It was on the eve of my birthday 5 years ago that I watched in my house the US President announce that he was taking the USA to war in Iraq. I remember the calm of those moments, listening to the man who had carried us through the September 11 crimes with strength and confidence. I remember wanting to believe in his words and my government. I remember feeling very quiet and, walking outside, hearing and feeling that same quiet in my neighborhood–as if we were collectively inhaling and holding our breath.
That was 5 years ago, on the eve of my birthday, and I couldn’t have wished for a less-desirable birthday memory. Every year I am reminded of that day and how I was pulled by public opinion and mob mentality into a war that has cost over 4000 American lives and billions of US dollars. Privately I cringe at my birthday because my conscience is not entirely my own; there is a piece of me that belongs to the collective, to the common good and the good of all people and I know how the cost of this war has further divided the American people and damaged the US reputation around the world.
But this war also has its realities: the necessity of oil in the US economy, the economic boom to the industries that benefit from military conflict, the end of a tyrannical period in an unstable country. As much as China and other Asian countries avoid discussion of such unhappy topics, Americans seem to revel in the opposite. Indeed, it can be argued that “conflict is necessary” is the American way.
But agree or disagree, the war that America fights has placed a burden on our collective conscience, as Americans. 5 years ago, when the President made his announcement and everything grew eerily quiet in the streets around my house, it was like I wasn’t alone in my concern, my wonder, and my skepticism. I wasn’t the only one quietly listening for everyone else’s response. I wasn’t the only holding my breath, waiting to see if others laughed or cheered or booed or cried or beat their chests and waved flags.
But I’ve been holding my breath, like the rest of us, for a long time. By American standards, 5 years is a long time, and we are slowly losing consciousness. The dead are not as important as too many other things. The cost is unimaginable for most of us because we balance checkbooks of numbers with 1, 2 or 3 zeros and our attempts to balance that checkbook and make ends meet has all of our strongest attentions.
So we hold our breath, content to be feeling dizzy or light-headed because it’s like being drunk without the nausea. It’s like feeling the numbing effects of something we take to help us with the pain. The pain is slipping away–along with our lives–but we feel less connected to either and that’s progress for pleasure seekers. We’re moving forward and crawling away from that which makes us unhappy–from our source of pain and discomfort to the slow death of our lives, liberties, and pursuit of happiness.
Can it really mean that much to me? Yeah, it’s more than just a piece of bad dramatic writing. We’re talking about my people, my homeland, my government, my friends and family, my way of life and the land I was born in and will one day return to. It is everything I know and love and want to protect for the world and myself because it is unique in all the world’s history. The USA is my home and home is forever where my loyalties lie. Home is where I belong. Even far away–but especially far away–do I understand the relevance and value of my home. Far away, I am horribly familiar with the outsider’s perspective. I can clearly see the inebriated state of affairs that breathlessness brings. The foreigner, the outsider, watching my nation turn blue.
But now I watch the new US Presidential election campaign, and I watch with great hope and wide eyes because it is my opportunity to inhale the fresh air I’ve coveted for so long. It is my opportunity to breath and renew myself with hope for the future. It is our chance, as Americans, to rediscover ourselves in the 21st century and renew our children’s hope for their children’s future.
Typically, the candidates are providing toothy communications to the lip-smacking medias, but amid the feeding frenzy there is not only the current of public opinion and mob mentality, there are particularly interesting flashes of lights; sparks of redemption, righteousness, and reason that haven’t been seen or spoken of in far more than 5 years. These are the catalysts of change. True change and change for the better, not better than. I am older and wiser than I was 5 years ago, but I remain hopelessly hopeful, and I am ready to exhale.