Somewhere along the winding path of history the American people will collectively look back and decide that we owe France (along with many others) an apology. Our government will never actually do it, but it is owed none the less. I don’t want to be yet another person jumping late onto the flogging of another issue related to what happened on September 11th, 2001, but I feel that the place we now sit in history (looming ever more apparently as the November elections draw closer) makes this particular thought I’m having today relevant.
We have lost a lot of the world’s good will over the past almost six years now. We had an overwhelming amount of sympathy and opportunity to heal old wounds and make new alliances almost across the board when the nations on this planet stood up in outrage over the horrifying events in the latter half of 2001. Our allies, and more importantly the people of those nations, extended their hands and their support to us. When Jean-Marie Colombani, the then editor of the French daily Le Monde splashed the headline “We Are All Americans” (linked here to the English version found in the World Press Review) across his paper on September 12th, he put to words the feelings that a lot of the world were trying to express to us at that moment. His article was touching and insightful, and an honest look at how the optimism that tried so hard to spill over from the previous year was coming into focus through the lens of the truths of the new century. He helped put the tragedy into a little perspective, both modern and historical, and he looked at the realities of the future. It was a grand gesture and it was beautifully written.
It wasn’t in the too distant future that the American legislative branch was renaming the fries served in the cafeteria “Freedom Fries” in a truly ringing blow to the ego of the French because of their lack of support of our pending action in Iraq. Not only do we owe France, and the rest of the world, a major apology, but it is also now up to us to begin to take the first steps toward healing those broken bonds with our former international allies.
Just as the world’s empathetic feelings were well summed up in a news article after the attacks, the modern world view of the United States is rather well represented by an article written on September 7th, 2006 by Mai Yamani, a Saudi-Arabian activist, writer and anthropologist, (found in the “Comment is Free” section of the Guardian website). Appropriately bookending the article written in the Le Monde, Yamani titled her piece “We are no longer all Americans“. Yamani’s descriptions of how the Muslim world was just as shocked about the attacks as any other group in the world, and how those in the regions now affected so detrimentally by the U.S.’s ridiculous “War on Terror” (Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon) were let down by the U.S. is both eye opening and difficult to hear, especially as an American. But it is honest. I lament our lost opportunities to be a leader in the world. I mourn for the seeming campaign of disregard and exploitation we have unleashed across this beautiful earth. Our apology at this point is due to all of mankind as well.
While I direct blame for these things at those who are orchestrating this from the upper echelons of our government, I believe that the apology must come from us as Americans as well. Where is the outcry from us as citizens at these things begin done in our name?! I’m sure that the blogs are afire and dinner table conversation is angry from time to time when the subject comes up, but we have been just as culpable in these events due to our lack of true irate reaction to the horrible misuse of the goodwill that sprung from the very pores of the citizens of the earth. Joni Mitchell, in the February 2008 issue of the music magazine Mojo, called the current generation “lackluster”. She seemed to think that her generation didn’t instill in us the abilities to speak up effectively…or at least didn’t teach us how to spur ourselves out of apathy well enough. Are we who are the spawn of the 60’s generation jaded and unable to act upon the populous caretaker role intended for the American citizens by the Founding Fathers? I know that those of my generation that I talk to are outraged and ready for action…I just think we’re not sure what to do. Of course we all realize that it all begins with voting. But I believe we’re a generation of do-ers. Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, military service, teaching, and technical careers seem to be just a few examples of the things that my generation support and dive right into because we know that they make a difference. We like to root out the problems in a way that we can actually get our hands dirty fixing. We feel stuck on this one because the technical bits of how to get it done are eluding us.
Where does my cellphone fit into all this? I think part of our problem is that we are such a throw-away society. Just this morning my cellphone broke, but not so bad as to be unusable. I have a stupid habit of storing my phone in my back pocket, and the front screen broke (second one in a year) when I sat on it. As I mulled over what to do about it I realized that replacement was the only option if I wanted to do anything at all. The phone technology is so small that to fix it would cost more than the phone itself. Not to long ago I ran into the same problem with a digital camera. I hear all the time, about a wide variety of objects, “Just replace it. It would cost more than it’s worth to fix it.” We even build things (like cellphones and digital cameras) that are designed in such a way that they almost have to be replaced whenever any little bit stops working. Gone are the days where there was a repairman for everything and the idea of just getting rid of something because it was broken was absurd. I’m not lamenting any notion of “the good ol’ days”, but I’m suggesting that this shift in attitude has led us to throw away more important things…like minutes, time, opportunity, relationships, and compassion. We seem to think there’ll always be more of…everything. There won’t. The technical details of how to fix the current world mess we Americans find ourselves in will take so long that our generation probably won’t see the end of it. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t our responsibility to start the work. This idea of not really getting to witness the true fruits of what you dedicate your life isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination. Just ask a teacher about it, especially an elementary teacher, and even more especially a kindergarten teacher (hardest working people in education). The work my generation needs to begin is with a simple American attitude shift. We need to start cherishing the idea that things can last. We need to think long term (as in beyond our life-span). We need to end the “throw-away society” mentality and apply this new philosophy to the world at large as well.
I’m looking forward to the new elections, not specifically for a new person in the White House (although that too), but because I feel an attitude shift coming on. I’m not going to get into particular candidates or parties or platforms, but looking at those running right now I feel encouraged that there is a sniff of this shift in the air.