Yes, I sure wish we could go back and live the life of the 1950s. It was a happy, simpler time. America was booming economically and other nations of the world liked us, even admired us. True, we had to live with the threat of nuclear war and communist infiltration. We had to sit out those traumatic days of the Cuban Missile Crisis when we wondered if the world would blow up or if the shoe-pounding Nikita Khrushchev, would really try to "bury" us. As bad as those things were then, today's post 9/11 era seems a far more difficult and complex time to endure.
The war in Iraq has divided our nation into two great factions loosely referred to as pro-war and anti-war, although the anti-war side over the past two years has steadily increased to about 70 percent. Some people think the division is between Democrats and Republicans or between the left and the right. Whatever it is, people in this country are frightened, perplexed, paralyzed, in denial, or ignorant about what is going on in America and the world today. Then there are those poor souls who just worry about their family members in uniform.
As dire as our situation today may be, I believe we are challenged to re-make the world by using our intelligence, vision, patience, knowledge, empathy, and spirit of adventure. As reassuring as it might be, yearning for the past will not allow us to help shape this new era. No, such a task will require the very best of ourselves as we overcome the very worst of ourselves. It will require that we pay full attention to who we are and what we are doing by remaining focused on building a world dedicated to justice for all people. It will take integrity of purpose as well as time for silence, prayer or meditation to guide our policies and actions. It will also demand our great attention in establishing a sustainable way of life that respects the political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, and spiritual aspects of all societies in our world.
Psychologist and New Age guru Jean Houston says that America has a "ton of shadow" it has never addressed. Much of this "shadow" is derived from our treatment of the Native Peoples who inhabited this continent before us but it also includes what we have done to others around the world—especially since 1945 as filmmaker John Pilger claims we have overthrown 50 governments. Although some people have seen elegant examples of our generosity and know-how, others have witnessed our power and domination. And isn't power and domination what September 11 was all about: How do we deal with it when we use it over others—and when others use it over us?
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What we are also discovering in this post-9/11 era is that democracy is not easy to create in other countries or maintain in our own country. Perhaps we have taken it for granted that since we've had democracy these past 230 years, we will always have it. In truth, as a nation we have fallen short of the dreams of our Founders by not voting, by not knowing what is going on in our politics, and by abdicating the rights and liberties of our Constitution to our fears.
How this difficult time will evolve is still unclear, however, I do not think that our leaders will determine that for us. Rather, I'm convinced that the people in local neighborhoods, villages, towns, and cities will ultimately decide who and what America is and what it will be. That means we citizens today have a rare opportunity to shape our nation to the new realities of our world—much like our Founders did.
I did not and still do not support the war. I support the troops and I am patriotic but am apprehensive about what nationalism and the fear of terrorism will do to us. I prayed for President Bush and his administration before the war and I pray now for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also pray that soldiers and military families will not have to endure this war much longer.
My hope in this post-9/11 era is that we soon clarify our identity as a nation and grapple with how we choose to act in the world. Then we can be clear to our leaders where we want them to take us. My hope is that we become a "we" again in securing the democratic freedoms we say we want. If we don't, I fear we will lose our republic as well as ourselves.
Olga Bonfiglio is a professor at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several national magazines on the subjects of social justice and religion. Her website is www.OlgaBonfiglio.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.