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America, Land of Fear?

John Cory

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"We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and remember we are not descended from fearful men."

- Edward R. Murrow

They have presented us with their sinister box gift-wrapped in a thobe and ghutra tied in a bow with a chapan and pakol. And when the package loses its luster, they light the ribbon-fuse and toss the sparkling box into the air for all to see and remember and shudder. Such a lovely parcel, this box of fear; carefully packaged and marketed with shiny toys of death inside and extra coupons on the back to order more. Don't be the only kid on the block without one.

When did America change from "the land of the free" to the land of fear?

When did we become a nation afraid of tubes of toothpaste and shampoo and water bottles? Who taught us to fear brown people in all their shades? What is it that makes us fear and despise oral sex more than torture? How is it that a nation founded on revolution and free speech now cowers in "free speech zones" and trembles at every utterance of its citizens? How in the heck did we come to dread the truth from 12-year-old children?

We were a nation inspired by thought and words. Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty or give me death." Dr. King, "I have a dream." The hymns of the heart like, "We Shall Overcome." Suddenly we say "Give me less liberty so I don't worry about death." Standing on the mountaintop, we exclaim, "I have no dream." Overwhelmed by paranoia and despair, we lament, "We cannot overcome."

In the film, "Seven Days in May," a revolution is underway to overthrow the president of the United States. Behind it are members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led by Gen. James Mattoon Scott. When fingers are pointed and the presidential adviser says it is time to face the enemy, President Jordan Lyman responds, "He's not the enemy. Scott, the Joint Chiefs, even the emotional, very illogical lunatic fringe: They're not the enemy. The enemy's an age - a nuclear age. It happens to have killed man's faith in his ability to influence what happens to him. And out of this comes a sickness, and out of sickness a frustration, a feeling of impotence, helplessness, weakness. And from this, this desperation, we look for a champion in red, white, and blue. Every now and then a man on a white horse rides by, and we appoint him to be our personal god for the duration. For some men it was a Senator McCarthy, for others it was a General Walker, and now it's a General Scott."

There have always been those who capitalize on our fears for their own power-starved greed; who gave us Manzanar, and "restricted" clubs and hotels, the Red-baiting scare and blacklists; those willing to violate the sanctity of freedom by spying on their own citizens while loudly proclaiming the need for "the right kind" of thought and expression to save the cherished American dream - who count lapel pins as patriotism.

How long ago did we lose the ability to meet and greet our friends and loved ones at the arrival gate in the airport? Do you remember? And no, it was long before 9/11.

And that, my friend, is the seditious subtlety of the politics of fear. It is never sudden, but creeps slowly into the mainstream. Small steps and small fears that acclimate us to the need for protection - from what or whom doesn't matter. It is enough to be afraid and sit quietly in the dark and wait for "them" to identify the danger and offer their warped protection.

America has always been more myth than reality, but it was that magical mix of fiction and fact that made the dream of America larger than life. We were a cross between Paul Bunyan and Paul Revere, and that was our charm. Tall tales and brash "can-do" Americanism lifted us on the swells of rising dreams all around the world.

The greatness of America was never its armies or corporate empires - it was its citizens, the everyday John Doe on the street. It was and should always be "we the people."

Immigrants came to America to be part of "we the people." They came to work, no matter how menial; it was all just a stepping-stone to the new frontier of being American. They believed in the myth and the magic despite the posted signs, "Irish need not apply" or drinking fountains labeled "Whites Only." America was Little Italy, Chinatown, Harlem and Little Saigon.

Now we have become a nation besieged by desperation. Politicians running for office sneer at us, holding themselves up as "leaders" rather than "representatives" of we the people. Demographics and demagoguery pass for political discussion, and the rubber stamp echoes through the halls of Congress. One party clutches frantically to power, while the other is smug in the knowledge that we the people want change so badly we'll probably vote for anyone but the current regime. They do not fight or stand, but choose to nod weakly while democracy passes by.

In the play "Inherit the Wind," an allegory for the McCarthy Era, Henry Drummond speaks about wicked laws and fanaticism: "I say that you cannot administer a wicked law impartially. You can only destroy, you can only punish. And I warn you, that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys every one it touches. Its upholders as well as its defiers. Can't you understand?.... And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding."

I disagree with President Lyman above - it is not a nuclear age or terrorism, but rather the men and women of the age who determine whether the disease of dictatorship and fascism continues to infect or is killed in the sunlight of pure democracy.

America deserves better. We the people deserve better.

This will be my America and my vote: (Are you listening, Democrats?)

An end to the war in Iraq and an end to its funding. An end to the lies that kill.

A Sunday morning bathed in autumn sunlight, presidential candidates and members of Congress standing on the tarmac at Dover AFB, ready and willing to serve as pallbearers for the caskets that cradle our American pride and joy now stilled by this senseless war.

A mosque in Detroit surrounded by Christian and Muslim Americans embracing their love of GOD and rejecting the fear of GOP.

A border town bulldozing chain-link fences and reciting Robert Frost.

A multinational corporation showing up at a veterans' hospital with building materials and employment counselors and funding for those for whom duty and honor are not political marketing slogans.

A child, born in the security of never going without health care, and parents never having to choose to which of their children they can afford to give medical treatment or where they will all live after selling off house and home to pay hospital bills.

Impossible, you say? Impractical and unreal?

My friend, this is America. We have danced on the moon and scuffed the dust of Mars. We once put pen to paper and ignited a revolution heard round the world.

We are not descended from fearful men.

John Cory is a Vietnam veteran. He received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with V device, 1969 - 1970.