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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Post-Conflict Thoughts: A Call to Service

The terrorist attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, led to immediate outcries of revenge and retaliation. More sober analyses focused on the geopolitical realities in the region which fueled the ideologies of the terrorists and some academics offered the historical underpinnings of the conditions which fed the ideologies.

Simultaneously and quietly, anonymous rescue workers continued their heroic efforts at ground zero. Witnesses to these efforts could not help but be awed by the selflessness of the workers and volunteers.

In the background of these two immediate events, two larger phenomena were emerging. The Just War theory, long dormant in the American consciousness, was revived to provide a moral context and compass for and to impose just constraints on the response of the United States. And, farther from ground zero, friends and neighbors were caring for the victims and families of the catastrophe. This included food, clothing, shelter, relief and monetary contributions.

In the convergence of these two secondary phenomena lies, perhaps, a solution to deal with the geopolitical and historical disparities which have pitted two cultures against each other.

The New World Order, which was rhetorically trumpeted by the elder George Bush, has unfolded without much structural architecture. In the giddiness and uncertainty attending the cessation of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet system and the re-emergence of long-suppressed freedoms, there is no overarching plan for the New World Order.

Globalization seems to be the only emergent strategy. Unfortunately, globalization has been defined and imposed only economically. Within a capitalistic system, this translates to profits since profit is the ultimate goal. Since at least the mid-1980s it is clear even to the casual observer that MBA programs have been churning out graduates educated in the art of maximizing profits. The implementation of globalization has simply been the craft of achieving that objective.

As part of the creed of the secular religion of capitalism, it makes some sense. The result, however, is the enormous chasm between rich and poor on a global scale. More legitimate religions and spiritual systems place their emphases on attributes other than wealth.

People, by nature, and societies, by necessity, cohere around a set of values. In societies that are poor and underfed religion can provide a cohesive set of values to sustain a people or related groups of people. Like the values, these groups permeate borders which define nations and result in the new culturalism which is behind the conflict precipitated by the attacks of Sept. 11th.

This new culturalism has effectively superceded nationalism and is, in part, an outgrowth of the New World Order and a spinoff of globalization. Societies without the resources to compete economically will, of necessity, cohere around a different set of values * in this case, religion.

But, however much religion is made to look like the culprit, it is not. No healthy religion espouses death and destruction as a solution to problems. Rather than seeking to assert dominance, religion should be an antidote to the imposition of domination.

The Just War theory, then, while effective as a restraint, fails or only half succeeds if the ultimate goal is a just and lasting peace. The ostensible war on religion or a wider culture, underpinned by religion, has caused Americans to return to their spiritual foundations.

What should emerge from a thoughtful examination of those foundations and reflection on their moral imperatives is the concept of a Just Peace, which could correspond roughly to the three criteria of the Just War theory. Although religiously and denominationally more diverse, America and the West in general are still fed by the Judaeo-Christian ethic, among whose central precepts is the exhortation to active compassion * to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to care for those less fortunate or in need.

In the immediate aftermath of war, acts of reconstruction * physical, governmental, political, societal * seem obvious, prudent and desirable. Indeed, some of these were already underway before the cessation of hostilities in Afghanistan.

What remains is to address the larger issues of this new culturalism. Poverty that besets an entire culture cannot be allowed to persist and spread. Significant segments of the world*s population cannot be permitted to wallow in misery, while others enjoy unparalleled prosperity.

Africa is just such a case. To allow an entire continent to remain awash in hunger and disease when the rest of the world possesses the resources to prevent it is not a prudent strategy for peace or stability.

Globalization, as a concept, ought to incorporate elements which alleviate poverty, suffering and death rather than maximize profits at the expense of a people, a region or, now, a culture.

In practice, businesses and governments could initiate programs which would ameliorate already dire conditions in significant areas of the world and construct a humane infrastructure of aid and assistance.

As the immediacy of the conflict recedes, serious thought needs to be given to this new culturalism and the need to enhance its positive contributions to a truly global society.

It is obvious that the West can forge effective alliances and marshal the necessary forces to meet a clear and compelling need. This same cooperation can be achieved and the required effort mounted to resolve the far too-long pressing problems of major areas of the world.

It is axiomatic that people need to be fed and clothed and provided shelter. The runoff from the war in Afghanistan should address these needs not merely on a national or regional but on a global scale.

As resources get deployed over the next 25 to 50 years, it is better that these resources foster a culturalism of peace and prosperity rather than fractious cultures of divisiveness and conflict.

Just as the alliance of western nations worked with local forces to wage the war, they can work with their counterparts in that region, in Africa and elsewhere to eradicate hunger, ameliorate disease, and promote peace and prosperity.

Calls for national service should perhaps become exhortations for global service and cooperation just as the pursuit of profit has ben universalized. Appropriate humane responses to the prevailing conditions of a region or an entire continent will reap more in the long term than any prolonged military presence, supervision or repression.

By T. Michael Sullivan

T. Michael Sullivan is a staff member of the William Joiner Center and coordinator of its annual June Writers* Workshop.