It is no secret that America is at war. The most obvious wars may be those in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the War on Terror, but if you pay attention to political rhetoric and current events, you will be reminded of other wars we are waging as well.
There are ongoing wars on drugs, Wal-Mart, the middle class, poverty and even ‘culture.” And, on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush sat in a classroom of elementary school children as part of a War on Illiteracy, which was declared by Congress just the day before.
War, war, war. It seems like every time America faces a tough issue or a troublesome trend, we feel the need to go to war. The term ‘war” implies a violent conflict between disagreeing parties. You cannot fight a war if there is no enemy. The enemy is such because it is different from us. The enemy hates us; it wants to destroy us; it may be jealous. When we set out against an enemy, we fight everything that is wrong in our eyes to defend that which is right. The enemy is not human, and we clearly cannot have much in common with it. Simply put, the enemy is a monster, and we go to war to destroy it.
But let’s consider a nonmilitary war, like the one on drugs, for example. Who is supposed to be the enemy? Drugs are clearly what we are out to destroy. The principle question in a war on drugs must be, ‘How do we get rid of drugs?” But drugs by themselves would mean nothing at all if it were not for drug users, drug addicts, drug dealers, drug cartels, drug producers, etc. So, then, the war on drugs implies a war on all of these drug users, drug addicts, drug dealers, drug cartels, drug producers, etc. And these are people, and people have parents, siblings, children, hobbies, interests and needs.
It seems like getting rid of the problem of drugs, then, is really not about the drugs themselves but about the people behind them. All of us might know someone who has faced an addiction problem or has had a bad experience with drugs. Some of us might even know someone who sells drugs for money. If we are to solve America’s drug problem, then it would make sense to ask, ‘Why do people use drugs, or sell them?”
If we want to exterminate our enemy drugs we want to get them out of our lives, cut off the supply, prosecute drug use, shut down grow houses. It almost seems like we would be up against a mythic Hydra, which sprouts two heads for every one you cut off. Every time we implement new laws, new ways around them are found.
What if instead of a ‘war” we called it a ‘discussion?” A discussion implies diverse opinions and exchange. In asking, ‘Why do people use or sell drugs?” we would have to sit down with drug dealers, stoners and recreational users, as well as their parents, friends and old, white politicians. We would have to open our eyes to the fact that the enemy is just other people who may disagree with us, may be in great financial need or may simply be curious.
It turns out that there is no Hydra, but there is a problem that requires some deep thinking and analysis. It requires us to be empathetic and active instead of being blindly opinionated. A discussion would require sacrifice, as well as a willingness to swallow pride and look the enemy in the eye.
If all our wars turned into discussions, wouldn’t we come out on top? Sure, we wouldn’t have that sweet feeling of going to battle against great forces of evil, but finding out why our literacy rate is low and why schools may not be working well to correct that could be just as satisfying and productive. Or, instead of trying to annihilate the effects of people hating our country on the other side of the Earth, wouldn’t it be better to find out why they feel that way? But a discussion may result in someone telling us that we have done something wrong, and perhaps we just aren’t ready to accept that yet.
Dukmasova is a member of the class of 2011.