In his epilogue to “Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart,” Scott Anderson writes: “On a more philosophical level, this journey has served to remind me again of how terribly delicate is the fabric of civilization, of the vigilance required to protect it and of the slow and painstaking work of mending it once it has been torn. This is hardly an original thought; it is a lesson we were supposed to have learned after Nazi Germany, after Bosnia and Rwanda. Perhaps it is a lesson we need to constantly relearn.”
Maybe it’s a matter of age. When I was younger, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, just out of the army, maybe then I was willing to “blow it all up.” Vietnam. Selma. Nixon. George Wallace. Mayor Daley. Kent State. Two Kennedys and King. It was time for a revolution. “No matter who you vote for,” read the graffiti on the Ann Arbor Bank, “the rich always win.”
On Aug. 24, 1970, a bomb set by anti-war radicals at the University of Wisconsin killed Robert Fassnacht, a young graduate student and father of three, who was working late in his lab. Blowing it all up wasn’t an inspiring slogan any more.
The fabric of civilization is more than a veneer for exploitation. It’s the guardian of culture. Not art and music only, but all the attributes of a people – their cooking, their clothes, their icons, their stories. Those who want to blow it all up want to annihilate the nuances that make us unique. They understand that diversity is the enemy of conformity, that self-expression is speaking truth to power, that our civilization, however imperfect, is our defense against the demagogue.
The answer to what ails America is not the simple slogan of blowing it all up. It’s the hard work of fixing it.