The recent experience of destructive winds and catastrophic flooding brought by Hurricane Irene on her steady march up the Atlantic coast of the United States, which has washed away roads and bridges, crippled highways and rail lines across the region, and destroyed homes and businesses across the region, with New Jersey, New York and Vermont getting the worst of it and looking ahead to months, if not years, of recovery. This kind of massive flooding is exactly what has been predicted would occur as Global Warming sets in. Irene's unwelcome visit came two days after the six year anniversary of the Hurricane Katrine disaster, another extreme weather event which may be attributable to Global Warming, and about a week before the ten year anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks, which launched America into two seemingly unending wars halfway around the world, with conflict now spreading to Pakistan and Yemen. Two different types of destructive events...which should we pay more heed to? Herein lies a tale of two perspectives, each of which carries with it different priorities and responsibilities.
The 9/11 attacks were a horrible shock to the national psyche, literally blowing away many Americans' sense of their country being a safe land far away from the roiling tensions in other parts of the world. About three thousand Americans died on the day of the attacks, and thousands more, including rescuers and bystanders, would die in months and years to come from illnesses brought about by exposure to toxic substances in the World Trade Center. A small portion of New York City was devastated and soon rebuilt, as was the section of the Pentagon damaged by the plane that headed for the capital, but the more lasting damage was to American psychology. Many people became terrified about the possibility of other terrorist attacks, and many remain in a state of hyper-vigilance, supportive of ANY measures that the government might take that promise to increase security. There was also an understandable desire for pure REVENGE.
The results have ranged from the curtailment of civil liberties in the USA, the acceptance of increased surveillance by our government against its own citizens in violation of time-honored American traditions of privacy and freedom from government interference, the acceptance of torture as a tool of military interrogation, in violation of international treaties, and the transformation of Guantanamo Bay into a prison camp outside of international law. The government of President Bush furthermore committed America to the invasion and occupation of first Afghanistan, then Iraq, with further use of military force in several other countries, the resulting death of thousands of our own soldiers and the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. The hunting down of terrorists like Osama bin Laden was the original focus of our international interventions, but it seems that the killing of bin Laden has brought no peace to the American psyche. As far as I can tell, people feel just as frightened as ever, and it seems that the so-called "War of Terror," which is already the longest war in American history, may become a perpetual process of continuing death and destruction--theirs or ours, either way, the show will go on, and the budget of the military will remain larger than that of any other nation on earth, giving vast profits to companies like Halliburton that provide services to the military and defense contractors that reap wonderful profits developing weapon systems. Americans may not feel safer, but the war will continue.
Will Americans ever feel safe again? There will obviously always be a threat of terrorist attacks, no matter what we do. Even top military brass like General Petraeus have conceded that military force alone can never provide complete security. There has to be a "winning of hearts and minds," to recycle the old Vietnam trope, to convince those ready to take up bombs against America that violence is not the best way to resolve their grievances. The American military and its NATO allies have tried to play the compassionate "good cop" (building roads, schools, hospitals)as well as the aggressive and punitive "bad cop" (blowing up buildings, killing those suspected of terrorist involvement, and terrorizing families and communities by breaking down doors in the the middle of night to search homes under suspicion and interrogate and intimidate the residents, sometimes brutalizing or killing those who dare to resist these searches and interrogations.) Many Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis are understandably resentful of our occupation of their countries and violation of their homes and communities, and that resentment could fuel a desire for revenge against the USA just as intense as Americans' rage on 9/11. There could well be an endless cycle of violence and attacks and counterattacks.
If you like, you could say that OUR attacks and invasions are reasonable and justifiable, and THEIR attacks are wrong and deserving of punishment and endless years of military occupation, but the thing is, after a point, if it all becomes a tit-for-tat situation of "get revenge at any cost," "stand up for your people and kill the other guy," what difference does it make? More importantly, how can it ever end? Will there ever be enough people who want to end it, if vindictive, violent passions are continually stirred up on both sides? I am not sure, but I think that at least part of the answer will involve America withdrawing its military forces from the countries we now occupy and making an effort to treat Muslim countries as equals, rather than insulting them by making it extremely clear that we see them as deranged lunatics that we have the right to kill at will and invade and occupy as often as we like.
I know that some of my more conservative, pro-military readers will find my reasoning ridiculous. They will, I imagine, yell something like, "You are a crazy bleeding heart liberal idiot! We cannot just back off now, retreat without having established absolute victory, let those countries do what they want. Our only hope of security is to maintain control by force, and if that means decades more of occupation, so be it."
As my counter-argument, I would point to the case of Vietnam. During our lengthy and costly involvement in that seemingly endless conflict, the pro-military folks often said, "We can't quit, can't back down. That would give the Communists an unforgivable victory. There would be a "domino effect" and the whole of Southeast Asia might go Red* (meaning, younger readers, Communist not Republican, back in the 1960s-70s.)" Well, we did quit that war. We fought many hard battles, won some, lost some, and then we withdrew. None of the doomsday scenarios transpired. A Communist regime took power in all Vietnam, but it was no worse than many other governments in the region, and over time, it even helped to get rid of a REALLY nasty and horrific regime in Cambodia, that of the psychotic Khmer Rouge. By the 1990s, American was signing trade deals with Communist Vietnam, and we now engage in billions of dollars in trade on an annual basis, with the Vietnamese appearing to hold no grudge for the thousands of pounds of bombs we dropped on them and all the people that we killed, not only in Vietnam but in adjoining countries, none of whom ever attacked or invaded us. It is still not anyone's ideal of a democratic paradise, but the VN regime does seem to be moderating over time. Domino-doomsday never took place.
I would argue that the same could happen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let us withdraw in an orderly manner, give economic and technical support to the new governments that develop there, if our help is wanted, and we can hope to have better relations over time, just as with Vietnam.
It also seems to me that we have gotten our money's worth out of these wars, and there is no need to drag things out ad infinitum, unless the military has become the only kind of government-funded jobs program that Americans are willing to support. (I suspect this may be so.) Al-Qaeda, based in Afghanistan, attacked us on one day in 2001. ONE day. In return, we have invaded for ten years. TEN years. We have killed many thousands, disrupted life, brutalized and terrorized many. What more do we want? Isn't that enough revenge? Or do you still want more? And, at what cost? In money, we have spent more than a trillion, I believe, money that could have been put to so many uses back at home. In lives, more Americans have now died fighting in these wars than were killed on 9/11. Will causing more deaths on both sides really make our world a better place? I worry we may be getting dragged down into a nether realm of nationalistic psychopathology (*see Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan) where we just want to use force against others because it makes us feel good, not because it accomplishes anything of positive value.
I believe it is time to step back from Global Warring and consider other needs and priorities,such as Global Warming. I accept the view of climatologists and other scientists that the extreme weather events of recent years are being driven by a gradual increase in world temperature produced by greenhouse gasses accumulating in the atmosphere. What weather events, you ask? They constitute a vast and continually growing catalogue ranging from agriculture-limiting droughts and dryness-triggered wild fires in places like Australia, Africa and various regions of America to heavier-than-usual snowfalls in winter, wetter-than-usual summers, and increasingly intense storms in both winter and summer, with tornadoes in the USA occurring with increasing frequency in places like Connecticut, Massachusetts and even the urban borough of Queens, New York that have rarely if ever experienced such events before. The economic cost from our new-fangled, 21st century weather is in the billions, but there is much more than money at stake. Decreased crop yields have led to riots and instability in countries from Somalia to the Philippines. Low-lying countries like Bangladesh and Burma (Myanmar) are at risk of vanishing under rising sea levels. THIS IS A VERY DANGEROUS TREND. If it gets worse, we are really going to be in trouble. We are going to have spend increasing amounts of money, worldwide recession or no, on feeding starving people, rebuilding flood,fire and tornado damaged regions, and dealing with mass migrations of displaced people, to just mention a few of the most alarming effects, WHICH ARE ALREADY BEGINNING TO HAPPEN.
This has all been known for years. Former Vice President Al Gore did a fine job of publicizing the issue and educating the public with his film "An Inconvenient Truth." Critics have pointed to several inaccuracies in the documentary, but his overall message, that we need to start cutting back on carbon use and greenhouse gases or we will turn the world into an increasingly harsh and inhospitable planet, really cannot be disputed, and is in fact NOT disputed by the vast majority of professional scientists who deal with climate issues. Yes, there are a few dissidents who can be found casting doubt on FOX news and other anti-environmentalist, pro-corporate media outlets, but they are a tiny, tiny, tiny group, and their viewpoint is especially suspect in that they are often paid to promote their anti-Global Warming ideas by oil and coal companies.
So what is a bigger threat to human life, the Al-Qaeda-type terrorist threat as observed on 9/11, or the increasingly destructive weather patterns resulting from climate change? Should we be more concerned with Global Warring or Global Warming? I have no doubt that the bigger threat is Global Warming.
Though America was rudely awakened out of a sweet but false dream of perfect security and safety on the awful morning of 9/11, the fact is, terrorism has always been around in some form or other,and always will be. There are always people around fired up either by extreme devotion to a political or religious cause or psychological instability who are willing to use violence to advance their cause or actualize their fantasies. Police, psychiatrists and other professionals can intervene to reduce the possibility of such individuals or groups acting out on their violent ambitions, but there is no way you can ever achieve total security, a completely risk-free world, as much as some try to sell this notion to a fearful and often gullible public (think: Giuliani & Associates). Other parts of the world, with either more experience or longer memories or less manipulative politicians know this, and they do not flip out and seek to invade a half-dozen countries every time a bomb goes off or a nut goes on a rampage. They make moderate, targeted responses, as opposed to seeking world domination. We Americans could learn a lot from them, except that many Americans don't like to learn from other countries, it seems.
The possibility of our environment becoming ever more unstable and self-destructive is something we must start thinking about. Perhaps the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irene will be a needed wake-up call. It should be noted that much of the worst damage was not caused by Irene alone, but by the combination of a wet summer of higher-than-average rainfall in the northeast followed by the additional heavy rains of Irene. If, as climate scientists seem to agree,we are going to be seeing more, not less, of such extreme weather events, we should start demanding that our politicians and media begin paying more attention to this and seeking out means to lessen the impact and slow the rate of change, rather than obsessing about how many suspected terrorists we can kill in Pakistan with our nifty drone bombers. The consensus among scientists is that we MUST start turning away from carbon fuels, because the more we burn them, the more we are going to suffer floods, droughts and fires. Sadly, the supposedly pro-environmental administration of President Obama has taken the first steps toward approving a huge, new, potentially highly polluting pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the oil refineries of Texas. Supposedly, it was the non-Obama candidates in 2008 who were in favor of "Drill, Baby, Drill" as the solution to our energy needs, but it looks like Obama is not so different after all.
I am proud to be involved with Paganism when I reflect that Pagan religions, with their nature gods and metaphors and joyful sense of sacredness in nature, collectively provide one of the best platforms around for cultivating reverence for the natural world. I encourage all Pagans to speak out on these issues in the grand struggle to turn the great dumb and easily distracted beast that is the American public away from post-9/11 terror, war and security obsessions to an understanding of the need to address our collective carbon addiction and protect our environment as the #1 issue of our time.
To my warrior-oriented Pagan friends, Asatru or other, let me suggest this: even if you are the most super-bad-assed, head-to-toe tattooed, multiple-gun-toting, spear-throwing, axe-tossing, sword-bearing, military-loving, tough-guy Pagan or a super-dangerous, ultra-gorgeous, Xena-like, Amazon-crossed-with-Valkyrie warrior princess with daggers in your hair and a grenade in your handbag next to your mini-AK, consider this: no more planet, no more battles, no more war, no more warriors, no more glory! No planet, no nothin;' it will just be Ragnarok without the happy ending of a miraculous renewal. Whether you are a wimpoid left-wing peacenik like me or a rough-and-ready, battle-hardened military enthusiast, this should be something we can get together on.
Mission One is not killing terrorists; it is saving our planet.