John Ashcroft Speaks, I Listen
A couple nights ago, I sat in a sea of fellow Holy Cross Crusaders, listening to former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft deliver a lecture entitled "Securing Freedom in Perilous Times."
Early in his speech, Attorney General Ashcroft discussed the impact of technology on the ability to preserve freedom, and the consequent manner in which technology has revolutionized the world. He quoted President Truman's statement, "We have won the battle of the laboratories."
The reference here is obvious considering the context of Truman's presidency. But I think what does need further explanation is how the world, not just the United States, has quiescently entered an age where, in the words of Ashcroft, "It used to take a nation-state to take a nation-state; now it only takes individuals." In truth, this is the reality of present-day life. This reality is what Ashcroft called in military terms, an "asymmetrical threat: destructive weapons in the hands of the few."
For us Americans, the meaning of this took form with the 9/11 attacks. But for millions of others throughout the world, this is too often a part of daily life, be it suicide bombers in Israel, insurgents in Iraq, or victims of sniper shootings in Lebanon. It's shocking to consider that the power of granting life and death that so many religions attribute to God, the Supreme Being, the most high authority - that humans, mere individuals acting of their own accord, infringe upon this most holy power.
Quite audacious - and yet, there is some force compelling them that the rest of us can name, analyze, blame, but that we all too often cannot understand because we cannot sympathize with the source. Technology has infinitely augmented our ability to communicate, but still we are an inept world society when it comes to communicating cross-countries, cross-race, cross-ethnicities, cross-religions, cross-interests. As a student of history, it is second-nature for me to look to the past for answers. More than once a day, I find myself wondering if people 100 years ago did not live freer lives than us today? Freer from the arms of government, from the reality of cancer, freer from the influences of international politics, and so forth.
Sure, their existence cannot rival the luxury or length of ours; but at least they were freer of the sense of incumbent political disasters, terrorist attacks, or of being inundated with the seemingly endless list of products and activities leading to cancer. Freedom can have many interpretations, including the entitlement to a daily life free of worries about nuclear weapons, global markets, and government-led hostilities that result in genocide.
Moving on to more optimistic thoughts, Ashcroft commented on the singularity of the American experience, declaring that nowhere can the catalytic impact of freedom on humans be more evident than in the United States. To support this claim, Ashcroft quoted the well-known line of poetry from the sonnet "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, which is imprinted on the base of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore."
It was not the elite of Europe or the East that immigrated to America. It was those of lesser fortune, lesser education, lesser prospects for a comfortable and content life. They were there when America blossomed as a democratic, free society. They were there when labor unions were established, when freedom of religion was more than an enumerated right, but became an enacted right. As the daughter of immigrants, I see how this 'catalytic impact of freedom' manifested itself in the lives of my parents. We have every right imaginable here in the United States. But I am not sure if everyone knows enough to make full use of these rights. If they did, then why isn't everyone educated, with health care, and free of the yoke of social inequality?
In answer to this, one might say it is simply a matter of circumstance and condition that one is born into; we have to acknowledge the simple truth of imperfection in all human systems including government, that not everyone can be provided for, defended, or protected equally. To which I would then respond, why not provide for the rest using the resources of human compassion and goodness, that which so many religious adherents here in the U.S. preach of and believe in? No question about it, many people do live by what they preach. But from the perspective of a college student where people's hunger for self-promotion and resume-building all too often tops the list of priorities, I can't help but wonder how much of it is genuine? If it were, then would the job of the Attorney General, and of government as a whole be so inundated with criminal cases and preventing and punishing the actions of individuals so embittered by the injustices and prejudices prevalent in society? I'm not seeking to defend the actions of these people - I am merely posing the question that if more people were sincere and genuinely concerned with standards of living, economic conditions, and social injustices faced by others out of the simple goodness of their hearts, then wouldn't would-be criminals be disinclined to break the law, outraged victims of social injustices number fewer, and overall, society be freer?
As I listened to John Ashcroft speak, I came to think that we are all just ordinary folk, doing the best we can do, from the top down. Our actions are the products of the complex beings we are and reflect the times we live in. It is impossible to determine how they might manifest themselves, and if ultimately, they will lead to greater or lesser entropy in the universe. But we should not be close-minded and expect little from them. It could very well be that we live in an age where individuals can take nation-states. But why can't we reverse this and have it be that individuals can also save nation-states? It could be my thoughts are too idealistic, but I'd rather opt to lead the life of believing in something more than what we have, rather than accepting what we are given.
Posted by: GTC | September 23, 2008 5:57 PM
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Posted by: GTC | September 23, 2008 5:56 PM
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Posted by: Maral | September 23, 2008 11:44 AM
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