June 04, 2007

Sadder and Scarier

When I was a kid back in the late 1970's and early 1980's, my friends and I believed that we wouldn't live to the age of 30. We thought that nuclear war with the USSR would happen before we had the chance to get that old. There wasn't much point, in our minds, in planning to live to the age at which we were likely to have families and careers and such. Life was all about escaping from that very frightening "reality" by whatever means were at hand. We were wrong, I'm happy to say. I'm still here and, as far as I know, so are they.

Still, the world seems determined now to revert to the way things were in that much scarier time. I don't know how children are reacting to it, or even if they're aware of it. There are so many more distractions now than when I was their age. It must be easier to tune it all out. All we had back then were drugs, essentially. Now there's technology of various sorts, too. One can easily plug things into one's sensory apparatus and remove oneself from their environment, hiding behind iPod and cell phone and DVD and such. Does anybody watch the new anymore? I can't blame them if they don't. I still keep up, though.

One item that has really grabbed my attention in the last couple of days is the conspiracy to blow up JFK airport in New York. It has come out that there is a tie to Trinidad in this, and it worries me on a personal level. First, I worry because I love Trinidad. I spent time there some six years ago and it became my favorite place on the planet. The people and the land itself are the most wonderful I have encountered in my life. The only time I encountered overt anti-Americanism on the island was when I wandered into one of the poor parts of Port-of-Spain while looking for a roti shop. Exactly one angry Trini uttered the phrase "Yankee go home" at me, and that was the extent of it. Aside from that one incident, I found myself being invited into homes and Hindu temples and having long conversations with strangers who quickly became friends. One of the things I learned of Trini culture was its general openness. This is a place where Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Orisha cooperated on staging public festivals for one another's holidays. It's sad to think that there could be murderous extremists in such a place. For it to come out now is also sad to me because I had intended and still do) to go back there in the next couple of years to do field work on cataloging the fungal flora of the rain forest that still covers half the island.

But again, Trinidad had (and I assume still has) a tremendous gulf between rich and poor. I saw people dying of AIDS lying on flattened cardboard boxes just outside the downtown business section of Port of Spain. Two of the people whom I met were Nizam Mohammed and his daughter Shelly, the former being a vice president of Halliburton. Trinidad is blessed with a huge and somewhat untapped reserve of natural gas, and of course Halliburton can thus extract a great deal of wealth to ship off overseas, and not nearly a fair amount goes back to Trinidad itself. Perhaps that imbalance might have to do with why a small segment of the Muslim population of that nation is becoming more radical. I don't know this, but I do suspect it as a cause. I still believe, in any case, that Trinis are the sweetest people on the planet, and I still plan to go back there when the time comes. I'll take my chances. I just don't want Americans here at home to start looking at Trini immigrants (and there is a good number of them in New York) as all being suspect because of the action of one or two. Americans can go overboard with these things at the drop of a hat, and it would be a great shame upon the USA if they did that to Trinis at home and abroad.

Moreover, the nuclear issue raises its head again. Iran, it is said by our government (and it may or may not be true) is working to develop a nuclear arsenal. Pakistan already has one, albeit a small one at present. That Pakistan has such weapons should scare the hell out of us. Musharraf is himself a dictator who seized power in a coup. He has become increasingly unpopular and been subject to several assassination attempts. Sooner or later, his government is going to come down, and then who knows who will get control of those weapons and how prone they'll be to launching an attack on India, which itself has an arsenal. Still, the American government seems to be just fine with Pakistan proliferating weapons of mass destruction, so long as they seem on the surface to be helping to hold back the rising tide of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Waziristan. It's the same stupid game that has gotten us into so much trouble over the years; we make monsters elsewhere in the world and then cry bloody murder when those monsters come to roost here. Why allow them to be born in the first place?

To add to that awful situation, now our fearless leader (fearlessness is often a symptom of psychopathology) and his cronies in ShrubCo. are going gangbusters to develop a "nuclear defense shield" that threatens Russia. At one time not long ago, Dubya met up with Vladimir Putin and declared that he'd looked into Putin's eyes, seen his soul, and found him to be a genuinely good man cut from the same cloth as Bush himself. Perhaps that last part is true; both seem to enjoy surrounding themselves with secrecy and using questionable methods to achieve their goals. Still, here what Putin had to say recently about the US putting its "shield" into Europe:

"If a new missile-defense system will be deployed in Europe, then we need to warn you today that we will come with a response," Putin said. "We have to ensure our security, and we are not the initiator of this process."
Most people in Eastern Europe oppose the building of such a shield, and I find it dubious whether the US needs one. Aside from Russia, nobody over there has weapons capable of reaching the US, or even Western Europe. The most advanced arsenals, in fact, are in Pakistan and India, not in Iran or any countries with major terrorist threats. Who are we shielding whom from, then? Is America going to draw the Iron Curtain back down across Eastern Europe and cram our interests down the throats of those countries in a manner not terribly different than that of the USSR only a few decades ago? If we do, we may well see a backlash in that part of the world, I think. The irony that the American administration would do this precisely to counter the monsters we created in Central Asia and the Middle East should be screaming to us how wrong our course has been.

We're going backwards. The US is not making the world a safer place. If we are sliding into a new Cold War where superpowers point missiles at one another and coldly calculate mutual assured destruction, then all we have achieved is the ultimate failure. If we are instigating radicalization from the Caribbean to the Balkans, we will succeed only in recreating a terrible climate across the globe, just like the one I remember all too clearly. I hope for all of us that we aren't going to have a planet upon which children grow up believing that they won't live to age 30. Not that we already don't; if we didn't, nobody would be strapping on explosive vests and destroying markets in Baghdad and Jerusalem. All the missile shields and military technology in the world can't change that situation. The only answer to it is to create hope, and that comes about by fostering societies in which people feel like there is a future for them to live for. Yes, there will always be extremists and killers. We will never be absolutely safe; that's the human condition. Still, the idea should be to minimize that, not make it worse. That's what we're doing right now, though. We're making it worse. The world is getting sadder and scarier. When does the American administration, with all it's "culture of life" rhetorix, wake up and realize that no culture life has ever existed under the nightmare mushroom-shaped cloud of impending incineration nor can ever take root in decades-old refugee camps nor in nations where dictators grab power and start concentrating 235U?

Haven't we been down this road before within recent memory, and why can't these idiots figure out that we've planted our feet on it once again?

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