Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Busy Season

Sum up the holidays?

Between their 2 to 3 jobs and full-time school, my young college students don't have any time. None of them ingest news of any sort on a daily basis, on-line, in print, on TV or radio. One was shocked to learn (from me) that Rudy Giuliani is now a presidential candidate.

"But isn't he the mayor of New York?"

My older students--those returning to school, mid-career--are swamped with full-time jobs and full-time school and children. They're marginally more informed but they don't care. Theirs is the shrug your shoulders attitude. Their noses are to their own grindstones, consumed with mortgages, careers, family demands.

A year after 9-11, Elaine Scarry wrote a marvelous essay that first appeared in The Boston Review: Citizenship in Emergency.

She points out that the only defense launched against the terrorists was from an informed citizenry (not the military, not the president). The people on Flight 93, she says, operated like a "small legislative assembly or town meeting."

Using cell phones, they gathered and verified facts. They assessed the threat to their own lives. They developed a plan. They voted on the plan. They acted.

She juxtaposes the efficacy of this process to the inability of the government to respond. Scarry notes that the military suspected Flight 93 was under terrorist control for nearly an hour but knew this for a fact for 20 minutes before the plane crashed.

Still, the military didn't deploy a defense. The logistics were just too overwhelming.

The main thrust of her argument is to question the wisdom of our current nuclear policy, allowing the President to make a decision--without Congress-- to launch a warhead in the name of defense.

We all know that scenario--the nuclear missile headed toward our borders, the President's hand forced to press that red button.

This should be changed, Scarry argues. Effective, speedy response and defense is a myth, an impossible story citizens soothe themselves with--and a dangerous lie. One person shouldn't have that power.

Instead, she holds the citizens of Flight 93 as examples for us all: we should all be operating like that, right now. We have the responsibility--as citizens-- to be well-informed. We have the responsibility to act on our knowledge, to defend the nation, ourselves. If we leave this vital task to politicians and the government machinery, we lose.

When we read this essay in my classes, someone always says: "But I'm too busy to get involved."

Then we all marvel at the irony, how we're too busy scrambling to question the scramble itself, the direction we're headed.


I better get going. Lots of shopping, baking, gift-making, card-writing, and party going ahead. Busy, busy, busy.

No comments: