Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
Science + Tech
The War, the Wall, and the Well
Three symbols of America's enduring struggles
Martin Luther King, Jr.
named three sins
of our nation that were intrinsically complicit in fueling a pre-civil rights America: militarism, racism and materialism. That was a long time ago, and many believe we are living in a failed post-civil rights America. Few would argue that a country where the life expectancy of an African American male is less than the average Sri Lankan fails to meet the description of King’s “dream.”
In post-civil rights America, we are wading through the murky waters of these same three sins MLK named for us, and they are being realized in three symbols: the war, the wall and the well.
. America is a nation at war. It sounds crazy to think we're actually involved in more than one war. I grew up listening to my grandfathers talk about World War II. The reality of conflict and combat abroad was terrifying, and the social impact that had on those who stayed home and lived in the US meant tremendous sacrifices.
Today, compassion fatigue for the wars has so diluted our sensibilities that we couldn't chase down a death count if forced. Even as the news prints and reports the causalities, most Americans can't name a single fallen soldier by name. The war has become a familiar narrative to which we've grown so accustomed, we're unable to cringe at its horrifying reality and effect on our world. Perhaps this is the new manifestation of the sin of militarism of which Dr. King spoke.
With the passing of
Arizona’s new immigration law
, all eyes are fixed on Mexico. But what is Mexico and who are Mexicans? Even a brisk look at American history reminds us that one point the so-called "New World" wasn't yet divided up and separated into territories. And once that exercise of division happened, Texas, much of California, and other parts of what are now US states were actually included in Mexico. To this day, how many towns and cities in those two states bear Spanish names? But a short-sighted and thin sense of memory has affected popular opinion profoundly.
According to some, building a wall along the US-Mexican border is the solution to the relational strains we’ve experienced with our Southern neighbor. But is this the answer? Or could it be that this wall is more than a containment effort? Perhaps our perception of Mexico is an externalized abstraction that has inflated and shrank in size and power since the invasion of European explorers. With a shortsighted and thin sense of memory, our country is now legislating a dangerous form of what can be viewed as legalized racial profiling. These new laws and the construction of the wall is a statement of intolerance of the so-called “other.” Racism is racism, even if it lives in a different zip code and carries an accent.
. As thousands and thousands of barrels of oil gush from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, Americans are angry—not at themselves for demanding such excessive energy consumption levels, but at the government and BP for being unable to bandage the open wound of our materialistic sensibilities.
Could it be that this hemorrhage symbolizes more than an eco-accident? The unaccountable over-consumption of those of us in the so-called developed world has literally wounded the earth and now it is bleeding. Maintaining our current levels of consumption requires continued violence to the earth and risks additional catastrophes.
Maybe these three realities—the well, the wall and the war—have converged in the same moment so that we would realize their connectedness. The wars we are fighting are in large part connected to our need for affordable oil; the cheaper the oil, the more we can and will consume here in the US. The well is quickly becoming a shrine to our out of control consumption rates; current consumption rates are really only sustainable for a small minority, so we need to keep that population of consumers small and protected by a wall.
Together, they remind us that we are still bound by the sins that created the environment and conditions for a civil rights movement. Though our current conflict might not be as egregious as the fight for civil rights, it is one that we need to find ourselves fighting for again.
For additional reflections on this subject, see
Chris Rice's talk
at Duke Divinity School's Center for Reconciliation.
MLK's insights were right for his time and for ours. But I would like to offer a more nuanced "take" on his insights about the war, the wall, and the well.
Since the development of an all-volunteer fighting force (no more draft), ours is an Army of professionals and the fight they engage in is remote from most of us. While citizen support for our two current wars waxes and wanes, most of the fighting force continue doing their job. Warfighting is their JOB, after all. Add to that the fact that our forces are, by design, ten times more lethal than your grandfather's army (and my father's Navy), fewer of us have to experience the horrors of war.
I would argue that this increase in lethality and the efficiency of our war machine is in the best interest of everyone . . . but what it leaves open are the policy decisions that lead to the application of violence as a means of conflict resolution. Are we too quick to pull a trigger when a non-violent compromise would suffice? Does our military might function as a real deterrence in an age of suicide bombers? Are there other means to accomplish the same ends? Are we so committed to a "cold war mentality and defense spending pattern" that we can't adjust to this different world and different enemy?
Our nation's policy towards immigrants has morphed over the years . . . for a time we feared the Irish, the Catholics, and the Chinese. But thirty years ago evangelicals joined forces with the Catholics in abortion protests and today high tech companies fight for the right to hire Asian graduates. Demographics and the fast population growth of the Hispanic community favor the Mexican immigrant . . . in the long run. Our nation's economy needs a younger workforce to finance the retiring Boomers and that workforce is increasingly Hispanic. In 10-20 years I believe that this economic and political reality will correct the problem you and I see today.
Do we consume too much oil? No question. I personally agree with those who argue that we've reached Hubbert's Peak (50% of all of the oil that can be discovered, has been discovered and the rest is harder and harder to reach and extract) and the long term forecast for oil prices is HIGH. The economic burden this will place on Americans will force a change in our consumptive habits. But this market driven response will be terribly painful, especially to the poor. Unfortunately, getting ahead of the problem by legislating change runs headlong into the powerful Congressional lobbyists who represent the oil companies. Their economic interests are simply not served by any abrogation of their drilling rights, the added cost of environmental safety, or the development of non-petroleum, renewable energy sources. Until these special interests can be reigned in, I'm afraid we're in for more spills, higher prices, and some tough times for all of us.
Perhaps what's most disturbing is the extent to which the war, the wall, and the well have all become symbols that other countries seek to emulate.
China already holds the largest standing army in terms of troops, but it is rapidly accelerating its military spending in order to assert its global dominance. Though the United States was arguably the most powerful military nation on earth for the last three decades, that mantle is now passing to China. Revelation tells us that every generation will have its Anti-Christ, its Nero seeking to conquer the world with the sword. Just as assuredly, God tells us that every military empire will have its humiliating Afghanistan moment. Hopefully, every generation will also have a faithful Church rejecting the trappings of military power for the power of love.
Israel has built a wall that makes the US-Mexico border look amateurish. The 'separation barrier' as it is euphemistically called has managed to reduce terrorist attacks in Israel. At the same time its arbitrariness and injustice has created the kind of lifelong grievances that assure the recruitment of generations of terrorists. Europe is building its own walls to keep out immigrants, but like so many walls, these have tunnels which smuggle vulnerable people, especially girls and women, to satisfy the sordid. Such a far cry from a people and land whom God requires should be welcoming to the widow, the orphan and the alien.
And the whole world joins the US at the well, sucking up ever more oil, feeding our addiction and poisoning ourselves and our children and their children's children. God has blessed this earth with abundant sources of energy (sun, wind, tides, geothermal) that are safe and clean. God has declared the Creation good. God has even blessed us with the ingenuity to harness these energy sources for the world's good. Yet we remain lazy, addicted, anesthetized, indifferent to the world's poor who are already bearing the brunt of our disregard for creation.
Lord have mercy.
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