thin ties with piano keys
I've been wondering lately about the permanence of American moods; i.e., how long are we going to suffer through this redneck fight-or-flight America-first conservative hoo-hah before the great unwashed masses get sick of it and move on to something else? The current pace of fear-mongering in this country is exhausting, and if history teaches us any lesson, it's that a hard fad's gotta die.
We were talking about America's moods on an email list the other day, and here's a few I came up with:
Americans' interest in WWII: 1941-45 (4 years)
Cold war nuclear holocaust fears, Part I: 1955-1963 (8 years)
Hippie movement: 1965-1970 (5 years)
Disco: 1975-1980 (5 years)
Cold war nuclear holocaust fears, Part II: 1981-1986 (5 years)
Internet boom: 1996-2001 (5 years)
Jingoistic terror-obsessed conservatism: 2001-?
Given the attention span of Americans en masse, it seems like we can only stomach a "movement" for around 5-6 years before we move onto something else. Of course, in the middle of such a movement, you can't ever imagine it ending (like Rubik's Cubes in 1981) and even now we can't see our way through the fog of Bush's "War on Terror."
But these things must end. There will come a day, even after more spectacular suicide attacks like 9/11 and the London bombings, when most ordinary Americans will realize that while Death will kindly stop for them (apologies to E. Dickinson), they probably won't die today, or even tomorrow.
The duct tape will grow moldy in the basement, and even the exhortations of our crazy President can't work them back into a lather. Keeping up a good "bunker mentality" takes a shitload of work. Perhaps there will come a day when the chickenhawks, the anchors on cable news stations and AM Radio pundits will have masturbated us one time too many, leaving us raw, chafed and unable to perform the way they like.
The fact is this: humans adapt. Terror attacks will eventually lose the edge they once had. It's already happening in social microcosms like the stock market; after an initial drop due to the London bombings, the Dow actually closed higher by the end of the day.
There's a couple of caveats here, of course - if we're attacked by a biological agent or atomic weapons that kill hundreds of thousands, then we're in a whole new ballgame. Also, if we manage to elect a President as chuckleheaded and swooningly reckless as Bush again, we could be looking at decades of this shit.
But if all goes as planned, mark your calendars for 2007, when the tectonic plates of this country's mood swing away from the current mouth-frothing terror-mongering, and onto something else. I'm not saying it won't be something else equally as stupid, but it will something new, another pair of pants for this country to try on. Let's hope it's better than the Rubik's Snake.
Posted by Ian Williams at July 10, 2005 11:37 PM
Things will change, hopefully for the better. Yet there are complications.
One problem is the consolidation of power that the neocon "conservatives" (actually extremely radical activists, bent on overthrowing tradition and established institutions) have managed and will continue to manage by appointments to the judiciary, backed by a Congress bent on creating a deluge of fascist laws. When the pendulum does swing back, we're still going to be living with all those wonderful judges, and those pristine laws aren’t going to be so easy to get off the books.
Then there’s the economy. Bush has really screwed things up this time. He’s creating such a massive national debt that in a few years we’ll all be trying to speak Mandarin Chinese, as the Chinese cash in their chips.
Bush has never run a business, as he likes to describe the United States government, that hasn’t failed. And in this case, he’s so unbalanced so many balance sheets, that we’ll be living with his rotten financial legacy for a long time, even under the best scenario.
Though no reason to give up hope, mate. That slithery bastard Karl Rove’s lies and deceptions over the Plame affair are being displayed on my television at this very moment! Watching Scott McClellan squirm during a very heavy press conference is truly nice: So what you previously said was “inoperative?” Have you consulted a “personal attorney?” Very Nixonian.
And now a sudden rainstorm! Flashback to taking a hit of so-called mescaline in the summer after graduating from high school, turning on the TV, and for the first time watching the Watergate Hearings. That was fun, and weird.
So have a rum! “Eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man,” and all that rot. Happy Bastille Day! What?
Claudia, as one of the only card carrying pacifist reading Ian's blog, I'll give you my capsule view of WWII.
First off, pacifists were never fans of Nazi Germany or Fascist Japan, any more than people who oppose the Iraq war love Saddam. Not implying you said that, but thought it needed saying in this context.
I know some people who were WW II Conscientious Objectors pretty well. They're Quakers, and they all did alternative service. At the time, I think it was framed as a matter of personal conscience -- while they were bound personally by principle and religious belief to not take part as soldiers in the war, their beliefs about that particular war were probably all over the map -- I've never really asked them about it.
Quakers did a lot during World War II to try and minimize suffering. Hard as it is to believe, Quakers remained in Germany throughout the war and helped Jews to avoid the camps. They did this openly, and yet managed by their Quakerly mojo to avoid arrest and imprisonment. Strange but true.
Quakers were also involved in helping jews to get out of Germany, while the US government were refusing visas to most German and Austrian jews. Not many people want to talk about this, but the FDR could have saved the lives of thousands of European Jews with the stroke of a pen, and yet he did not.
Here in Iowa, the Scattergood Friends School, which had been closed during the depression, was renovated by volunteers with money from the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, and served as a refugee hostel for European Refugees. One of the members of my meeting was instrumental in that effort; he died about a year ago, and is sorely missed.
As a pacifist I know that I oppose war in general, and would not serve in the armed forces, and neither will my children. As for the Hitlers and Saddams of the world, there's no easy pacifist answer there. Things might have been radically different if the US and other free countries had taken moral stands on the things happening in Germany and Japan early on, and used diplomatic pressure to try and change behavior. That didn't happen; there were many missed opportunities to keep the war from becoming a global conflagration.
That may be seen as naive, but if you look at the real history of pacifism, pacifists have done much to prevent violence, and worked tirelessly to help those who suffer as a result of war. I believe that it's not fair to criticize pacifism for not being practical; it has never really been tried as a sustained policy of nations.
The founder of the Society of Friends was George Fox, who personally converted William Penn (of Pennsylvania fame) to Quakerism. William Penn was a nobleman in England, and as such, was required by his status to wear a sword. At that time "nobleman" was synonymous with "guy with sword." All wore them, even if they never used them, in anger or self defence.
Penn asked Fox about the sword, and Fox's answer was "Wear it as long as ye can bear it." Which is to say, you'll put it down when you come fully into your commitment as a Friend. I think nations are the same; in the current world, to be a country is to be armed, but to be truly a country committed to peace, it must eventually put away armed aggression as a tool of policy.
Unless things truly go to hell, there are a tiny number of nations the US will ever need to defend itself against. The size of our military in relation to the real threats it can effectively address is obscene. The fact that the US exports more arms to other countries than the rest of the world combined means we're throwing gasoline on the fire. Sure, military might prevents other countries from attacking us, but a stabler and more permanent deterrent is trade and open-handed friendship.
There will always be a need for countries to maintain the integrity of their borders, but the time for war in the world may finally be passing. We can only hope.