The specter of a defeated America remains the single most powerful motivator for national policy. As a country, victory is the only viable option. After two world wars in which America played the role of rescuer (the New World coming to end the bloody folly of the Old), it wasn’t until Richard Nixon portrayed America as “a pitiful, helpless giant” in the Vietnam era that the U.S. had to face the reality that wars are not always won. History is repeating itself almost verbatim today in Iraq. That conflict has been a disaster for five years, yet John McCain’s policy of “no surrender” could carry the day.
America, always proud of its youthful vigor, resists the prospect of maturity. It would be a mature decision to wind up the Iraq war as soon as possible, to oversee a just settlement with the help of the U.N., and to make reparations for the immense devastation we recklessly caused. Something like that is bound to happen, but the underlying fact is that Iraq, like Vietnam before it, was a naked exercise in national pride. The giant had to swagger across the world stage, bringing war where there was no cause. The image of military might was the only cause, while in the shadows the shame of possible defeat exercised its baleful influence. The shadow was doubly powerful because of 9/11, which brought a feeling of national helplessness. Iraq was the exorcism of that feeling as much as anything else.
As with any powerful image, this one can’t be countered with reason. That’s what baffles anti-war movements, then and now. They aren’t listened to on reasonable grounds but instead are vilified as traitors. By definition, it’s anti-American to even hint at defeat.
In the current presidential race, the accusation that Barack Obama isn’t a patriot (which is believed, the latest polls show, by almost 25% of the population) is an anti-war backlash. John Kerry tried to disguise that he was a longtime peacenik in 2004, only to be blasted by an anti-patriot smear in the form of Swift boating. Now Obama must figure out how to quell the specter of the pitiful, helpless giant, extricating us out of Iraq without suggesting defeat and failure. So far he’s relied on realism, flatly telling the public that the war has been a debacle. A large sector of the public already believes this and won’t demonize him, which leaves another sector, unknown in size, for whom the image of defeat isn’t subject to reason. Over the course of the next four months Obama will test whether they can be coaxed into reality or not.
When I was a kid I used to fantasize about the possibility of being a superhero and if so, which one would I want to be? Which superpower was the coolest to have?
There were the normal adolescent temptations – x-ray vision like Superman so you could see into the girl’s locker room, the ability to disrupt the forces of nature like Storm (of X-MEN fame) so you could cause endless snow days and skip school, or the ability to create fire Prometheus style like Torch (another X-Men dude) because, well, that’s just cool.
These days the likes of Batman and Iron Man are cool because all they are are really normal dudes with a lot of money, really cool cars, and lots of hot women lurking around – what’s not to love?
But then the other day, I was sort of creating my own superpower and I came up with the idea of “pressing the reset button.” It’s cerebral I know and doesn’t quite yet have the mass market appeal of a Superman or Hulk or whatever, and it may truly be a function of middle aged monotony and existentialism, but check it out:
Every once in a while one is faced with either professional or personal situations in which, upon deeper evaluation, you determine you are just plain f’cked. It’s just like a labyrinth of sucky options. Sure, there’s the old “Deepak Chopra creative solution” approach or there’s the more cynical “damn, this sucks” evaluation in which case having the “press the reset button” super power would be wicked helpful. Here’s how it would work. When face with one of the aforementioned shitty situations, you could just hit said metaphorical button, go back to a seminal moment in which you made a critical choice which may have been the first step on a path that led to where you currently are, and you could just, you’know, make a different choice.
Of course, this all raises some rather existential quandaries: is the present moment really reliant on one choice? Is it an amalgamation of every prior moment, every prior choice between this one? Say for example, that one time when I was 8 years old and I consciously made the choice to pee in my pants at night rather than get up at night and go use the bathroom, had I made the extra effort, would I be a different man today?
Too far afield to wonder quite honestly, perhaps another blog for another day. Back to being “Resetman” – that’s kind of cool actually. It really is a more cerebral version of Superman’s ability to spin the Earth backwards on its own access, which truthfully is more of a “rewind” power than a “reset’ one. Alas….
Here’s a better example. When I was in college and I was wooing my current wife (as if I had one before her, huh?), I momentarily became obsessed with a Celine Dion song called THE POWER OF LOVE. Inexplicably, I would blast it from my college dorm room. I like to think I never really sang along to it, but who the hell knows, I may have just conveniently blacked that out in which case, thank you subconscious.
Anyway – I’d really like to “reset” that moment. I’m just kind of ashamed of that time of my life and I feel like I could be a better person, husband, and father if I just never did that. It would be really cool if I could just reset that first time I hit play on my DVD player or switch out to a Tupac album or something.
There are other moments I’d take a crack at but I won’t list them. And of course, there is a current scenario which I can’t really describe in which I fantasize about going back and hitting reset with the suspicion that doing so would mean that I would not be in the situation I find myself in now.
A disclaimer of sorts: my marriage is not in trouble nor does this involve any illicit indiscretions. Okay, I better stop, lest this blog itself become a moment that requires resetting.
When my elevator suddenly stopped in a hotel in South Africa, I meditated for an hour and then tried to call for help. But I was taken aback when the friend I called likened my predicament to the solitary confinement of Nelson Mandela.
A Washington Post On Faith article in response to their question:
What do you think about Sally Quinn, a non-Catholic, going to Communion at Tim Russert’s Catholic funeral? What are some do’s and don’ts for observing the religious rituals of others?
All religious rituals, regardless of faith, are two-edged. The participants receive confirmation that they belong within a charmed circle while shutting out those who don’t. As a child in India, I joined celebrations among Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Parsis. I attended a Catholic school for several years and developed a loving relationship to Jesus and Mary. In a carefree way I felt that I belonged to all of these faiths, but that was childish. I was merely a guest, and the do’s and don’t of hospitality applied. No matter how many Passover Seders you attend, only conversion would make a guest Jewish, and some faiths, such as Hinduism, lack even a conversion process — unless you are born with a membership card, you are ipso facto excluded.
For both insiders and outsiders the mystical side of ritual is promoted, as in the transubstantiation of Christ’s flesh and blood during communion. Real flesh and blood becomes etherealized into spiritual essence, and real wine and wafers undergo the same conversion. In medieval times absolute faith was placed in mysticism, and communicants were conditioned to believe that a whole body of rituals — communal prayer, repeating the rosary, doing penance, attending Mass, and the communion itself — backed up with theology so complex and evanescent as to be unintelligible, secured entry into Heaven. To me, God is a state of universal awareness that can be united with human awareness through personal evolution and growth. Religion confirms the existence of God, it generally offers some form of union with him/her, but then ritual and dogma step in to block personal growth, not to encourage it.
The idea that a membership card gives you special privileges strikes me as an unfeasible way to approach the enormous challenge of transcending to a higher level of awareness. Devotees of every faith would hotly disagree, claiming that their fervent participation in rituals opens them up to a higher state, but if you strip away other feelings — of belonging, family warmth, selflessness, and love of God — I have witnessed no recognizable proof that simply attending church, mosque or synagogue confers higher awareness. The great Indian poet Kabir said that he had read all the holy texts, bathed in the holy waters, and listened to the priests in the temple but never found God in any of them. It takes one’s own inner journey to approach God. Rituals may light a lamp at the door, but they don’t walk the road with you.