your question, that so many of our fellow Americans attach so little importance to the deaths of foreigners is simply that they are traditional Americans, thinking in traditional ways. War is somehow inherently virtuous, and the murders that attend it are sanctified, essentially, just by being associated with warfare. We all were taught in school that Americans are a peace-loving people. American history does not support this notion. It's difficult to find a period longer than a few years when Americans weren't at war somewhere -- maybe not "declared," but war nonetheless. I'm ashamed to say that it hasn't been so long ago -- the late 1980s, roughly -- that I was very much on board with that kind of bloody "thinking." When I'm critical of it now, I have to keep in mind that I'm like a guy at an AA meeting, suggesting that problem drinking's a bad idea. It may be true, but I have nothing to be smug about, by any means.

Anonymous said...

The great American economic collapse: it can't come soon enough.

Agree. Every time a news story exposes some evil and/or lies (and it seems like most of them do) I think that God is revealing us to ourselves, and it's not pretty. Unfortunately, most people will never get it.

Case in point: A young Christian man of our acquaintance, a Desert Storm vet, has recently expressed his desire for a handgun complete with firearms training, so that he can shoot a Muslim before a Muslim shoots him. When my son questioned that point of view, his response was to point to the Crusades - like they were a good thing.

Exposure comes in people you would never suspect.