September 24, 2007
From Liberty Street


John Turner

Driving thousands of miles around the country as I have over the past month has convinced me that the nation is hungry for something new, something fresh, something energizing.

There is much that is old and wearying. Primary, I suppose is the miserable incursion into Iraq. Every day's newspaper brings a new revelation of the vileness there. This morning we read of yet another case of military corruption in awarding contracts, and of secret units who use so-called bait to lure Iraqis to pick up what seems to be military contraband off the streets so that the unsuspecting victims can be killed. The leader of one such unit, Captain Matthew Didier, described the process this way:

Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item and picked
it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a
sign they would use the item against U.S. Forces.

One could write a full volume analyzing a mind that could utter such a statement, and the overall effect would be miserable exhaustion. The flat, stupid language, the disgusting euphemism -- "engage" for "kill," even the bad grammar that can't get its pronouns right, leave one wanting to collapse in street. And when you consider that we have a political class without the spine to cut off behavior of that kind, you occasionally find yourself wanting not only to collapse but just to lie quietly till you die.
The congestion enveloping major American cities, and the aggressive, even murderous driving it engenders, must deplete the spirits of the people who have to confront them day after day. I find myself worn out after only a single day in the midst of paralyzing sprawl, and have a hard time imagining the effect on those who have to crawl their way though it hundreds of times every year.

The ongoing racism that seems to be an endemic element of America life, the murders that spiral to eight or nine times the rate in countries supposedly similar to ourselves, the increasing incidence of gated communities where those who must have 15,000 square foot houses feel threatened by the underlings all around them, a national debt that cannot be brought under control, the garbage strewn in every public area and the aggressive signs that warn of dire consequences for people who throw it around, the daily reports of police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct -- all of it seems to indicate a people who have lost their way and are stumbling blindly.

Even so, we all know that's not the whole story and that there's much in America that's decent, and inventive, and intelligent. But it needs to be freed from the debilitating conditions and attitudes that weigh it down.

One of our problems is that we're obsessed with new technologies that will wash away our difficulties. It's a delusion, of course. No invention is going to give us what we need to liberate our better nature. Rather, it has to be something from the realm of that overused term, "values."

Driving up Interstate 81 a few days ago, I whizzed past the little town of New Market, where, in 1864, cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, some of them no more than twelve years old, joined with Confederate Army units in an attempt to drive the invading Federal Army out of the Shenandoah Valley. Ten of the boys died as a result of the battle. A roadside sign advertises a "Hall of Valor" which is, evidently, a museum commemorating the cadets' participation in the engagement.

Involuntarily, the thought swept over me -- God! I'm sick and tired of words like "valor." Maybe that's how we could start something new to give us a fresh view of life, by reconsidering what we celebrate and what we sentimentalize. Sending boys off to be chopped in a meaningless battle in a war that was lost: is that an act to be glorified or should be it seen as the epitome of stupidity?

I've answered the question for myself, and I wish I could encourage others to, at least, present such queries to themselves.  If we all began doing it, might we shake off some of the baggage that seems to be dragging us down? We need something to help us clear our minds or otherwise we're going to sink into increasing weariness, and get so tired we can't begin to solve our current problems.


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