Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Safest Place in the World / Why I Fight

My favorite month is ending in just a few short hours, and once again, I've missed my favorite holiday. Halloween is the closest thing to carneval that we Midwesterners have. The obscurement of identity, the Dionysian release of over-indulgence (candy as kids, and other stuff as adults), the sense that "it will all be over come daylight, so let it all out" all appeal to me. But, as I said above, I missed it again, stuck in dreary eastern Baghdad - during Ramadan no less, the holy month (isn't a month sort of overdoing it?) when a true believer isn't supposed to eat, drink, smoke, have sex, or basically do anything that makes being human worthwhile during the daylight hours. Top it off with the US Army's ill-considered "no fun" regulations (which, if followed to the letter, would make even the most devout moslem look like John Belushi circa 1978), and you have the makings of a shitty time (not to mention the bungholes that try to shoot at me).

All that being said, hopefully you'll indulge me in a bit of homesickness. I even miss the town that I call "The Safest Place in the World" (hereafter known as SPW). SPW is just that: a smallish midwestern liberal-arts-college town with no major highway running through it, little crime, and no large industry - the type of place that is basically a state-subsidized haven for aging hippies and fresh-faced transnational progressives. Hell, the state even provides the former with jobs and the latter with twin senses of entitlement and purpose! This burg is like a mini-Berkeley, except on lithium (we are midwesterners, and of course most of us don't get THAT worked up about most things). SPW has hit all the stations of the cross that a lefty mecca needs to hit: large Unitarian community, Greens outnumber Republicans on campus, pre-recorded Mumia speeches every now and again, Bush puppet heads and guys on stilts trotted out on the Leftist High Holy Days, police gun range shut down due to "excessive noise," sand on the roads in lieu of salt in the winter (it doesn't help any with the snow, but it doesn't disturb the Earth Mother), Jewish student union vandalized with bloody pig head, those charming Che posters in alleyways, doctrinaire Stalinist bookshops posing as havens for free-thinkers (I'm talking about YOU, Boxcar Books) unwashed homeless-by-choice twentysomethings clotting up the otherwise quaint downtown area, and, of course, Starbucks vandalism.

As you can see, I'm fully aware of the (many) shortcomings of this place, but I love it nonetheless. Why? Because in SPW, unlike most of the rest of the world, I can stroll down to a coffee shop (corporate or family - my choice), sit down, read both the New York Times and The National Review, and not have to worry about a FUCKING ROCKET being fired from down the street. I can display affection toward a member of the opposite sex (and that's a SHOUT OUT, Maria!) in public without incurring the wrath of the Holy Police. I can turn on my faucet and raw sewage doesn't pour out. If I disagree with my government (and I often do), no one will come and throw me feet-first into a stump grinder (try telling that to those Black Cross kids who hang out at the library, though: "We live in a police state!" okay...sure guys, just lay off the meth, will you). In SPW I can buy pretty much anything I want or need, and I don't need a home arsenal to protect my purchases. I can drive out to the lake in the summer, drink a few, and unwind without having to keep one eye open for brigands who'd kill me for my shoes. In short, in SPW, I (and everyone else, too) can live mostly as I please with minimal interference from either the government or malignant non-governmental forces.

That's why I fight. I will not allow the backwards reactionaries that throng so much of the world's surface to destroy (or even damage) my home. I don't care why they hate us or wish us ill, the simple fact that they do is enough to motivate me. I will not surrender my values, my loved ones, my freedom to placate the childish impulses of a pack of insane petty tyrants. I will fight them until I'm too feeble to pick up a rifle, and then I'll pick up a pen and take the fight to the marketplace of ideas. I'll continue to fight them in the streets, I'll fight their friends and allies if need be. I'll fight their philosophies, whether they be religious (e.g. Wahabbism and al-Qaida) or secular (communist dictatorship and the like) wherever and however I can. I fight them here, in their backyards, so they won't have time to creep into mine.

I cherish my freedom, the safety of my home, the embrace of my life's love. I cherish the notion that someday my descendants might live on other worlds, and maybe even prosper there. I cherish the idea that my descendants might only know AIDS and cancer from textbooks. I cherish progress, liberty, and joy of living. I cherish these things enough to kill to preserve them. I love these things enough to not sully them by surrendering to my enemies in the vain hope that they "just leave me alone" (ahem, Spain, you might want to start taking notes). If my nation's proactive, often nonlinear approach to this conflict disturbs or bothers some people, so be it. If it disturbs or bothers some people enough that they feel they must take up arms against us, then bring it - I'll also fight them, and so will several hundred thousand of my friends - the best that the United States, Britain, Poland, Australia, Italy, and many other nations have to offer. Push us too far, and those numbers jump to the millions.

So SPW, sleep soundly tonight. Some morning soon you'll wake up a little bit colder, with no leaves left on your trees, and I'll be there. I'll stroll down your overhung streets without having to check for armed insurgents in your alleys and I will smile. I'll light a cigarette and sit down on one of your limestone retaining walls and listen to some bedraggled-but-earnest youthful Che-worshipper spout about "oppression" and I will laugh. I'll reflect upon the first dusty snowfall on your many copper and slate eaves and I'll grin from the sheer joy beholding the pure beauty of freedom.