“If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle…”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
It is natural at this time to focus on “The Sum of All Fears” as the recent movie trumpets. But fear implies loss—of life, health, fortune, love, liberty—and in troubled times it is truly more important to remember and ponder blessings, and chief among these is freedom.
We in the United States are freer in all ways than most people around the world. Of course it’s not perfect, and we are endangered as much by lawyers run amok, snooping technology, our own ignorance, cupidity, and stupidity, as we are by terrorists foreign and domestic—but by and large liberty is alive and well, more than anywhere else. And on such a large scale too, 226 years and counting!
Last December, I was in Cuba, where your average joe is not free to travel (even if he could afford it, which he can’t). I can go to Cuba but only under the bizarre restrictions of the Trading with the Enemy Act, or if I’m Barbara Boxer or Jesse Jackson. But as an American, I can squabble with my government, and run for office if I’m mad enough. As a Cuban, the consequences of such dissidence can be very hazardous to your health—or as an Iraqi—or a North Korean—or Chinese—or a Tibetan living under Chinese yoke—or a Saudi woman living in the psychobondage of the House of Saud, our so-called “ally”. (Yet I do not expect to be beaten for saying this, or imprisoned.)
I’ve also been thinking a lot about Zimbabwe recently, as it spirals down into the toilet bowl of greed, corruption, racism and evil, presided over by dictator (I cannot bring myself to call him “President”) Robert Mugabe, who at some point in his life chose to be a black hole, sucking everything his way, and rejected growth as a human being. I had a happy, wonderful visit to the new Zimbabwe in the mid-80s, when freedom was still in the air, when the idea of Rhodesia was slipping below the horizon, and a sense of large possibilities suffused the landscape. I even thought I could live there—lovely land, lovely people—and my God! Africa! (I remember dancing ecstatically in a Harare disco to a wonderful thumping song, “I Love You Africa”.) Now Mugabe sponsors murder, pillage, theft and hatred as though he had carefully studied the worst of colonial ways and adopted everything Luciferian, and nothing divine. His people are starving and living in terrible fear.
But not you.
Even if you are depressed and broke, angry at your government and disappointed in your leaders, even if you’ve been swindled by Wall Street’s rigged marketplace, I wish you could ask a poor weaver in Kabul, a condemned woman in Nigeria, a Tibetan nun in Drapchi prison, a cigarette vendor in Mexico City, what he or she thinks of freedom, and the United States.
A friend of mine, long since passed away, once said, “yeah, America, it’s still the honey pot of the world.”
So count your blessings—and consider making them count.
In closing, I’d like to offer a prayer (or a meditation, if you think prayer might harm you): May the souls of those killed in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Virginia on September 11, and all those who suffer and have suffered over the millennia at the hands of madmen and demons, count for something. Let us remember them so that others may be as free as we are.
James O’Reilly, publisher
About James O’Reilly:
James O’Reilly is the publisher and series editor of Travelers’ Tales. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Palo Alto, CA, where they also publish children’s art games at Birdcage Books.