My Turn: Avoid temptations of 'divide and conquer'

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2003

I have some obsessive traits - nothing psychotic but I tend to focus strongly on things that catch my attention. Mostly this is shunted into work, greatly assisting my employment and physical survival over the years.

It's the kind of thing you have a self-alarm about. On one hand, it can get carried into long hours, useless energy drains and irritation to any domestic partner. One drawback is the inevitable return to the subject in any conversation.

This is to be expected, as anything that pertains to survival has the highest priority for living systems. Today it is quite strong - the mind draws to thoughts of connections spinning around us.

September 11 changed everything. Never again will we see the sense of security and trust we have been privileged to enjoy in our previous life. In reality, it is much bigger than my mere 57 years, because I, like many folks, grew up with a 250-year history that fortified the belief in a long line of supporting stories of liberty and tolerance.

We haven't had a serious war in 30 years. Oh, there have been relatively small ones against comparatively weak countries. They are usually over in a matter of weeks to months - not years like in the last century. Now, suddenly, we are looking at war on three immediate fronts - Iraq, Korea and al-Qaida.

Al-Qaida seems an obvious need, they directly attacked us and are continuing to threaten. Iraq is a lot muddier - a severely weakened country under a terrible dictator that we have contained for 10 years, whose neighbors mostly don't fear and whose international weaponry seem to be more potential than real. I think I could name at least 40 other countries in that category. On top of it all, this is an aggressive, first-strike war - not unheard of in our history but not the prime way we see ourselves or the world has seen us.

But wars are only one connection I make. I can't help but notice that so many of the countries that we are enlisting have populations like Turkey and Spain, that are 90-plus percent against their governments' actions. Even here, it is conservatively estimated that 30 percent of the country is against the directions we are heading, 35 percent for and 35 percent unsure. Gives one pause in the belief that democratic or proto-democracies govern as representatives of their citizens, doesn't it? Meanwhile, we punish and alienate nations that have been allies for centuries.

Then there is the serendipity of timing. Massive corporate fraud destroying lives results in wrist-slapping and expressions of condolence; laws that violate our revered Constitution with relative impunity; a very silent and passive Congress and judiciary (when was the last time that happened?); almost every state in a terrible downward economic spiral while we tout a tax cut for the rich and are entering a questionable war predicted to cost $25 billion to perform and $1-4 billion a month to maintain a presence.

After a national election where the voting accuracy was questionable and with computer companies predicting 600 viruses a month, suddenly touch-screen computer voting with no audit trail is being sold as a solution; exit polling, which worked well for most of 50 years, suddenly fails totally in predicting election winners; there is a growing rush of refugees at the borders trying to get out of the tolerant land of laws and freedom; Patriot Act II is circulating Congress and allows a native-born U.S. citizen to have their citizenship removed, jailed without representation, denied habeas corpus, not allowed to question "secret evidence," and deported (to where?); assassinations are OK, while the well-paid folks at FEMA tell us to duct tape ourselves in visqueen against biological/chemical attacks (from bomb shelters to putting a bag over your head).

Meanwhile, this fractured and panicked citizenry is fighting and questioning its neighbor's loyalty, intelligence and honesty. Of all times, now is when we need to be dialoguing with each other, finding ways to cooperate, and empower our representatives to firmly stand up to seek solutions that are positive for our children and grandchildren.

Divide and conquer is an old war tactic that sure seems to be working well.

Christopher Wright of Juneau retired after 30 years as a mental health counselor in the Northwest and Alaska.

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