John Lennon vs Henry Kissinger

OK, so we’re all a little schizophrenic at times. And so are nations. But just maybe Americans and America is more so than most. And why not, since we’ve been a patchwork of so many different races, cultures and religions from the get-go. Among this personality-splitting is our mixed emotions about the wealthy and about the military.

When it comes to the wealthy, we resent them (proudly calling this our spirit of Populism) at the very same time we aspire to become them (conveniently calling this the American Dream). This psychological tug-of-war has peppered our politics ever since Andrew Jackson’s populist election to a White House that had until him housed only our political aristocrats.

When it comes to the military, our schizo personality has come most to the surface since Vietnam. Our Civil War and World Wars seemed moral crusades that allowed us to readily rally-round-the-flag. But Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan seem less like crusades, more like geopolitical power plays. If the Vietcong had not been communists and had the Middle East not been the world’s reservoir of oil — well, would we have sent in our youth to die? Something like asking is there a difference between John Lennon and Henry Kissinger….?

Put it this way. When you watch our young men and women in the military — both their bloody efforts overseas and the crisp snap of their salutes here at home — don’t you feel the schizophrenia right down to your libido? Part of you desperately admires them; another part desperately cries for them. One part stands in awe of their discipline and courage; the other part weeps for the ugly fact we need to put them in uniform in the first place.

In the final measure, what counts most is which part of you prevails most.

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