Saving Face

"Saving Face" by Justin Wade

When I was 18 years old, I made the decision to follow in the footsteps of my brother, father, and grandfather by enlisting in the United States Air Force. During my stint in basic training, the news came from our drill instructors that Saddam Hussein had finally been captured. As a unit, we celebrated the victory of the United States military and as a new recruit it truly felt like I was stepping into an organization that makes giant progress in ridding the world of dictators and oppressors. After leaving basic training, I was fortunate enough to be deployed state-side and assist in disaster clean-up following hurricane Katrina. For seven years, I truly felt like I made a difference by assisting my fellow airmen and officers by completing my mission stateside, so others could focus on their missions overseas.

During World War I, the way countries handled war completely changed. Instead of meeting on the battlefield with lines of marching soldiers waving bayonets for the glory of their country had changed into long, drawn out battles of attrition. Soldiers were thrown against insurmountable defenses in hopes of breaking down the barrier, but were only met with artillery strikes and eventually the worst tragedy to come from the war, chlorine gas. Knowing they needed more soldiers, countries utilized propaganda heavily. Defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view”, propaganda gave people who lacked information on the war a broad idea that the enemy their country was facing was a large, evil, menacing monstrosity that need to be quelled, or the entire world was doomed.

Thanks to Google, we can now be one hundred percent sure that the German people are not giant club wielding monkeys who kidnap women while invading our shores, but regular human beings just like us who happen to live in a different portion of land on this giant floating space rock. Sure, they speak a different language and have some cultural differences, but if hating someone could come down to the things they like that we don’t, I need to formulate a war strategy for invading my brother’s home in Bloomington because his choice in music is different from mine, so he must pay the price. While you’re probably thinking “life doesn’t work that way”, understand that propaganda was SO successful during the World Wars, entire magazines such as ‘The War Pictorial’ and ‘The War Plotters of Wall Street’ were printing 250,000 copies of their issues at a time and would just DROP them anywhere knowing people would pick them up.

In today’s world, however, we’ve been blessed with what is arguably the most powerful tool in the world, the internet, which gives us the greatest gift in the world of unrestricted knowledge. Instead of sorting through giant, thick copies of your parents encyclopedias, you can hold your phone up to your mouth and say, “How many whiskers do cats have on their face?” and be given 1,840,000 websites willing to give you the information (seriously, I just checked). So when I hear we’re at war with Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan, the information I want to discover is no more than two clicks away. So telling me that an entire country is full of evil people who want to kill me specifically isn’t going to work anymore. Human beings today are more unified as a single race than ever before. Living in a melting pot of a country like America, I can meet a Muslim, a Christian, and a Buddhist inside a Starbucks on any given day, and have a pleasant conversation about the weather or sports while drinking a ‘triple-shot mocha pumpkin spice super venti latte’ (no clue if that’s a thing).

So when I came across a post on my personal Facebook page that depicted a regular Muslim man sitting in the grass with the words “Whatcha thinking about?” above him, and beneath him a picture of an American sniper saying “Wind speed, drop rate, bullet velocity, things like that…” while staring down the barrel of a .50 caliber sniper rifle, I was a bit upset. I scrolled through the comments and found plenty of ‘lol’ and ‘roflmao’s, I also saw a lot of racial discrimination, calling him a ‘raghead’ and ‘terrorist’ simply because he was dressed in modern Syrian disha dasha and a kufi on his head. He could be a doctor, or a butcher, or a taxi driver, but because of where on the planet he was born, he was immediately considered a member of ISIS.

I voiced my opinion that just because the man was middle-eastern doesn’t immediately mean he’s evil or a member of any terrorist group. The picture was merely painting very broad, generic image that Americans are a strong, powerful military force, and if you even look middle-eastern, get ready to stare down our barrel. I was immediately met with people telling me they don’t have a problem with the picture, and that if I was going to complain, I should look at the videos and pictures ISIS has been posting. That’s what got me. I should be okay with our usage of propaganda because a truly evil, radical group of Islamic terrorists are doing the same thing, only worse.

America is truly the greatest, most powerful country that has ever existed on Earth. Martin Luther King, Jr once said “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” What this means is that in times of great pain and sorrow is when we need to rise up and spread love and hope. What it doesn’t mean is to match that cruelty with our own, or to yell back even louder. King followed that quote with another, saying “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Yes, a radical terrorist group hates us and is posting some of the worst things you can find on the internet. Our job as the strong is not to sink to their level, but to be BETTER than that. As the greatest country in the world, we should be setting the example for the world. The message should not be one of retribution, but of hope for a resolution.

I’m not such a pacifist that I believe peace can be always be achieved by diplomacy. I understand the quote ‘to prepare for peace, we must prepare for war’ at least in some way rings true. As ISIS continues to spread like a cancer, our goal shouldn’t be a war against Muslim culture, but like a doctor removing poison before it spreads. There isn’t a single evil race on Earth. Let’s stop painting each other in broad strokes and face the facts: I was born here, someone else was born over there. That’s the biggest difference. It’s not worth fighting over.