Wednesday, May 6, 2009

the memory of a child

When parenting toddlers, what is the first thing you figure out? They need constant reinforcement and repetition in order to remember. Put your shoes on. Put your coat on. Did you go to the bathroom? As kids get older and with enough reminders, they internalize those day-to-day things. Soon enough it's time to start teaching the "what ifs", and to address those things that they may not perceive as an outcome. Teaching kids to foresee consequences and to plan for possiblilities is by far the most challenging of tasks.

As a nation, it seems that we are stuck in toddler mode, unable to foresee consequences, and even in need of chronic repetition. How can we even have a discussion about complex ethical topics such as torture when we can't even remember as a nation that we are at war? After 9/11 it seems that there was a national mindset, not 100%, but as close as a republic can ever be. We had been attacked. Our innocent citizens were killed. There were unanimous and nearly unanimous votes in Congress. There was a national mandate to both have a war on terror and protect our nation from future attacks. Because we are toddlers, we forgot. After nearly 8 years, we have gone on to other things. We have forgotten our outrage. We have not only forgotten why we went to war, some of us want to prosecute those very people we charged with taking care of "the problem". We handed off the responsibility of tough decisions to others. Now we criticize. And now we accept what some Congressional leaders are saying about their stand on the issue years ago. They think that if they say, "I didn't know about waterboarding", that we will replace that in our memories as the accurate truth. Even though the truth of the time is that they fully knew about methods we used to get information. If they say it long enough, our toddler minds will be fixated.

As a toddler nation, we took our broken toy. We gave it to the repairman. We got it back fixed. Then we complained about how it was fixed. Too much glue. Too much time. No gratitude for those charged with fixing our toy. No memory of how upset we were at the broken toy. Americans suffer from a toddler's attention span. The only thing we remember about the last 7 to 8 years is what was repetitively told to us... "it's George Bush's fault"... and we remember the new definitions. We are too immature and short-sighted to look back at the old ones. The word "torture" is just the new word in a long list of words that we are supposed to redefine.

Maybe ask John McCain if intense interrogations in order to receive vital information to protect the innocent is the same as what truly was torture in the Hanoi Hilton.

If there is not a further step into maturity as a nation, we will spin in toddlerdom as long as someone has an advantage in keeping us there. We will be gullible to the whims of vacant leaders. We will swarm like 4-year-olds chasing the ball on a soccer field.

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