The Terrible Danger of Ignorance

January 17, 2008
By Jonathan Nathan, New York, NY

The United States is in a terrible situation today, but you would never know it from walking past Macy’s this Christmas season. The sidewalk groans under the weight of so many people storming in and out of the store. “Santaland!” it advertises. “Just eight floors up!” Lights flash around red and white signs, scintillation fills the air, consumers stream out of the department store bearing bags filled with diamonds and clothing and appliances, and the cacophony of Christmas explodes into the night. It’s hard to imagine that a few thousand miles away, American soldiers are dying so that we can have this annual spendfest.

This is not an anti-war essay. Nor is it pro-war. What it is: a call to Americans to reconnect to the rest of the world’s sufferings, war or no war.

Americans desperately need to be brought in closer touch with the level that people are suffering on our behalf. We are in a terrible fix: Americans today are more concerned with the benefit of the individual than that of the common good.

During World War II, the people of the United States of America amassed $185.7 billion in war bonds, simply because their government asked them to do so. People conserved gasoline without complaint. Countless Americans faked their ages to get into the United States Armed Forces. There was a true sense of “us”; there was a general sense that it is not “me” who is important, but the survival of liberty in the world. It is these people who built America’s foundation as a true world power; they understood the true value of liberty and freedom and that it had to be defended to the last man when threatened. They understood that individual well being lasts a lifetime; but true sacrifice transcends generations. They were a generation of patriots.

And today? Today I walk along the halls of my school on a sixty-degree day, furiously turning off all the radiators that have been casually turned up to their maximum setting, as if these people do not recognize the significance of their action. People treat food carelessly, as if everyone in the world, or even in the United States, for that matter, were constantly sated. Food is thrown around the cafeteria at my school on a regular basis. Then, laughing at their antics, the culprits leave the table for someone else to clean up. And even more food is wasted as my classmates slip platefuls of food into the garbage.

Of course, they nod concernedly when spoken to about starvation.

My classmates also take drugs freely without consideration of the fact that we actually have troops fighting to stop trafficking. Recently, when I brought up that one of the ways the Taliban gets its money is from supplying us with heroin, one of my pot-smoking classmates defensively responded, “No, they don’t get them from over there.” Another time, there was actually a heated debate in one of my classes over whether the United States was in danger of terrorist attacks. “Hello,” I wanted to yell. “In case you haven’t noticed, people are suffering and dying by the thousands for your safety!”
Cans are thrown across the room into the paper-recycling bin without a second thought. Lights are left on where unneeded. People still drive around in Hummers, even after it has become clear that the Earth is no longer able to sustain such horrible waste–not to mention the fact that the drivers' cash flows straight from their wallets at the gas pump into the hands of the enemy. Even a direct attack on American soil did little to shake us out of our carefree lifestyles.
The war can be protested with bumper stickers and slogans, but anti-war activists are being completely hypocritical when they drive alone in their sedans. Waste is no longer a minor concern. When we are at war, waste is deadly. Consuming as much gasoline as we do indirectly funds the very people who want to kill us. Turning the radiator all the way up on a slightly cold day is no longer a whoops! kind of mistake. It is giving money to the people who kill our “beloved” soldiers. It disgusts me that one could pretend that that America is somehow isolated from the rest of the world; that genocide, poverty, starvation, and mass slaughter are happening on a different planet than us. Our government has done an excellent job of making sure that Americans live their lives as if the world were entirely at peace, as if there were absolutely no consequences for war. The media does it too, concerning itself more with Britney Spears’s mental breakdown than with the mass suffering taking place across the globe. The world is shrinking, and in a small world, one cannot afford to be ignorant. Reclining on a veranda in the South–isolating yourself from the challenges of the outside world–can no longer be regarded as innocent or quaint. We are at war, and everyone–absolutely everyone—must realize that and some level of responsibility.

But perhaps there is a solution. If every American, upon their 18th birthday, were required to show up and join the Armed Forces as in earlier decades, or perform some other civic duty, it would certainly lift us out of our current blasé lifestyles. Maybe actually fighting our enemy and realizing that America is not a fairy-tale land sitting on a cloud will help the situation. It certainly worked for my grandfather’s generation, who truly understood the meaning of sacrifice for the benefit of the greater good.

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