Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence gone Ballistic

Celebrating freedom this year has taken a very different turn. What I'm about to share may sound unpatriotic - especially on the 4th of July. Nonetheless I can't seem to shake the ideas. We (the USA) sent a rocket into space today. Tonight the predominance of Americans will watch or launch some type of fire driven explosive device in the name of independence. Yet, we chastise the North Koreans for launching on a larger scale earlier today. Are these just today's pyrotechnics? Why are so many American's proud of our independence and simultaneously dismayed as North Korea expresses theirs?

I'm not trying to say that I endorse the missiles and potential atomic warfare that North Korea is engineering. Neither do I believe that America embodies some 'greater good' that is entitled to have such powers at its disposal. I mark today as another day of dissonance between words and deeds.

Last month I saw the media splash images of the dead 'enemy' American troops had bombed and killed - the dead face of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi still comes comes to mind. I remember being outraged that the morning news culture and many of its viewers had grown callous enough to show/view the image of this man's dead face (I saw it on ABC) again and again without anything other than celebration as if to say, "We killed their leader. Nanny nanny foo foo." Sure the guy above lead others in unspeakable and atrocious things; but, I don't want to celebrate his murder.

Although I'm not endorsing the behaviors of al Qaeda or the North Koreans, I am dismayed at the Independence Day rhetoric that rejoices in death and engages mild hysteria in the face of other cultures attempting to express their own independence. I can't help thinking that the North Korean missile launch today carries the weight of a question far greater than the media's implied message of, "Do you think they're going to bomb us?" (Which by the way, is probably the very question on the minds of many in the middle east these days in reference to the US.)

Today as patriotic swags flap in the breeze and the air waves fill with anthems and lingo endorsing our life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness I find myself asking, "At what cost?" Are Americans the only ones who get to choose what liberty or happiness look like for ourselves and others? I think many a wise person has argued historically that liberty gained at the expense of others is not really freedom. America is starting to come off more like a self-appointed world dictator than a global champion for democracy.

Despite my pride in the many young American's risking their safety in the name of preserving freedom (including my nephew-in-law currently deployed in Iraq) today's headlines help to confirm that the old message of 'Safe & Sane' is going a little Ballistic. Although I certainly don't have the answers, a myriad of questions have been exploding through my mind as I listen to the repeated booms of fireworks throughout my neighborhood tonight. The sky lights up here with a bang and we say, "Oooh. Ahh..." The same thing happens half a world away and by now, there are probably many who have learned from experience to think, "Take cover, the American's are bombing again."


At 11:28 AM, Blogger Hamilton Clan said...

House of Grace, This article is worth contemplating as well deeply. Hhmmmmm......

At 7:59 PM, Blogger House of Grace said...

Hey, friend! How's the location check out going? I'm eager to hear what you're finding!

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Tyson said...

House of Grace -
I'm slightly confused by this post, so I'm going to give you a slightly confused reply:

1) I own both swords and guns. Let's say a neighbor of mine, who only has a sword, is clearly an unstable character. He uses his sword to menace the people around him, drops veiled threats all the time, and has killed a few neighborhood pets. Is it hypocritical of me to not want him to have a gun?

2) Are you comparing one country launching a scientific mission and shooting some fireworks to another country testing a ballistic missile? Am I missing something here? How are these in any way politically or philosophically similar?

3) I personally don't care at all about the independence of any culture (including our own). I care about individual human freedom quite a bit, though. And I tend to think that North Korea losing it's independence would be a net gain for individual human freedom. Not only does this country have one of the worst civil liberties track records in history, but since the Korean war was put on 'pause' they have made a regular habit of kidnapping and/or killing South Korean and Japanese citizens. While I did not and do not support the war in Iraq, if we had done the exact same thing in North Korea I don't think it would have troubled me too much. This country is not just a bogeyman for the Bush Administration the way Iraq was - they regularly threaten and commit acts of aggression. (In fact, one of my beefs with the Bushies is that they have overextended America's military fighting the wrong enemy.)

4) 'Tolerance' is a uniquely Western value. This creates an interesting problem - if I value Western civilization over other cultures, I'm 'intolerant'. But calling me 'intolerant' is a uniquely Western viewpoint. So, when you ask:
Are Americans the only ones who get to choose what liberty or happiness look like for ourselves and others?
My answer might be 'yes' if you include replace 'Americans' with 'the West'. My values (individual liberty, freedom of expression, etc.) are only served in nations that are influenced by Western civilization, because that is where these values come from. (Aside from all that, North Korea launching a ballistic missile doesn't have much to do with the liberty or happiness of North Koreans.)

5) Since I have opposed US policy in Iraq, and since I think that launching the shuttle mission on the 4th should be considered a criminal offense (for technical reasons they should not have launched and they needlessly endangered lives by doing so), it feels a little weird taking the stance I have here. I certainly don't want to come off like I think that the US is behaving well in the world - I'm embarrassed by our actions more often than not these days.

5) I'm happy that you finally got a blog - I've been going back through it and reading all your posts. Good stuff.

At 8:23 PM, Blogger House of Grace said...


I like your ideas; and, since being slightly confusing seems to be a baseline value of functioning for me I'm not surprised by your response.

I'll respond here to your points 2 and 5b since everything else you wrote gets a nod from me.

re: 2 - While I don't think fireworks & a shuttle launch are on the same political scope as launching missiles, I do think that there is an issue of personal intention/responsibility in the missile launching that is similar to fireworks in some distant ways. For more than a week's time surrounding July 4th there was a pack of school age children in my neighborhood (all of them probably elementary school age) who regularly launched off fireworks. The amount of "safe & sane" fireworks in their stash was extremely low; and, adult supervision of the activity was scant at best. An adult would be 20 - 50 feet away watching them from an upstairs porch. Sometimes I wouldn't see any adults - hopefully adults were at least watching them through the windows at those times - but more than once I heard the kids screaming, and running down the street for help. Around dusk for several evenings my windows rattled and my heart jumped with the loud booms, rocket sounds and screaming kids. While I'm all about kids having fun, I also live on a street where the trees grow together over the street and many branches also stretch out over the roofs of the homes. There's also a locked gate/fence around the grass field at a near by school. It would be very easy for flying rockets to start a fire that would spread quickly through the trees over the homes or in the grass behind a locked gate without easy water access. The lack of attention to safety or the rights and property of others was easily disregarded again and again. I'm sure, too, that the booms and rocket sounds that filled the air in my lower-income neighborhood were only a small part of the same practice of unsafe fireworks launches across the country. In my mind there's a connection here. I'd bet that many of the same Americans who engaged in purchasing/launching illegal fireworks for their 4th of July celebration also engaged in some kind of mental and verbal critique of North Korea.

Yes, the scope of damage for children launching unsupervised fireworks is much smaller than Kim Jong-il's missile launches. I think of the 5 burned acres of a nearby park where 2 school-aged boys were seen playing with fireworks shortly before the blaze mysteriously began. Certainly that doesn't qualify as a globally catastrophic event. But, the personal disregard for the safety of others and the impact one's choices can have on others is very similar.

It troubles me to think that we have a large population in America that were probably emotionally enflamed over the news reports of the North Korean missile launches just hours before they went outside to light up their own small scale illegal fireworks.

Yesterday's kids are the one's dropping America's bombs in the world today. I saw on-line videos of soldiers cheering for the bombs they dropped much like kids cheer over killing things in a video game. One soldier in a video was heard saying, "Whew, we messed their sh** up." as a bomb he'd launched exploded on the Middle Eastern horizon. I think the teachable moments about the 4th of July today need to go well beyond the history of American independence. When a child's experience of the 4th of July is coupled with xenophobic catch phrases and illegal and potentially dangerous activities, I think we're brewing up a recipe for selfish hardheartedness that looks awfully similar to the North Korean leader.

re: 5b - I'm glad to be blogging, too. I don't intend to make this my quasi-political soapbox, though. Hopefully I'll shy away from this kind of post going forward.


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