The events themselves were horrifying and numbing at the same time. Constant reviewing of them, trying to determine how everything happened and why, keeps the events alive in my memory along with the pain and grieving I thought I had finished. There is no chance to heal when over and over again my attention is drawn to the hurting, angry families of the victims, the tape recordings documenting the stunning horror and the stories of common heroism. But we can’t stop reviewing it until we understand exactly what happened and why, even though it could be years or decades before all those questions are answered. Even though they might never be.
I feel grateful to have been too young to follow the Watergate crisis. Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal floored me, but at the age of 20, I didn’t have the depth of understanding that would have made me fear a government that would scheme like that behind the backs of its people. But unfortunately I was 34 when George W. Bush took office in 2001, so I have experienced all the horrors of the past few years wide awake, without any anesthesia -- emotional or mental.
Did my generation really inherit the most appallingly misguided, or maybe just incompetent, administration in U.S. history? Is the current state of international affairs the failure of a decision-making elite, or the fumbling of an untreated ex-alcoholic, driven by a need to prove himself in an arena he never stood a chance of understanding? Or maybe it’s just the inevitable consequences of a country that became too powerful too fast and is now perplexed by the small, dying animal in its well-intentioned, but destructive grasp.
My generation has inherited an international role as the bully of the playground, lumbering, arrogant and unstoppable, that wants to arrange the world according to its narrow vision. The world is afraid of us. The world hates us. America has made the hugest mess of Iraq we possibly could have, we got everything wrong and at the highest costs, and still we insist that if everyone would just let us do as we like, we’ll get it right. Eventually.
I am the daughter of community activists. I came of age in the cleared-smoke rubble of the women’s lib movement, the anti-war movement and all the grassroots organizing and leftist rabble-rousing that supposedly taught us that we can make a difference, that the country and the world are getting just a little bit better every day. How does the current state of affairs make me feel? I feel baffled. I feel stunned at how many people cling to the lies about why we began attacking Iraq in March 2003. I’m non-comprehending at the U.S. government’s assumption that we can suspend the rules of war just because we decided this war is different. I’m amazed at the breadth of President Bush’s incompetence and there’s no end of it in sight. I can’t believe where we stand as a nation, our international reputation in tatters, completely untrustworthy in the eyes of the world.
But underneath the numbing incredulity, is shame. I feel ashamed to be an American and to share the responsibility for all the bombed houses, all the dead and wounded soldiers, all the lives destroyed and all the unending grief of the survivors. I feel ashamed that children are being taught that Americans eat babies and take pleasure in torturing others, and that we deserve to die, every last one of us for the horrors we have committed. I’m ashamed.
Why has no one said it? The media spins and the pundits punt and Air America Radio rants self-righteously in between the wry satire and sophisticated humor. But I have neither heard of nor seen anyone say “I am ashamed to be an American today.” We all should be. How could we have let this happen? How could we have let this overgrown mouseketeer stand at the head of an administration driven by grandiose delusion and corporate greed? How could we have allowed the implementation of policies that kill and dehumanize the rest of the world and that only enable our freedom to indulge our darkest impulses? And how could we have allowed all this to happen after the Reagan scandals, after Watergate, after Viet Nam? How could we have let this happen? Where is our shame?
I think my generation gave up after we saw how little we can trust our highest officials, but giving up has obviously been the wrong thing to do. To the rest of the world I want to say that I am sorry for what my country has done and I am sorry for my apathetic part in it. In a culture that moralizes its politics and polarizes everything else, I am going to try to find my way through my own inertia to help change our direction. Giving up on American politics because it’s too corrupt is like giving up on driving the car because the steering wheel has stopped working. Ignoring the impending disaster won’t cushion the crash.
The last three years have left me with little to feel proud of as an American. If we the people are unable or unwilling to stop this kind of travesty of leadership, I hope the rest of the world does whatever is necessary to rein us in. Things really couldn’t be much more desperate than to have a fat, rich, stupid country in control, a country that’s too big for all the other countries to take down even if they combined all their military strength. We created this international crisis while some of us clutched our 9/11 flags and trumpeted our national pride, and others sat paralyzed by what’s-the-point after the 2000 election nullified our votes. And all of us tucked ourselves comfortably in with our certainty that the U.S. always does the right thing. I would plead for humility and downright shame to dissolve our self-deception, truly correct our course and begin the long, slow process of proving once again our worthiness to the international community.