We in the Land of the Round Doorknobs for just about 225 years approached the world and our place in it, as citizens of this nation and as members of the nation-state itself, with a boundless confidence and open heartedness that caused others to sometimes cringe.
In looking at the previous century and the two world wars that punctuated it, it’s hard to find a country who was a combatant in either conflict with less skin in the game than we. Some historians would offer suggest we were dragged into both. I’m not so sure we were that selfless (or clueless) but I will point out lots of other folks were building and/or defending empires while we stood the overnight fire watch to make sure the world wasn’t set ablaze.
We could do anything and we often did everything. We were the teenage among the aging countries and continents and we sometimes flexed and broke things unintentionally but we meant no harm and tried to do good as we saw it.
And then 9/11/01 happened. And we became these people. Fear changes everything and every one. But as much as I’d like to recoil in disgust and horror reading the summary of findings, I have to remind myself to remember I was, and am, a part of all of that.
Quite frankly, I didn’t care what we did (and may still not care) even as we struggled in those very dark days-and when you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there. We may be lost now, but we made great time getting here.
I wasn’t surprised to read press accounts where both former President George (W.) Bush and his Vice-President Richard (accurately called Dick) Cheney blasted the findings in the hours prior to the report’s release. Both always seemed to be in favor of torture and opposed to reading so I found reassurance in their remaining in character.
That we are reminded again that our belief in our own righteousness is more of an American Affectation than anything based in nature or fact shouldn’t be that discomfiting for us. That we now stand before the world guilty of the very things we accuse others of doing, but for the most noble of reasons, suggests to me some severe soul-searching is in order as our maturation process as a nation continues.
Winston Churchill who may have known us best in a relationship forged by the crucible of a World War once offered, “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” We have awakened now and need to realize we are those rough men.
In a world where nothing is certain we insist on a degree and depth of permanence that may no longer be possible to approximate much less duplicate. Poor Richard himself, Benjamin Franklin, peered, I believe into the same abyss into which we are staring when he offered, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Who we are is what we do.