It seems like we’re perpetually in the midst of war. First, there was 911, then Afghanistan, and now we’re finishing up with Iraq. What’s next on the agenda: Iran, Syria, North Korea? All during this time, there have been constant terrorist attacks in Israel, along with military reprisals. Now that it looks like we’re doing a good job of keeping al-Qaeda out of the U.S., they’re attacking people in other places, even other Muslim countries.
There have been few times in the human past when there wasn’t a war going on–large or small–somewhere on earth. Our history is the history of war. But wasn’t there a moment of peace a few years ago, when the former Soviet Union fell? It seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye.
We now know that al-Qaeda has been around for a long time. They hated us in the past just as much as they hate us now, but the difference was, we didn’t know it. Perhaps freedom from worry is only possible for the innocent. Once we realize how precarious life is, we can no longer laugh and enjoy ourselves quite so much.
It reminds me of childhood. In a normal, relatively happy, childhood, we feel safe?therefore, we?re free. We don’t know that we could succumb to a deadly disease, be kidnapped or get run over by a car. Or if we know it, we don’t think about it. It’s our parents who do all the worrying.
Right after World War II, before Communism became a threat, there was another brief moment of innocence. We had vanquished that big bully Hitler. We believed that all Moms were loving and all Dads worked hard for their families. Teachers, priests and policemen were our friends. We were setting up the UN, where we would all learn to get along.
Then the world changed: the Soviets could nuke us any day, kids were kidnapped and sexually abused by parents and teachers, the police were corrupt. It wasn?t safe to walk the streets at night. We were all constantly looking over our shoulders, watching out for muggers, carjackers, drug addicted beggars and dangerous mental patients. We put extra locks on our doors and investigated our police departments. Eventually, things began to improve–until 911. Then we realized that no matter how hard we worked to make things better, danger could come out of nowhere and get us anytime.
Some people are still shaken up by the revelation that was 911. Low flying airplanes make New Yorkers nervous. Insecure borders make Texans and Californians nervous. The nightly news makes the rest of us nervous.
Maybe innocence and optimism aren’t states we’re meant to experience as adults–at least, not until we learn to get along with each other. Some peace activists feel we could do this right now, if only we wanted to, but I don’t think it’s possible as long as there are cultures and religions that want to wipe other cultures and religions off the face of the earth and are willing to die trying.
Perhaps one reason so many of us long to meet aliens from another planet is that we hope they may have finally managed to solve these intractable problems. People who come back from near death experiences tell us that Love is the answer, but we never seem to be able to implement this in the real world.
Europeans laugh at Americans because ever since they were bombed in World War II (and we weren’t), they’ve thought of us as ignorant fools. But we know that our innocent veneer is part of our pioneer culture, where it’s always possible to make a fresh start. We may still wear plaid Bermuda shorts and sneakers on the streets of Paris and Rome, and stop to gape in awe and snap a picture every 5 minutes, but we’re no longer “innocents abroad,” as Mark Twain called us. We’re growing up fast.
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