Complacency is Complicency

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After the terrorist attack last September, I attended a Rockford Peace & Justice meeting along with many other political activists who felt some concern about how the United States would choose to respond. The local television stations were there to cover the event and somehow my image appeared on the news segment that night. As a result, students from the high school where I teach saw that I was there and proceeded to spread a rumor that I was “un-American.” Another member of the faculty brought this to my attention during a passing period. He told me what a student had said and I started to get that familiar sinking feeling: that many people in this country never look beyond what their leaders tell them. Perhaps I should forgive the young woman who made the ridiculous accusation because she is uninformed, but I can’t help but ponder the reality that she represents a larger group of people here the United States who haven’t bothered to study their history, much less question the present.

With this experience in mind, I began to reflect on my political views and decided that I don’t care ‘who’ calls me ‘what’ anymore. The time has come to challenge the authorities that lead us toward the brink of an uncertain future as they plot their schemes of destruction.

It seems like just yesterday that I was in high school and a President named Bush was waging war on a foreign country called Iraq. Now it’s more than ten years later, I’m teaching high school and another President named Bush is going to wage war on the same foreign country, Iraq. The more life changes, the more it stays the same. What does this all mean? Saddam Hussein might be a ruthless dictator, but there are plenty of them around the world and we’re not invading all of their countries, at least not yet. It’s interesting how a lust for oil can make a nation act.

I have another uneasy feeling inside. As our leaders select enemies around the globe to target for military aggression, I can’t help but think that our fear of terrorism has empowered them to do so. After all, what was that President’s remark in his State of the Union Address about the “axis of evil?” Are we going to declare war on every country that doesn’t subscribe to our blend of political and economic values?

What I find really disheartening is that the average person permits the government to make these decisions, as if all are made in our best interest. Perhaps that’s the downfall of representative democracy – people assume too much, critically think very little, and openly speak out on a rare occasion in situations like this. Isn’t it strange that you can be ostracized for merely voicing an alternative perspective? Am I alone in thinking that? Are people so foolish? Or are they just so preoccupied with ‘getting paid’ to even care, like a junkie in search of a fix? They believe that because George W. Bush says we need a missile defense shield, that we must develop one. They believe that broad definitions of terrorism, granting police agencies the power to invade their privacy, holding innocent people in detention, and proposing that citizens spy on one another must be the path to solving our problems and promoting security.

Has anyone bothered to question what it is about our policy that provokes hostility toward our country in the first place? If you think the answer is that we’re a freedom-loving nation, you are grossly oversimplifying the issue. Is it possible that the world is tired of being treated as a means to an end? That foreign people are angry because they are seen only as a supply of natural resources or cheap labor in our eyes? If you study our history, you find a ‘privileged few’ that ordered the decimation of indigenous populations, enslavement of black people, and exploitation of the working class. Interestingly enough, a majority of the population considered this acceptable for quite some time. In retrospect, this injustice is dismissed as a necessary action in our evolution.

But for just a moment, consider all of the suffering that transpired. Most people are horrified at the thought because it’s incomprehensible. Have we learned anything from the experience in the past? One might argue that we have not. For years now, the ‘privileged few’ have been scouring the Earth in search of other lands that can be taken advantage of. It’s the only way for them to maintain their standard of living and the only way they know how to function. Welcome to the modern capitalist state. Trace the evolution yourself as the references change: colonialism, imperialism, and globalization. Perhaps there hasn’t been a change at all because force is the enduring tool of the policies we enact. If you choose to openly disagree with or resist the United States’ interests, you will eventually find yourself the victim of sanctions or bombs. Each of which kills far more innocent civilians than corrupt government officials.

I think that it’s time we reevaluated how we treat people abroad while keeping in mind that individuals we call terrorists today were at one time our allies. Remember, problems exist whether or not you choose to address them, and that ignorance fuels anger to unimaginable levels. Does this mean I excuse acts of violence against the United States? No, I do not. However, if we are really serious about ending the political violence, we must examine our role in fostering it. For more information:

John Duerk

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