September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document

Story:"Toward a More Perfect Union",

Real War on Terror begins at home.

If bumper stickers and country music anthems are any indication, since last Sept. 11 many Americans have dealt with terrorism not by understanding the roots of this pernicious evil, and thus moving toward a real solution. But by making themselves feel better by repeating a largely unexamined hypothesis: that America is the greatest country on Earth.

Why this preoccupation with being ""the greatest""? How do we define that term, and more to the point, why bother? It's a perverse exercise, rooted in a sick type of competition that itself may be linked to militarism. Furthermore the claim is dubious in light of the facts, including America's frequently backward ideas about conservation, the environment and even what it means to be free.

Is freedom really little more than consumerism, about having the choice to buy one SUV or another? Seems like it, judging by the commercials. Many bristle at the suggestion that we might best advance our cause in the War on Terrorism if we modified our dependence on Middle East oil by parking that gas-guzzler in favor of more reasonable options. Yet these people gripe when the toll goes up a quarter, or the price of stamps jumps a nickel, but will sit mute when the president tramples civil liberties, trading real freedom for illusory security, and making the likes of Boeing rich in the meanwhile.

Like many places around the world, America is a mix of the best and worst of humanity. If we do not always act ""great"" or with wisdom or moderation, we surely have a great potential, and some amazing things have sprung from U.S. soil (unfortunately these now include biotech crops). Yet we still have a lot to learn about wise use of resources, and especially what it means to be true global citizens. Buzzwords like ""globalization"" sound good to Wall Street, but globalization must mean more than simply hawking goods made cheaply in poor countries, while arrogantly continuing to act as if the rest of the world didn't matter (see ""Kyoto Treaty"").

It is tough to advocate for more subtle interpretations of liberty when it's more fun to define ""freedom"" as a permutation of hedonism instead of what it really is: an obligation to respect limits, be stewards to the land and our fellow creatures, and to solve problems not with bombs but with compassion and insight.

Uncle Scam wants you to believe the only hope against terrorism lies in mouthing the same old platitudes and cranking up the same tired, violent strategies.

It's a bore, even if a deadly one.

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