It's true. In our hour of crisis, no modern leader called on us for voluntary material sacrifice. The entitlement to personal gain is now, apparently, a higher value than duty to our country's greater good; please note that the wealthiest among us who rushed to dump their failing stocks and give our economy a black eye were never called unpatriotic. No leader could oppose it. No one dared us to put ourselves in the world's shoes (or its bare feet) and share, at least to some extent, in its fate. No public official even pointed out that we could improve our security immediately through our own collective actionby turning to local economies of production and distribution for our food and other necessities, by conserving energy, by turning off the TV and seeking solace from a city or national park or the hummingbird in the backyard instead of a new pair of shoes made in Malaysia. What could be better for our country, including its own economies, than to ease ourselves away from a framework of international profiteering that's proving perilous for so many reasons? But to call for this out loud might rattle the unassailable right to global moneymaking. It might be called treason, or sedition.
Such coldhearted values drive me back to my own faith as I mourn for the humane vision of a time that went before, and hope that vision will soon return to us. Freedom from fear, freedom from wantthese clearly aren't meant just now for the Afghan civilians placed at risk of starvation. Our costly campaigns have put a notion of safety peculiar to ourselves ahead of any concern for the majority of world citizens who are starving and frightenedor for that matter, the hungry here at home.
Life takes awful, surprising turns; that's no news. I'm aware that just thirteen months after Roosevelt's eloquent call to conscience, the War Department persuaded him to order the internment of Japanese Americans. (The War Department, it's now known, manufactured threats of resident treachery to stir up public fear and uphold the concentration camps when they were challenged as unconstitutional.) But history's griefs can't entirely cancel its glories; there was that January daythe speech is archived as proofwhen an American president proclaimed the lives of civilians on other soil to be as precious as our own. I would have planted a victory garden and accepted leaner rations to further that vision of a kinder world, in which all hungers mattered.
In fact, I'm planting one now: In response to September 11, a national network of gardeners has developed the means to devote a few rows of our gardens to the food banks that feed the hungry in our own communities. If our present leaders can't ask us for this sort of patriotism, we'll just go ahead without them. The public may expect fireworks
Excerpted from "God's Wives Measuring Spoons" in Small Wonder. Copyright © 2002 by Barbara Kingsolver. HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
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