November 23, 2010

Almost a Manifesto

Just because something is inevitable doesn’t mean it will come to pass, and just because something is unthinkable is no guarantee it won’t happen. 
Israeli-Palestinian peace seems to be a no-brainer, especially 17 years after Oslo. And yet, most Israelis are convinced that Oslo “failed”. What failed was the U.S. Congress, among others, to support the process politically and financially when the two adversaries were ready to move forward. Rabin knew that Israelis and Palestinians couldn't live together, so he sought to separate as quickly as possible under some diplomatic cover of night. The window of opportunity was wasted once Rabin was assassinated, demonstrating that at certain points in history it really can’t be bigger than one or a handful of individuals.
Reflecting on the 47th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination (which happened a bit before I was born), Cold War brinkmanship could so easily have led to full-scale nuclear war, if not for a few cool heads. Even for those of us old enough to remember just the 1970s and 1980s, the blanket of nuclear terror and the despair of Soviet-bloc police states are inconceivable in hindsight. One must travel to North Korea to grasp what I experienced as a young boy during one long summer in Ceaucescu’s Romania. 
The idea that things can get out of hand and that leaders and followers can lose touch with reality seems preposterous, and yet this happens with frightening regularity right here in the United States -- fear, paranoia, suspicion, hatred, willing suspension of disbelief. In ever-widening circles, the subversion of basic liberties and freedom masquerades as a triumph of American values. The Cold War may have ended, but history continues and our intellectual and spiritual struggle for genuine democracy and enlightenment is a daily challenge, even when we choose (yes, it is a choice) to ignore it.
Even as the cult of self-enrichment and self-absorption metastasizes throughout our political culture, many Americans stubbornly and proudly maintain the ethic of self-sacrifice and common good which JFK tapped, celebrated, and sanctified. For those of us, the purpose of government is to make America and the world a better place, because we have a purpose that must go beyond ourselves. At no other time in nearly a century has this assumption been so tested and demeaned. And yet, at no other time has it been as meaningful or critical.
President Kennedy famously said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
We have been to the moon, but we should still avoid the easy answers and the convenient black-and-white analysis, or the obvious path of polarization. We do these things, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard...” Otherwise, we humans are wasting some valuable space back here on Earth.

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