Our Strength

I was just having a conversation with Yelena last week about how other nations perceive Americans as weak.  I argued that what others perceive as our weakness, is actually our strength.

This is true of Russians in particular.  I think part of that was her Communist upbringing; "We will crush the capitalist pigs because they are weak and we are strong."  It's true that Russians are a "hard" people; they are trained to be emotionless and to strike out quickly when threatened.  They don't mourn; they seek revenge.  They don't consider "pinpoint strikes" or "measured responses;" they grind their opponents into the dust, even if their "opponents" are their own citizens (see Chechenya).

Americans, on the other hand, grieve.  We have memorials where Andrea Bocelli sings "Ave Maria."  We light candles and set up relief funds.  We talk about how afraid we are.  We don't have a strongman leader to tell us what to do, so we argue about the solution.  We protect the civil rights of the very people who are bent on destroying us, because we value our way of life so much that we don't want to give it up, even when we're being attacked.

But, I told Yelena, that's not our weakness; that's our strength.

Russians are emotionally repressed.  Their nation was literally raped by the Mongols, and it never recovered.  Homosexuals and orphans are still locked in institutions.  They take vodka instead of prozac.  In Russia, violence breeds more violence.  They don't have allies; they only have countries who are too afraid to oppose them.  They are the dying husk of a once-great empire, and if they didn't have nukes nobody would care.  They lost the moon race and the cold war.  It was no accident that the "strong" Russian people failed against the "weak" Americans.

Through our grief we find strength.  When we mourn, we can process horrific events in a healthy manner, and come out the other side.  Our people are fundamentally happy, and feel free to pursue their dreams.  Private companies are free to take on amazing projects.  Russian people are smart too - even brilliant - but in America, that intelligence is harnessed for more than weapons.  Americans are the hardest working nation in the world (based on hours per week).  You can't force that kind of diligence, although the Russians have tried.  This isn't a victory of Capitalism over Communism, or Democracy over totalitarianism, although those things helped.  They helped because in our country, people are truly free, and that freedom makes them better workers.  Better workers support the vast American machine.  The taxes paid by American workers allowed us to out-spend the Russians.  They literally bankrupted themselves trying to beat us.

Americans weep.  But when we are done weeping, we wipe our tears away and we kill Bin Laden.  Consider that monumental task for a moment: The greatest tragedy to ever occur on American soil, and ten years later American commandos put a bullet in the head of the man responsible.  No place too far, no mystery too dark, no mission too difficult.  The last words Bin Laden heard were English: "For God and country."  The Russians never killed Hitler, or Napoleon, or Genghis Khan.

When we leave Afghanistan, it is quite possible that the American-style government there will collapse.  It's even possible that the Taliban will take over again, just like they did after the Russians left.  We have poured a decade of blood and treasure into those barren hills - more than the Russians did when they invaded Afghanistan a generation ago.  But when they left, it ruined their country.  I don't know if it was the war itself, or their failure to win, but their entire country collapsed just a few years later.

That won't happen to us.  There are a lot of Americans who never supported the war, and have protested against it every year since the invasion.  There are thousands more who come home as wounded warriors, with damaged bodies or damaged psyches.  We will grieve for them, and we will grieve with them.  We will complain bitterly about the cost, and we will blame the politicians responsible.

Then we will heal, and we will move on.

Now we've had a new terrorist attack on American soil - the first one in almost 12 years.  But already, the celebration of our heroes - the first responders - is louder than the cries for revenge.  We blew Bin Laden's head off, and no one doubts that the perpetrators of this heinous crime will meet the same fate.  But even in our tragedy we find things to celebrate.  That is America.

So if attacking America is an automatic death sentence, why do people still do it?  Because they don't get it.  They see our Jersey Shore and our Big Mac, and they think we are a nation of slothful cravens.  Because we're not constantly beating our own chests, they assume we can't.  American history is filled with stories of enemies who underestimated us.

I think that's okay.  Machiavelli was wrong; it is better to be loved than to be feared.  We are a free and open society and that is the only way it can work.  (Machiavelli knew this too, but he was writing to a prince, not a president.)  We bleed, we grieve, we heal.  And then we kick some ass.

"A person should always be pliant as the reed, and let him never be hard as the cedar."
-- Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon, The Talmud (Taanit 20b)