Let America be America again

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As an American, and a self-described liberal, I am having a difficult time agreeing with so many of the “experts” from all areas.  First of all, I challenge the concept that “liberal” means “pacifist”.  While it is true that the two often go together, one needs only to look at the American Labor Movement to realize that there are situations when the use of force is justified and necessary.  There are occasions, and they are relatively rare, when fighting is the only way to end oppressive situations and reduce further violence. 

It is impossible for me to see the events of September 11 as an excusable action.  American foreign policy in the Middle East, and particularly toward Palestine has traditionally been shameful.  There is so much that provokes anger toward anyone who has been educated about the history of the region, and perhaps an attack toward military targets could have been understandable.  There is, however, no justification to freely kill as many civilians as possible, with the goal being the maximum loss of life.  Tragically, at a time when there were and are so many rational and reasonable arguments to be made that our US policy should change toward Muslim nations, this action has served only to worsen the situation. 

Still, war is not a word to be casually bandied about.  While I understand the desire for some to attain “justice” (read: revenge) for us to attack innocent civilians would only prove that Americans are the monsters that the hijackers thought we were.  It makes sense, and seems fair to take precautions against further attacks, even if that involves some military intervention.  It is naive to think that at this stage we can rationalize away and end the consuming hatred for America that Bin Laden and his followers appear to have.  At this point, sadly, their hearts and minds would only take a peaceful response as cowardice.

The wonderful change that could come from this is an understanding, on many levels.  We in this country now know fear and realize more how connected we are with each other.  There is more, although not always better, reporting on international issues.  We are aware of the deep hatred some feel and this can lead to insight on why and could even lead to change.  Perhaps this will cause us to rethink the way policy decisions of one Administration influence the world for years and decades to come.  The void created by the loss of so many lives serves to teach us of the value and potential each and every one of us has.  Why we did not realize this when we learned of Iraqi children dying, or any of an unlimited number of people lost in even the recent past, I can never know. 

We have a chance.  Those children we saw on television, cheering and smiling while we cried, we can show them that America is different than they believed.  That all the principles we hold true, all the opportunities, can be extended beyond our borders without infringing on others.  We can rethink policies, from the moldy leftover Cold War relationships, to aid, to the rhetoric of our leaders.  We can educate ourselves and teach our children to respect other cultures and elect officials who refuse to support oppressive regimes and are courageous enough to change unethical and cruel policies.  We can be the America in Langston Hughes’ poem:

Oh, let America be America again —
The land that never has been yet —
And yet must be — the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine — the poorman’s Indians, Negro’s, ME
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, who’s plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again…

Oh, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath —

America will be!

Langston Hughes

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