Democratic Underground

What We Must Learn
October 13, 2001

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As we in the U.S. brace ourselves for our collective simultaneous role of attacker and victim, we must take stock of our accomplishments, our failures, and our future. We look back upon 225 years of freedom and our enduring government. We look back upon two world wars and what it took to accomplish victory both in economic and industrial terms, and in human effort and sacrifice. We look back upon our ingenuity and innovation in science and technology to create things that make our lives better, easier, safer, and longer. We look back upon the various religions, races, and cultures we represent and how each addition molds us to what eventually becomes uniquely American.

It took millions of people in a tremendously diverse culture to accomplish all we have over that 225-year span. What is important to note, however, is that we are not alone in that endeavor. For many years before our independence, our European friends were experiencing an era of enlightenment. Those promoting and encouraging freedom were replacing repressive governments. During that time and since, many in Europe also contributed to the advancement of society and our global socioeconomic evolution. The result is that a large portion of the planet we call home is free to varying degrees. Unfortunately, others cannot accept this.

Our biggest asset as a species, the one that continues to separate us from others, is our ability to learn, and this causes us an interesting dilemma. Our own action or inaction often turns our pride in our accomplishment against us. With our America-centric attitude, we manage to garner the ire of citizens of every nation at one point or another, not necessarily because we are free, but more likely because of the way we flaunt our freedom.

In the aftermath of such tragedy as we witnessed in September, it is easy to look back and point the finger at those who we deem responsible. What is most important to recognize, however, is that the action of a few can so vividly and decisively derail the success of so many. In Germany, it took the persuasiveness of one man surrounded by a few to inflict a gaping wound upon the societies of the earth. Between 1966 and 1974, it took a significantly smaller force to defeat our strong military. In Somalia, it took a small group of people to take down a significant number of our best troops. And on September 11th, 2001, it took slightly more than 19 people to kill 6000+, and injure far more.

Time and time again we fail to learn from our mistakes. We failed to realize we could be attacked at Pearl Harbor. We failed again in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs. We failed again in Vietnam, Somalia, and now on September 11th, 2001. It is as if our American-centric ego has led us down a primrose path of perceived invulnerability.

If we are to win this supposed war on terrorism, we must do it on two fronts. We must not only use force to make every attempt to secure our borders and our freedom, but we must also educate ourselves on every level. We must remind ourselves that we must know our enemy, even if at times our enemy is our own inability to comprehend the sociopolitical environment in which we live. We must realize that we are engaged in a worldwide dynamic. We can continue to make brazen renegade statements, or we can engage in meaningful dialogue with other nations to work out all our differences. We must learn from our failures and adapt.

Our present path would lead one to believe we have learned nothing. We learned nothing from Pearl Harbor about being prepared, despite Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, NYC/WTC part I, Yemen, France, and now 9/11/2001. We apparently have learned little from Vietnam based on brazen statements by our military and anticipated tactics by our military in Afghanistan. We apparently have learned little about coalition building despite Libya, Panama, Somalia, Kosovo and countless others. As we look at our collective self in the mirror, we suspect and in some cases, attack Muslim Americans. We have learned little about diversity despite the diversity that makes our country strong. No amount of additional purchases, flag waving, donating or volunteering can make up for this. We must learn.

Our biggest asset as a species, the one that continues to separate us from others, is our ability to learn. If we cannot, our future lies at the bottom of the ladder of socioeconomic Darwinism.