I'm afraid to fill in that blank. Those of you who know me at all know I have a real tendency toward the morbid, or at least the cynical. But as I sat and watched the Rose Parade this morning -- go figure -- there I was greeted with a stark reminder that events like the Rose Parade are just the facade some of us use to cover up reality: watching the Sesame Street float waddle down the Pasadena Boulevard, while overhead a B2 bomber glided by and the crowd went wild with cheering at this "awesome sight," this awesome display of death-technology, empire and American military supremacy. The camera left the parade temporarily to focus on the plane, while the commentators praised our soldiers for their sacrifices in "defending our freedom."
Now, back to Sesame Street and Pasadena Boulevard.
I'd already been perusing the BBC headlines, noting that scores had died in a night-club fire in Thailand while celebrating the new year, that Israel had killed a Hamas leader in one of its airstrikes (along with several members of his family), that Israel was refusing to honor the French proposal for a cease fire that would allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, that Russia had shut off the natural gas pipeline into the Ukraine, that the Taleban killed 20 policemen in a raid in Afghanistan, and so on and so on.
I also remember an email I received just yesterday containing pictures gathered from soldiers serving in the fields of both Afghanistan and Iraq -- showing the conditions in which they're spending their "holidays" -- with a reminder that they're sacrificing to protect our freedoms.
How easily people forget that the wars we're fighting were based on lies (Iraq in particular), and that we are the invading, conquering force (well, "conquering" could be disputed) -- that we have disrupted and ended countless lives, many and perhaps most of them INNOCENT of enmity against us, and that in reality there were no real threats against our freedoms. Yes, Sadaam Hussein was an evil man, just as many other national leaders are throughout the world. Yes, Osama bin Laden struck at us and we lost about 5000 lives and two large buildings. The tragedy of those actions should not be minimized -- there were great personal losses; families were broken, lives were lost.
But at the same time, it takes a large and effective propaganda machine to turn those actions into "threats against our freedoms." I guess I could admit they were threats against our freedoms if we also classify mosquitoes as "threats against my blood supply." The American institution and economy are far too large to truly be threatened by those actions, tragic as they were. Our institution and economy, and indeed our freedom, were not really threatened by those actions. What those actions accomplished was this: we got ticked off. They triggered our revenge instinct, so we saddled up and headed out to (in the words of Wiley Miller) "shoot the gol-durned varmints." In other words, we felt that our collective manhood had been called into question, so we had to stand up tall, pound our national chest and launch the weapons. As the first president Bush had said: "As for the manhood question, I'll put mine up against his any day." (I have no idea what he really meant. :-o)
I do know that on an individual basis our soldiers really have given up a great deal to be where they are rather than being at home with their families, and that some of them end up sacrificing their lives. The tragedy there breaks my heart -- but more so because of the lies that underly these sacrifices. I grieve over those losses, just as I grieve over the losses in the Gaza strip this last week, and the losses suffered by both Iraqi and Afghan families. I pray for peace.
And I pray that truth and justice will prevail. Only through truth and justice will we ever approach peace. "Peace" without truth and justice isn't really peace -- it's just a temporary lull in the violence that will resurface at some point when the lies and injustice become too much for people to tolerate.
I also know that as a nation (generally speaking) we want peace. But we become convinced that war is necessary. We become convinced of that idea because we believe the lies, and because we become comfortable in our little corner of the world, and because we think that (generally speaking again) justice really does reign everywhere except for places so remote from us and our reality that they really don't count. In other words, part of the function of the propaganda machine is to convince us that we don't need to worry about those "odd places" where people feel oppressed -- or that we should worry about them only when our comfort seems to be directly threatened. Believing the lie is easier than going after the truth.
Truth is the first casualty of war -- so goes the adage. But further: war is the end result of lies. And one more: Satan is the father of lies.
May we seek truth. May we have a truthful New Year, and may it move us closer to peace.