When I listen to news on the internet, and to the people I know who are interested in what is going on outside this island, I get the impression that concerned people are focused only on politics. The next election will put things aright. Or the one after. I find that hard to believe. "The system" is so complex, the bureaucracy so huge, that it has an inertia that pushes it the way it is going.
"The war," for me, is World War II--generations ago. How many wars have we fought since then? I've lost count.
I spent my war' in the Netherlands, under German occupation. As a citizen I got the strange idea that modern wars are about killing citizens and destroying (or stealing) property. A memorable time, certainly, but not pleasant. Because of (many reasons) I resisted the Occupation from the beginning, long before there was an official, sponsored Resistance. From the first day we invented our own ways to make life hard for the occupying troops. When the Resistance was organized, we became part of the program. We were trained in cellars, learned how to take weapons apart and put them together again; the only times we could actually shoot was during particularly loud anti-aircraft guns trying to shoot down our friends up in the sky. There was the time when I had to guard a weapons depot. Weapons were dropped from British planes, on supporting farms. The farmer would drive the packaged guns and ammunition to town, hidden in a load of potatoes, or sugar beets (we lived on sugar beets and tulip bulbs the last six months of the occupation). In town, the weapons were stored in an old warehouse at the end of a cul-de-sac. I was inside, behind big, locked double doors. Boxes and boxes of weaponry stacked along the walls. The farmer would knock a certain sign (two short, hard knuckle knocks, three soft, one quick, hard knock-repeated in reverse order), I would open the doors so that the farmer could drive his cart in. The doors had not even a peep hole, so I had to trust that the signal was not made by a group of German Gestapo. I did that a few times, in 12 hour shifts.
Another job I did only once, guarding a small house in a row of identical small houses. All I was told was to bring both my guns (a hand gun and an automatic), and see to it that nobody got in. Inside the house a group of what I thought of as 'old men" were sitting around a table, talking. I well remember my indignation that I had to risk my life to protect a bunch of old men talking, when so obviously it was more important to fight the war. The little house had a narrow hallway from the front door to the kitchen (there was no back door), the living room on the left. I stood, sometimes sat on a kitchen chair, behind the front door (with a peep hole). I could not really hear much of what the men were talking about, they had the door to the hall closed, except when one of them went to the bathroom (upstairs), or the kitchen. The men acknowledged me with a smile, but nobody talked to me. The one time I heard more than a few words, the men were talking about money, currency. Should there be a new design, or should they re-issue the old money? The money we used during the war was worthless, of course. To me it seemed unimportant compared to the urgency to get rid of the heavy hand of the oppressor.
Afterwards I found out who I had protected: one or more of the Cabinet ministers of the "Government in Exile" (in England), which had been working on smoothing the return of a Dutch government, immediately after the end of the war. They planned the many problems that needed to be done to repair the unbelievable damage the Germans had done during five years of occupation. The country was left plundered--the copper of overhead power lines, and railroad tracks stolen for the (German) "war effort." Almost all food that was grown was shipped to Germany: that last winter is now called The Hunger Winter.
At war's end a whole set of plans were immediately put in place by the Dutch Government, new money issued, rationing was planned, bridges and roads repaired, etc. The change was so smooth that it went almost unnoticed-few of us, at first, realized the magnitude of what had obviously been thoroughly planned. Recovery was not that thoroughly planned in many other countries.
I remember that it took only a few days for everyone to get a ration card, was allowed to exchange worthless currency for the new currency (up to a certain amount-after all, there had been people who collaborated with the Germans and had profited hugely). It must have been the Resistance who rounded up those who had been known collaborators: I remember we were fiercely proud to be able to use rules of law again, treating our prisoners well, writing what we could learn of proof, formal charges, and all the rest.
I think about that now. Suppose the other party gets voted in at the next election, changing the Congress, say both Houses! Are there plans in place to repair the damage of six years of one-party rule? How do we undo the countless small and large illegal snooping programs? How would we deal with a bloated military, that privatized everything (until now virtually all to the same company? How about the exuberance of intelligence gathering organizations, taxes that favor the super rich, a serious depletion of Medicare and other entitlement programs? How to pay for the enormous debt we incurred? As I understand it, this Administration has systematically inserted their own people in every department, every bureau. A one-party Congress has made thousands of laws, undoing large chunks of social and environmental programs so painfully achieved over the years. Can all of that, or any of it, be repaired?
Of course not. I have a feeling that much, perhaps most of it, would stay in place. The government, but actually the country, has moved to the right. It cannot suddenly move to the left, or even to the center. The whole system, the bureaucracy, the laws, rules, are so enormous that it cannot be changed rapidly; perhaps not at all. A whole new Department was created, which absorbed large componentsaa of other departments, changing the whole. Supposedly one huge overarching intelligence apparatus was created, but from what I have read here and there, we now have even more separate intelligence gathering groups than ever before. What do we do with the mountains of information that were collected-much of it illegally, but it is there-stored in monster computers I imagine? Nobody is going to erase all that, although, as all "intelligence," it loses most of its value as soon as it is collected.
No, there is no undoing, or starting anew, as countries did after an occupation. This country is not occupied by a foreign army (although it sometimes feels like it). An election simply means a few new people here and there; the juggernaut plods on.
I am worried, upset, that there is so much talk about politics-rather than about issues that are real enough.
Heard that the Republican Party has decided that the "issue" they are going to stand on in the coming election is gay marriage. That is an issue?
The Democrats are going to stress Minimum Pay. Certainly an issue, but increasing minimum pay by a few percentage points is not going to make much difference, is it? Not to the millions of people who work minimum wage jobs, not even to employers-they just raise prices.
Elections have become regularly occurring national and local events, occupying many hours of television time, pages of newsprint, endless talk on the internet. Propaganda is nowadays designed by experts. We the people are just the players in a monopoly game that is rigged, the dice weighted this way and that, the rules changing for each play. The Will of the People measured, pummeled, shaped.
This administration has demonstrated that the rulers can get away with almost anything. Not hard to find a lawyer who can declare something legal, and by the time a protest has found its way through the hierarchy of courts, it is a few years later. Maybe, eventually, the Supreme Court finds that holding "enemy combatants" for limitless times, without representation or accusation, is illegal according to the laws of this land, and the Geneva Convention. Tthe response so far has been "how can we get around it?"
I don't think the next election will change a thing. Nor the next after the next. Oh, some people will go and others come in. Another million laws made. Gay marriage and abortion will probably be brought back and back and back as "issues", regardless of what voters and courts say.
While Rome burns-as if we did not have more important problems!
And yet, and yet... don't we need a clean-up? Clean up the messes at home and abroad, and at the same time do what we can to minimize the effects of global warming?
None of the big problems we have will wait.
Countries will continue to make weapons of mass destruction, and they will continue to make and test far-reaching missiles. Do we continue to make war on this and that country because we don't like the government they have democratically chosen?
Hurricanes will get bigger and worse, we have been told, and we are still cleaning up the disaster caused by the two hurricanes of last year.
How do we repair our reputation in the world? Can the stirring up of the Middle Eastern cauldron be stopped?
We must do something to replace burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, without which this civilization cannot exist. There are several countries that are doing things, I have read in foreign media. Yes, it can be done, and done in a few years! But we, who are responsible for half the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere, have barely started even thinking about it, let alone talking about it.
Scientists continue to report that Greenland ice is melting faster than they had expected. There are countries that are not only making plans but doing something to protect their shores when the waters of the world ocean rise, as is predicted. We have some very large cities on both coasts that could not deal with rising ocean levels; are we planning?
And, of course, all that must be done at the same time, and as soon as possible.
Maybe one of these days we may wake up to the realization that politics no longer runs countries: it is big business that runs the world through politicians. Big business is doing just fine, thank you; why would they want a change? War is good for business, even when it kills people and destroys man's works. Haven't many of the hundreds of billions we have spent in and on Iraq landed in the coffers of the very, very rich?
The idea that politics is based on issues, ideas, even ideals, appears outmoded.
In the end, real change must come from people.
We seem to be divided, split down the middle. Can we talk, or must we fight?
We have created (or allowed) a culture of mass oped in small bytes, in between big globs of propaganda dressed like entertainment. Not conducive to talking.
We evidently love the way we live: big cars, cheap gas (compared to the rest of the world), Walmart and KFC. Oh yes, and cellphones, iPods, games, sports, available 24 hours a day, cheap. We sit back and let it all wash over us: The Age of Information.
Do the real issues touch us?
No, politics is not enough.
We desperately need meaningful changes, to make our world more livable, sustainable, and ultimately to assure our survival as a species.
But maybe-probably-there is at least one Think Tank that has kept track of all the changes made, laws not enforced, weakening environmental protection, and etc. Probably plans are ready to recover our rights, undo damage done, put in place a program to pay off the debt (or, at least reduce it so that it is more manageable for future generations), make friends again with the rest of the world, with solid plans for reducing the carbon dioxide we spill into the atmosphere, safeguard coastal cities, and whatever else needs to be done, quickly, immediately.
Or (not unthinkable), Exxon-Mobil-BP-Shell and a whole string of other oil companies merge into one huge energy block that realizes that the future is in above the earth sources of energy. No more digging and drilling, it has become too expensive. The consortium even realizes that centralized energy generation is very inefficient, and so they build small, local plants to generate energy with whatever natural sources of energy are best in that locality: solar panels, wind mills, the many kinds of ocean energy, and others. A wonderful dream that leads to many dream worlds.
But politics definitely is not enough.