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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 21st, 2008 - 00:49:14

The battle for America's soul
By Michael Payne
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 21, 2008, 00:14

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Does America have a soul? Yes, it has a collective national soul. A soul that reflects the principles, the values, the ethics and moral convictions of our citizenry. And whether we realize it or not, there is a tremendous battle being waged to determine which of the competing forces in this monumental struggle will win the battle for the soul of our nation.

These competing forces are all those many conflicting voices and influences that are bombarding the American mind from every angle every day -- some informational, some objective, some laced with lies and deception, and some cleverly designed to create an atmosphere of fear and silent compliance.

This is not meant to be a discussion of the influence of any political party or its particular philosophies. We will not get into Democrats vs. Republicans, Red vs. Blue states, liberals vs. neoconservatives. It will, rather, be an attempt to portray the intense struggle going on within this American society to determine the direction that our collective moral compass will take us in the future. Right now this direction is quite uncertain as this nation and this society try to cope with the critical issues that have resulted in a greatly divided nation. A nation that I believe is trying to examine itself, to consider what it once was, far from perfect, but one that seemed to espouse honesty, integrity and ethics to a much greater degree than is apparent in our society today.

One of the biggest questions that we need to answer is whether we as a nation and we as individuals still retain a moral sense of the difference between right and wrong. Do we still have the capacity to make such judgments by setting aside our own needs, wants and prejudices and look at these issues in an objective way that takes into account the welfare of all people in our nation and on this planet. To make this determination and to see just how this battle is taking shape let us consider the following issues and just how we honestly feel about the right or wrong of each.

Our discussion must, in my estimation, start with the question of when our nation should conduct a war against any other nation. Will the Bush/Cheney doctrine of preemptive strikes be wholly acceptable to us if and when our leadership in Washington once again "thinks" that there is a potential threat to our security? Such as Iran? Or will we as a nation insist that war must be an absolute last resort, not to be pursued until all other viable options have been thoroughly assessed? When we find ourselves involved in a war such as Iraq, do we take a stand against it because it is illegal and morally wrong? Or, rather, do we want to end it and bring our troops home simply because we are not winning? Shouldn't this question of right versus wrong be very easy to answer? But is it for millions of Americans who now are almost mind numb from the barrage of propaganda and fear that has been thrown at them in recent years?

It has now become quite clear that the reason for the preemptive invasion and occupation of Iraq had nothing to do with WMDs, liberating and bringing democracy to the Iraqi people, and that the real intent was to control the massive petroleum resources of the entire Middle East. Do we Americans, now knowing these facts, completely reject and disavow this totally misguided foreign policy nightmare that has nearly destroyed that nation, its culture and has resulted in meaningless deaths, displacement of citizens and financial disaster for the majority of the Iraqi population? We loudly proclaim ourselves as being a Christian nation but are we worthy of that identity if we condone and accept such actions of invasion and occupation of another nation simply because as loyal Americans we must support our troops and our government?

What about the great moral issue of torture? What about kidnapping and renditions? When we consider this administration's policies in Guantanamo, what we have witnessed of the inhumane abuses at Abu Grahib, when we listen to the debates about whether waterboarding is torture or not, what do we really feel deep down? Do we accept these decidedly non-Christian actions at face value, just things that happen in the course of making sure that our nation is secure? Or do we look deeper and consider that we can make our nation secure without sacrificing our principles and our place in the world community of nations?

How do we feel about the charge that America has become an imperialistic nation that wants to use its position as the world's only superpower to make other nations of the world subservient to our own concepts of government? Is that something that we now feel comfortable in accepting or does it make us feel that our nation has taken a distinct turn in the wrong direction? Is the fact that America has over 700 military bases/installations located in nations all over the world, is planning a missile shield in Poland and The Czech Republic, and may be contemplating an attack on Iran make you feel more secure or do these issues trouble you greatly? Is it in our basic nature to want to dominate other nations?

In domestic issues, how do you feel about the fact that 47 million Americans currently have no health care while, at the same time, every member of the U.S. Congress, federal employees in the DC bureaucracy and employees of state governments are covered? Would you be willing to sacrifice something, possibly even some higher taxes, to see that all Americans have the same benefits or do you feel that life has never been fair to everyone and that is just the way it is? That is one really big question in this battle for America's soul.

Do you believe that global warming (deemed a reality by the majority of the world's climate scientists) is a most definite threat to the future of our children and our grandchildren and to the very existence of our planet? Or do you think that it is one of the greatest hoaxes in our history? This is one issue that every one of us better think about very deeply for if we refuse to see the danger of this rapidly approaching tsunami that will affect our entire environment in devastating ways, then we all may end up dead-wrong. Or do you agree with many of those in DC and in our business sector that may well know of the dangers of global warming but who have declared that they will not do anything that will endanger or slow down the progress of our economy?

And what about Peak Oil, the theory supported by numerous geologists and petroleum experts, which states that in the very near future the total world demand for oil will outstrip the total world production capabilities, thereby adversely affecting the commerce and lifestyles of all nations, especially in America, the greatest consumer of petroleum? Do you believe that this theory is actually relevant and that America and the entire world must drastically change their ways, undertake conservation programs, develop alternative energy strategies to replace fossil fuels? Would you personally make some sort of positive sacrifice such as trying to limit your use of autos, by refusing to ever again purchase a large gas-guzzling SUV or pickup, and think seriously about purchasing a hybrid auto? Or do you, again, think that this theory of Peak Oil is yet once again nothing more than a hoax that will damage our economy and our lifestyles for no viable reason? Yes, one more big question in the battle for America's soul.

America is entering into one of the most dangerous periods in our history relative to our financial stability and solvency, as related to the actions and decisions being made by this nation's financial sector and by individual Americans. This could not be better illustrated than by our current housing crisis, the subprime mortgage dilemma and accelerating foreclosures. This massive problem that threatens the economy and individual solvency seems to be the result of gross irresponsibility on the part of many elements of the banking and mortgage-lending sector. While many people were victims of these shady, predatory loan practices, there also were many home buyers who knowingly and irresponsibly entered into highly questionable mortgages; those that offered no, or very low down-payments. interest-only loans, and various types of ARMs with low initial monthly payments, followed by exorbitant increases in interest rates.

What this housing crisis is clearly illustrating is the growing incidence of greed and materialism in our society. We want more and more "things," material possessions of all sorts; we want bigger and bigger autos, more horsepower. Mega-mansions are becoming quite common. And so, more and more greedy, opportunistic CEOs are more than happy and quite capable of coming up with new ways to satisfy that enormous appetite -- and in doing so, to increase their already lofty salaries, bonuses, retirements and other perks to unconscionable heights. And not feeling the least bit guilty as they use any and all illegal tools and techniques at their disposal to increase their wealth while causing millions of Americans to go into deeper debt.

America has now arrived at a crucial crossroads; and which direction we take into our future will answer this critically important question -- do we still perceive ourselves to be a moral, ethical nation and people? Or have we now been transformed to the point that our nation is dangerously close to losing this momentous battle for its very soul?

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