Friday, August 20, 2010

Who You Gonna Trust?

Did you know the whole Viet Nam war was fought over a bet? A bet that Howard Hughes lost to Aristotle Onasis? ~ Jerry Fletcher

In the 1997 film, Conspiracy Theory, Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson) is a cab driver by day and author-publisher of a newsletter entitled, conveniently, "Conspiracy Theory," by night. If he seems a little paranoid at times, it's because he was recruited by a secret organization that uses mind-control techniques to train assassins. With the help of one of his potential targets, he escaped the clutches of the bad guys, and now they're looking for him. Pair this storyline with a rocking jazz sound track and Julia Roberts, and you've got a great, entertaining two hours ahead of you.

Despite his apparent craziness, Jerry has a proclivity for being right about the connections between what an average observer would consider random events. His personal experience has taught him that conspiracies can be found under our very noses, one of them involving Howard Hughes, Aristotle Onasis, and Viet Nam. Now, obviously, this is Hollywood, but Jerry's thinking betrays a reality-based concern, namely, that armed conflict could be engaged capriciously, leaving our loved ones to pay the price.

Such concerns are a predictable response to the kind of uncertainty that is increasingly associated with decisions contemplating military force in recent years. Despite the upsurge in patriotic fervor following 9/11, for example, mixed feelings were expressed about pursuit of war in Iraq. I mention this, not to call that strategy into question, but to point out how, even in the aftermath of a direct attack on this country, "we the people" weren't in complete agreement on the appropriate course of action.

I don't think this indicates we've somehow grown "soft" or ambivalent about how to act when threatened or abused. Rather, I believe it's the natural outgrowth of an awareness that simplistic solutions are rarely the correct ones for complex situations. Furthermore, there are very few superpowers anymore, and the fact is, some behaviors aren't really that acceptable if you are one and impulsiveness is close to the top of the list. It is rightly expected that a nation which has risen to the status of being a superpower should be capable of exhibiting self-control and acting wisely -- even like a gentleman -- within the international community.

This is not to say one should be a pushover or easily intimidated, but the character of a nation is as important as that of an individual. Who we are as a country, the variety of values we embrace, and our willingness to show restraint in anticipation of those times when action is necessary demonstrates not only trustworthiness and reliability, but genuine strength. It's a question of who you gonna trust. We anticipate seeing these qualities in our friends and the world has a right to anticipate seeing them in us.

(Creative Commons image by alvy via Flickr)
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