I finally finished watching The Vietnam War documentary yesterday. It took me about six months to watch the entire 18 hours of Ken Burns’ amazing, heartbreaking deep-dive into that wasteful war. Probably my biggest takeaway from the whole thing was the realization that this particular war is what divided the United States into Us vs. Them. The sheer number of protest groups that formed as the war dragged on and on through four presidencies was like nothing the country had ever seen. They (rightly) protested almost daily when it became obvious that the war was a sham. As with pretty much everything though the pendulum swung too far and several protesters resorted to violence and personal attacks on the returning soldiers who most certainly didn’t want to be drafted.
We as a country were all on the same side, all wanted the same thing – as we so often do – yet there we were in the late 60s, all fighting each other.
It really struck me how different the scene was from the stateside footage during World War II. In those archival films you see the whole country pulling together, sacrificing whatever it took to win the war and support the troops. It all ended with celebrations and ticker-tape parades. The Vietnam War produced fights between students and anti-war activists and those who felt we should support the troops no matter what. I saw clips of construction workers in New York City attacking protesters as well as National Guard troops firing into crowds of unarmed students at Kent State University. Veterans returning from the war hurling their military medals at the Capitol Building.
I watched all 18 hours despite feeling sad and disheartened throughout. Politicians manipulating peace talks to aid their chances in elections, government officials pursuing an unwinnable war for no reason other than trying to stop the spread of Communism.
And Us fighting Them over it. American vs American. The 60s was the birth of truly acerbic partisan politics that is even much worse today.
That divisiveness is not uniquely American however. The Vietnam War was our event that irreversibly divided us, but other countries and regions have had their own catalysts to the same end. I was talking to a co-worker today who is from Iran. He described to me the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, telling me its brutality was necessary to keep all those warring tribes in line. He said Iraq is really three countries (or more) in one but good luck agreeing on how to divide it.
Shifting to my former home in Spain – I lived in Madrid but traveled around the country and saw how divided they were: arrived in Barcelona by train once and saw a giant sign at the train station claiming: YOU ARE NO LONGER IN SPAIN. The people there want to form their own country. Same in several other parts of Spain. Northern Ireland broke off from Ireland and there’s even still a wall dividing parts of Belfast from one another. You see the divisions all over the world.
And how many happy families do you see? How many of your friends have divorced parents? How many that are together are actually happy?
It’s dire, isn’t it?
Speaking of family, we are so critical of our brothers and sisters, aren’t we? We tear into them like no one else. I can’t believe the way she’s raising her children! I can’t believe what job he has! I can’t believe they bought such a big house – what a waste of money!
Oh we lay into our siblings and parents like no one else….until….
When an outsider attacks them, that’s when. Someone you don’t know, some stranger, points out a shortcoming in your sister? You counterattack with ferocity. Your daughter just pissed you off but some guy comes up and shoves her…Papa Bear emerges.
We circle the wagons. Loyalty is the child of vulnerability. When our loved ones are vulnerable to the outsider, that’s when we close ranks and protect them.
I use only my worst insults on my friends. If I’m not making fun of you then there’s probably some closeness missing between us.
To extend this out, only black people can tell black people jokes. Only Asian people can tell Asian jokes. Well, maybe anyone can tell any kind of joke but you’ll end up having to apologize.
It’s like someone who joins your group of friends and acts too comfortable too quickly. Hey man, ease off the inside jokes until we’ve fully vetted you, yeah?
You can only make fun of people within your Circle Of Trust. Whether that’s your entire race or family or social circle, the trust must first be established and then the guard is let down. The real people emerge, the real relationships, the real love.
The world is a divided one now and the way I see it, we need something that will require the entire world to circle the wagons, close ranks, trust each other, and support one another, across every country, race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, neighborhood, etc.
What could possibly bring us all together like that, you ask?
A common enemy. An attack on our “world family”…
An Alien Invasion.
I’m serious. Let’s find some way to provoke some green dudes from another galaxy because I’m sick of this divisiveness. Imagine they all just show up in their spaceships one day and launch an assault…what will we do? We’ll do just what we do when someone calls our sister fat: what are you calling my sister, mister? Excuse me? What did you just say?
We’ll forget all about the idiotic things that divide us and go kick some alien ass. Innovations will come from all across the world: Muslim will fight alongside the Jew, gays and straights will team up, people from Michigan and people from Ohio will align to strike a devastating blow, pro-lifers will advance arm in arm with pro-choicers, Republicans and Democrats will legislate for the common good. We’ll rise up as one and slay the invading aliens and then have world-wide celebrations and ticker-tape parades. The entire world will mark the Victory Day on their calendars and every single person will remember exactly where they were when the enemy was finally pushed back and we were all safe again.
Give it about a week afterwards and it will all go back to this Us vs Them junk…
…but wouldn’t it be glorious to see, just for a moment? All of us together, fighting for a common cause, arm in arm with our brethren worldwide…?
Where are you, Space Invaders? We need you!