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DLMerritt@cal.berkeley.edu

 
 

This is an article I sent to a Madison newspaper in September, 2001 criticizing the Bush administration's response to 9-11 and proposing alternative actions.  Archetypal and psychological perspectives are offered.  The article was not published.

Highway 61 Revisited, Again?
Is Bush leading us down the wrong road?

Now the rovin’ gambler he was very bored
He was tryin’ to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done
We’ll just put some bleachers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61

                         -- Highway 61 Revisited  Bob Dylan

            There are many parallels between the present crisis and the world situation in the sixties. If Bush is not extremely cautious in his response to the terrorist attacks, he will become an unwitting co-promoter with bin Laden of apocalyptic action on Highway 61.  The magnitude of our losses and the frightful possibilities ahead should prompt us to consider bold new directions aside from a military response.

            We desperately need a great leader and statesman at this crucial junction in history and Bush has gotten off to a bad start. It is easy to lead a nation into war by playing on people’s fears and stoking testosterone levels. Bush, as Reagan did before him, feeds off the myth of the American cowboy, an archetypal dominant with major unconscious influences on American behavior. The tough, individualistic Texas cowboy initially came across with a “Don’t Mess with America” stance ready to hang “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters around the globe. Given Bush’s association with the Texas death penalty, we infer that “dead” would be just fine. War should be the last resort, not the first. The crisis should be re-framed as an international crime against humanity, which encourages thoughts of criminals being brought to justice rather than promoting revenge with a thirst for bombings and killings.

            The adolescent mentality associated with the cowboy archetype polarizes issues into black and white. You are either with us or you are a terrorist –- no subtle discriminations necessary thank you. This makes it seem unpatriotic to criticize our government. The situation in the Middle East is devilishly complex with an endless history of sordid activities taken with God (or Allah) on “our side.”  Someone long ago reminded us that excessive zeal in rooting out weeds can destroy the garden (Matthew 13: 24-30). The domino effect activated by war could lead us to bin Laden's goal of a war between one billion Muslims and the rest of the world; crusaders versus jihad.
    
            U.S. leaders seem dumbfounded as to why people hate us. If it is true that they don’t know, we are in for big trouble. Statements such as “they can’t stand our free and open democratic principles and our way of life” are an insult to the Arab world and a smoke screen for the major problems. Most Arabs are only too aware of the oppressive and/or religiously insensitive regimes such as the Shaw of Iran that we have supported or brought to power.

            Bush is learning on the job -–we can only pray he is a quick learner. The isolationist approach he campaigned on allowed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to escalate.  Bin Laden has piggy backed his aims onto this conflict. Our leaders are incapable of dealing with the perspectives offered on CBS’s 60 Minutes (Sunday, September 23, 2001). Interviews with editors of Arab newspapers made it clear that the major reason for the almost universal Arab hatred of America is our unflagging support of Israel. Arabs see America as being inseparable from Israel, therefore incapable of taking a neutral position necessary to mediate a settlement.

            Now more than ever the Middle East is an international problem.  Religions and politics are fueled by oil to make the region an explosive mix.  The problem should be turned over to the organization set up to resolve issues between nations. However, the United States has veto power on the UN Security council over proposed actions. Our allies will have to band together to persuade us to submit to an internationally determined settlement.  If this fails, I propose a council of elders of the most respected and objective men and women of the world to sit in judgement and make decisions on the Middle East.  I cast my votes for Nelson Mandela, Maya Anjelou, Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama and Rev. James Forbes of Riverside Church, New York, to be on that council.

            We have already suffered a horrific loss of 6,800 lives and an estimated $60 billion overall loss in New York city alone. Stock markets loath insecure times, and it was only after the Vietnam war became an economic liability and combined with pressure from the street level did it end. We can forget about prescription drug relief for senior citizens, the 44 million Americans without health insurance, the social security lock box.

            The extra $20 billion for a military response is just a down payment for our military-industrial-congressional complex. Can we trust our government that is pouring additional billions of dollars into secret military projects, super sophisticated spy activities and covert operations, here and abroad? A democracy relies on public scrutiny and criticism. J. Edgar Hoover and Nixon perverted the FBI and CIA in their attempts to get their perceived fellow American enemies.

            The extensive and long planned terrorist attacks were not detected by our heavily funded intelligence agencies. Of course they will want more money now. Yet the recent terrorist acts are relatively minor compared to what could happen. An equal investment of terrorist time and money could produce multitudes of horrors in biological, chemical or nuclear warfare. For one minute, think like a terrorist. Would you develop missiles to be guided thousands of miles across oceans to hit American cities? Easier and simpler to drive ten rented trucks carrying atomic bombs into the heart of America’s ten biggest cities.

            People are deeply anxious and depressed at this time, not only for the lives lost and the insecure situation, but also because we know the lives will have been lost in vain if the situation spirals out of control. Deep down we know the root issues are not being addressed and no valid processes of resolution have been proposed. Military solutions alone will not solve the problem.
   
            The suffering that has occurred and the imaginable danger that could happen must prompt us to undertake revolutionary change. I draw encouragement from the Chinese ideogram for 'crisis' which is composed of the elements of ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. The danger element pushing for change must be high to prompt fundamental changes in a superpower and in human behavior at watershed moments in history.

            Since America so dominates the world, change on our part will have substantial effects on the rest of the world. Strength without depends on strength within. We have serious problems with poverty, health care and racism at home and a widening gap between rich and poor. American unions, mostly history now, gave blood, sweat and tears to civilize American business and industry and we can be proud of our accomplishments in the area of civil liberties. This is not true of our position in the rest of the world. For starters, we discover sweat shops, banned American pesticides marketed abroad, corporate agricultural practices that supply American markets while destroying self-supporting indigenous family farms, support of repressive regimes who support American businesses and America being the number one supplier of military equipment to the world.
   
            We must stop pretending that our narcissistic self-interests go unrecognized. A modicum of American involvement would have prevented the massacres of thousands in Uganda, but the country was of no strategic interest to America.  Our CIA trained and armed bin Laden’s group to fight the Soviet-backed Afghan regime during the Cold War, saying, “We will fight the Russians until the last Afghan dies.” Afghanistan expected American help to rebuild after the Russians left--but got nothing. We ceased Radio Free Europe-type broadcasts that went into several countries in the region, abandoning the populace to the propaganda of fundamentalist groups.

            “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” -– trite but true. America has been stingy and self-interested with its aid. Desperate people do desperate things. Terrorist groups are just as capable as we are of projecting the problems and putting the enemy label onto the other guy.  I propose that America take the lead by immediately allocating $20 billion to humanitarian causes as a new start in American policy.  We must wage peace as well as war, otherwise our actions in response to the crisis will be futile and depressing.

            As a psychoanalyst, I cannot ignore bringing the problems down to the most  intimate level.  My anti-war activities in Berkeley in the late 60’s and early 70’s showed me that I no more wanted to be ruled by the Far Left than by the Far Right. Particularly in a democratic system, wise political, bureaucratic and business activities cannot be created and supported without wise individuals. Berkeley showed me that it is a smoke screen and impediment to self-examination and real change to see our problems as being due mostly to the politicians, institutions or enemies in America or abroad. “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us” said Pogo. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung said that a man brave enough to withdraw projections “knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world.  He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic unsolved social problems of our day.”        

            The fate of the world is in the balance. We pray that Bush will be a quick learner and cooler, wiser heads among his advisors may prevail. Fortunately the whole world is watching, for if things are not handled properly we might as well slap on the sun tan lotion, fight for a good place on the bleachers and wait for the excitement to build out there on Highway 61.

[For a reading from the I Ching in July, 2002 on the American position post 9-11, see the last paragraph in "Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited.””  More comments on the Bush Administration's response to 9-11 can be found on page 2 of "Earth Charter Preamble.”]



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