On the Fourth of July, many Americans are thinking about grilling something tasty, enjoying a cool beverage and kicking back to watch fireworks in the skies above them. Certainly, some recall the bravery and sacrifice of the founders of our nation and of the 56 men who placed their lives on the line by signing the Declaration of Independence. The words of Benjamin Franklin, spoken at that signing, were wise indeed: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Today, 238 years later, our nation is free from tyranny imposed by other nations… or are we? In October, 2004, Al-Jazeera aired a recording of Osama bin Laden stating, “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing it too great for Allah.”
Did bin Laden think he would bring the U.S. to its knees by killing less than 3,000 of us? Of course not. However, it certainly looks like he had an economic, rather than conventional war planned. This strategy of death by a million cuts worked for Afghanistan, in their war against the Soviet Union. Today, the Soviet Union is no more. That former superpower was overthrown, from within, primarily by economic means. As the world began to shrink through the advent of television and later, the internet, Soviet citizens began to realize that the rest of the developed world was enjoying a much higher standard of living. Their government’s priority of arming their war machine meant less was available to raise their standard of living. They were on a treadmill, barely getting by.
When I was a young boy, my father built and refinished clocks as a hobby. Our family room and breakfast area had 10 clocks on the walls and shelves, each with a pendulum swinging to and fro. Over time, each of us tuned out the ticking of these clocks. One afternoon, when I was a teenager, I was in the family room, listening to the local rock station on my dad’s stereo. Suddenly, with great urgency, an announcer came on saying, “We have a very important announcement right after this!” Then the dissonant tone of the Emergency Broadcast System blared from my dad’s speakers. I turned down the stereo and suddenly, all those clocks’ ticking was all I heard. I knew what was coming. The Russian missiles were on their way. The city of Houston, a major port and oil center, was almost certainly on the target list. I was going to die in a few more minutes and there was nothing I could possibly do to change my fate. I was thinking about walking outside to make sure I had a quick, painless death, when the tone stopped and the announcer came back on to tell his audience that Led Zeppelin concert tickets would go on sale soon.
I didn’t find this prank to be funny in the least.
In my early twenties, when I attended the University of Houston, I took several semesters of Russian language. Back then, my generation was certain that we would die in a nuclear holocaust, sparked perhaps by an error in reading the intentions of the “other side.” There were actually several close calls. That’s why “Dr. Strangelove” is considered a black comedy. Today, it’s a funny movie, back then, the laughter was nervous.
One day, while shopping in a JC Penney store, I overheard someone say, “Shto eta?” (What is that?) If I had taken Spanish, it would have been quite common for me to hear someone speak Spanish. I was living in southern Texas! But to hear someone speak Russian outside a classroom was unique. I looked for the source and found several men buying stacks of blue jeans. I approached and began trying, in broken Russian, to have a conversation with them. I explained I was a student at U of H and asked who they were. One of them said they were engineers visiting a Texas oil company to learn about drilling techniques. While we were speaking, a tall, slender man raised his head, looked in my direction and walked straight up to me, asking who I was and what my intentions were. He was their KGB watchdog, there to make sure no one defected and that everyone went back home to Mother Russia. It was an eye-opener for me. To this day, I believe this shopping trip (and probably thousands of others like it) are what brought down the mighty Soviet Union. These men went home with their stash of blue jeans, which they probably sold on the black market, becoming evidence of the rumors of plenty, in their implacable enemy, the United States. You see, at that time, if you shopped in a grocery store in Russia, you walked up to a counter and placed an order. A clerk fetched your items from the back, if they were in stock. They did not have aisle upon aisle of products you could throw into a shopping cart, like we did. I recall hearing of a Soviet defector, taken shopping near his safe house, convinced the mall was fake, a show put on to fool him. He could not accept that America had such wealth!
Al Qaeda could never bring down our country with weapons. All they could do, and perhaps all they ever intended to do, was provoke us. In the same recording mentioned above, bin Laden said it was, “easy for us to provoke and bait this administration.” “All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written ‘al Qaeda,’ in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations.”
Today, after spending trillions in Iraq and Afghanistan, we watch it unravel before our eyes on television. The forces of Isis are taking Iraq piece by piece and perhaps will create a Muslim nation where we thought seeds of democracy would thrive. Even Fox News, the voice of the War on Terror and denier of global climate change, seems to have finally had enough. They’ve even had a host state on air that climate change is real, which caused Jon Stewart to sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, the vast majority of internet search results on this, are about Jon Stewart’s comedy bit, rather than a link directly to Fox News’ video… Imagine that.
Our economy has been in a shambles since 9/11. Yes, some of the worst damage was self-inflicted, fueled by real estate speculation and wild west financial wheeling and dealing. For an in-depth analysis of the real estate market collapse, read (or listen to) “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.”
Perhaps Wall Street (and real estate speculators’) greed would have brought everything down anyway, but in my opinion, we had been bled by our war spending, to a point where recovery became a much slower proposition.
In our rush to war, we seem to have fulfilled bin Laden’s dream. We are hurting. Everyone is looking for someone to blame and there’s plenty to go around. Look yourself in the mirror, and in that moment, when it’s just you alone, be real and assess your role in the current predicament. Watching people hurl themselves into the air to fall to their death, watching those towers fall, watching the smoke rise for weeks after, made our blood boil. We wanted justice and revenge. We were told the enemy hated our freedom. Seriously. The President said this on many occasions. What does that mean? Does anyone really hate someone else’s freedom? How did we fall for that line???
One of my strengths (and perhaps, weaknesses, of which I have many) is an ability to see things from the other guy’s perspective. One of the toughest moments on 9/11 for me was a video, shown on national news, which is burned into my brain. It showed a woman, wearing large, thick glasses, dancing in the streets in Palestine (the Middle East one, not the one in Texas) overjoyed at the strike on America. I immediately hated this woman and wanted her dead. Then, my strength/weakness kicked in and unconsciously, my mind went back to the feeling I had, watching Star Wars for the first time in a theater, when the Death Star exploded. I didn’t think of the tens of thousands of everyday Joes, in the Death Star, who had just lost their lives. I was elated that the evil Empire had been dealt a serious blow.
Wait a minute, I thought. Do they see us as the evil Empire? Yes, they do and with good reason. As Americans, we know our government does things around the world to preserve our way of life, by ensuring our access to oil. Sometimes these acts are terrible and cause great suffering for others, around the world. We don’t speak of these acts at polite dinner parties. We turn a blind eye. We become accomplices.
To preserve our access to oil, we have given weapons to terrible despots. We have overthrown democratically elected governments and installed our puppets. We have killed innocent civilians, both ours and theirs. Hell yes, this has caused the populations of other nations to hate us!
Big Oil buys our politicians off. They spread misinformation. They destroy our environment and get the government to silence those wanting to expose them. As I’ve mentioned before, corporations are like living creatures with a need for self-preservation. Realizing this, we need to look at all information presented to us by media, with a discerning eye. Trust no one. Get multiple views. Seek the truth.
And once you find the truth, act on it.
If you’re reading this blog, you have already declared your independence from oil, or are seriously considering it. Perhaps you’re also considering independence from coal, natural gas or nuclear energy, by looking into solar panels or wind turbines or selecting an electricity provider that exclusively generates energy from renewable sources. But what can one person do against such a determined foe? Well, consider the Death Star once more. What if one technician had left a circuit to the planet-destroying death ray disconnected? Perhaps Alderaan would not have been destroyed!
We can sit by and watch the Earth be ruined or we can choose to take a step in a new direction. We can talk with friends about what we’ve learned, not to say we’re smarter, but to share what we’ve learned through experience and by digging through propaganda to find truth. We can elect politicians who recognize the truth and speak it (or we can run in elections from home owner associations to national offices).
We’re all in this together. The world hangs in the balance. Remember Franklin’s words:
“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
and the words of John F. Kennedy:
“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
Have a safe and happy Independence Day. Have a beer. Grill a burger or two. Enjoy the fireworks. Take a day off.
Then declare your independence and save our world.