The End of Isolationism

In the wake of an event unprecedented in world -- let alone U.S. -- history, comparisons to Pearl Harbor have been flying. There are any number of ways in which this is a misleading image, but in one important respect, it's utterly wrong, and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were exactly the opposite of Pearl Harbor.

On Dec. 6, 1941, recall, a war had been raging against fascism in Europe for two years, and the U.S. had stood aside. It had done so because of powerful domestic political forces urging isolationism -- arguing that the war in Europe was none of America's business, that we were best off tending solely to our own affairs. That attitude may have kept Hitler alive an extra two years, and killed millions. It died an instant and virtually permanent death (sorry, Pat Buchanan) upon Pearl Harbor.

Today, the United States government and military is whatever word would best describe the extreme opposite of isolationist. They have their fingers in just about every pie in the world. What hopefully died on September 9, 2001 was not our economic, military, or political isolationism; it was the willful cultural isolationism of the American people.

While the United States government, U.S.-based corporations, and the U.S. military pursues extremely active policies -- and, in many cases, attract the extreme emnity of some of the people on the receiving end -- many of us back here in The Great Mall have chosen to remain willfully oblivious. We follow the pennant races, we clip coupons and go shopping, we obsess about our jobs, we tend to our families and communities. We ignore the rest of the world. Most of us speak no foreign languages, and many of us couldn't find Afghanistan on a map of the world. We trust, implicitly -- whether consciously or by our own lack of concern - - that our economic, military, and political leaders are acting in our best interests, and on behalf of democracy and freedom. We know that the world buys our brand names, and we are secure.

Mainstream media has not helped. As it has corporatized and newsrooms have shrunk in recent years, foreign news has been the first to go -- even as we pursue globalization and the world gets ever smaller in so many ways. The stories are buried, or never run, on the assumption that people don't care, because people don't think it's relevant. Maybe, now, they will.

With luck, one positive thing that might emerge from this horror is the end of America's cultural isolationism. It's a goal we should all encourage. Because if our citizens paid closer attention to what the people acting in our names around the globe were actually doing, they might demand policies more in line with our professed ideals of democracy and freedom. And ultimately, that's the best protection against global terrorism -- don't piss so many people off.

For far too long, while the world has shrunk, the American people haven't cared. Now, one of the grimmer realities of the rest of the world has come home, with a sickening jolt. Now, hopefully, we care.

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