Psychoanalyzing America

It seems that 9/11 changed America forever. Not really
surprising. I will never forget watching the Today show and watching those
planes and that ash and smoke and the hopelessness of it all; how could people
survive it? Our national mourning was profound and it had anger mixed with it.
We looked for survivors; we looked for remains; we licked our wounds, thanked
our heroes, grieved with the families and friends. No planes flew in the skies.
The silence told us better than anything that America had been brought to a
temporary standstill. We were a nation in deep shock.
When we learned that America had been infiltrated by
foreign haters who probably came here on visas, perhaps pretending they would
attend college here we felt betrayed and thus began our fears and doubts about
strangers. This could be the very place where an idea like the “Red Wedding” in
George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones
comes from. Once you have broken bread with a guest and offered salt they are
supposed to be safe in your household. Once we offered our hospitality in the
form of a visa we felt a sort of bargain had been struck. We expected these
foreign guests to treat America with respect. Instead they acted like the hosts
at the Red Wedding and we, America, lost our innocence forever.
We loved welcoming foreign guests and temporary residents
from other lands. We liked sharing our comfort and our warmth and our
treasures. No more. We have learned suspicion and distrust. We are no longer
the conquering heroes we were or thought we were at the end of World War II. We
have spent some of the currency we earned in that war. There are people who
hate us now and some believe they have valid reasons. I don’t believe hate gets
anyone anything good, but no one is consulting me about this.
So America has learned fear. We refuse to be vulnerable. If
we stay alert and develop the best intelligence system in the world (which we
don’t quite have the hang of yet, apparently) to keep eyes on our enemies at
home and around the world that will be part of our safety strategy. If we guard
every entrance to America, all the planes and buses and planes that will be
part of our safety strategy. If we take the war to the countries where our
enemies live (even if we have to lie to do it), if we are preemptive that will
help keep us safe. If we get a grip on our visa system (which we have not done)
so that we know when someone overstays a visa that might help keep us safe.
Time and tide have seen us relaxing these protections. Time
heals all wounds and the tides are going out, those tides of high threat levels
and our fears are ebbing. In a way these safety precautions sort of turn us into prisoners. But not everyone agrees that we should lower those
threat levels. Now that we know the rules of hospitality no longer apply, some
people support a position which says that it is wrong to relax our safety rules
and take the police locks off the doors. They feel naked without troops on the
ground in those nations full of fanatics who see us as enemies, and whose
religion, like ours, requires conversions. These Americans fear that we will
relax our alertness and then – Armageddon.
These Americans fear those coming over our Southern border,
they say, because they believe our enemies hide among them. Or are they playing
on our fears again as they did to get us in Iraq, in order to get their way on
immigration. We do know that they want to halt all flow across our Southern
borders; build walls high and higher, station more troops until no one without
papers can cross. No one even knows if this is possible. No one even knows if
their fears are real or pretend, but we can see that America has left its
adolescence and no longer feels invincible.
Perhaps these fear-mongers are paranoid; their fears could
be exaggerated or just politically expedient. Perhaps their assessment is
accurate. We are people who put our Japanese neighbors into camps during World
War II because of fear. Did those camps protect us? We will never know. Once
you choose one path you can’t usually go down the other. It didn’t do much for our national pride. Does safety trump pride?
Is this situation with these children telling us that we
have let our fear of being attacked again on our own soil get the better of us,
is this just prudent caution, or is it politics? Can we close the doors to America
and keep everyone out. Will that keep us safe? With two-thirds of the world
trying to find itself can we really lock America up like a stronghold and keep
all the “others” out? Will our own internal problems tear us apart regardless
of what we do about allowing immigrants in? Is this why we have lost our caring
spirit – all this fear and loss of innocence? Is this why we say put them back
on the bus and send them home – because we have lost our nerve? Is it
overpopulation and not wanting America to be overrun by hungry hoards that is
motivating us to harden our hearts?

Has America lost its ability to assimilate immigrants and
turn them into proud Americans? Will we ever set aside the less savory effects
of 9/11 to regain the brash optimism that once defined us? Have we learned to
temper that brashness with a bit of maturity gained through strife and loss?
There are always more questions than answers, but some answers must indeed be selected,
answers we all hope will prove right in the end. If only we had wise people in Washington instead of this Congress we have now.
By Nancy Brisson

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