A patient of mine recently experienced an unusual problem. Apparently, she got out of bed in the middle of the night, walked outside into her garage and entered her sports car. She was changing her car clock when her partner, who was in a panic, located her in the car. My patient was awakened by her partner and was confused and bewildered as they left the garage to resume their evening's sleep.
Sleep walking is not an unusual pattern. For many, it is an infrequent occurrence, but for others it is a lifelong experience. Recently, I have been wondering about the manner in which many of our citizens are "sleep walking" through the impact of our political landscape. As a society, we appear to be distracted and asleep at the wheel. It seems as if there is a chronic pathology among of our people characterized by naivety, indifference, and a lack of awareness to political and cultural issues.
I recall Jay Leno canvassing the streets of Los Angeles trying to find one American who could tell him how many Supreme Court justices serve on our highest bench and to identify one of their names. The responses were pathetic and called attention to the lack of political awareness of our citizenry. Recently, as my wife and I boarded a plane to return to Arizona, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was sitting in the third row of the plane. I was not aware of one on-coming passenger who seemed to recognize her or acknowledge her presence. When we deplaned and headed for the luggage area, while other passengers appeared to be oblivious to the relevance of the situation, I proceeded to introduce myself and carry on a brief conversation with her. As one of my 15 year old patients once said, "Why should I care about politics, I can't change anything anyway." Nevertheless, it is my belief that feeling powerless is never an excuse for sleeping through the political process.
Although I certainly respect and support our current troops deployed in Iraq and other locations, there is something quite disturbing about the false sense of patriotism displayed by Americans. For example, I believe many of us have trivialized the concept of war through the simplistic use of bumper stickers, ribbons and other insignias signifying troop support. What do these symbols really mean for most Americans? Are they true signs of patriotism by those who fully understand the impact and implications of our current war in Iraq? My brother, who was a Lieutenant and company commander in Viet Nam cringes at the naivety and lack of awareness that many Americans possess about the nature of terrorism, combat and military missions. Maybe if the military adopted a conscription policy, some Americans might rethink their form of patriotism? Maybe if they knew their own children would be subject to going off to Baghdad, they would reconsider the way they demonstrate their loyalty to our military efforts. You might recall what happened when the President tried to make nice with Congressman Jim Webb over the involvement of Mr. Webb's son in the Iraq war. Congressman Webb bluntly told the President to mind his own business.
Americans tend to believe that if they project an image of patriotism, they are exempt from a deeper understanding of the implications of the war in Iraq. How many of our people are aware of how our wounded soldiers are being treated at Building #18 in Walter Reed Hospital? Do we understand that the hospital is under constant review for improper patient treatment and deplorable conditions? Are we aware that inpatient soldiers have complained about the unsanitary conditions at the hospital including rodents infesting the environment? How many in the Bush administration or Congress are aware of the conditions our soldiers are subjected to and do they care? Would any of us send our loved ones to heal in an environment like that? Is this how we support our troops? Shouldn't we all be concerned about this issue? Instead we sleep walk through the military and political debate over the mission and purposes of the Iraq war. We believe that the political voices in Washington D.C. are more competent and convincing than our own. We take the easy way out from committing ourselves to being patriotic in the truest since of the word. We must walk the walk through political action, not words.
Will we sleep walk though the debate on global warming as our oil companies try to pay off researchers so they will reinterpret their findings to soften the implications of global warming? We minimize the problem by either ignoring it or by pretending to care by talking about minutiae such as using HOV lanes and not burning wood in our fireplaces as means of eradicating the problem of pollution. Is Al Gore's documentary, Inconvenient Truth, really that inconvenient that we are willing to deny its truth? Our war in Iraq will continue to kill and maim many, but global warming has the potential to kill us all. Will we sleep walk through this problem by displaying our symbolic bumper stickers or will we attack the problem with action? It will not be the terrorists who do us in, for the enemy is at home.