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Davis

Davis, California

Saturday, November 27, 2021

A view from the soapbox

In a few short days, voters nationwide will be riveted to their television screens watching the ultimate chapter of the presidential race unfold. As polling places begin to close and news outlets read Tarot cards and throw chicken bones to preemptively call a victor, Americans will see their destiny reflected in a pie chart predominated with red and blue. A narrow majority of an assured record turnout will determine in whose hands our future will be entrusted. Hopes will fly high, bets will cross the table and expatriation will surely be threatened in the grand American contest we revere on an even higher plane than the Super Bowl. When the haze clears on Nov. 5, the world will awaken to the reality of a new lot of U.S. figureheads – and all the challenges they represent. By the time my next column is published, the race will have ended, so this week I would like to impart one last treatise before Judgment Day.

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I love this country: its breathtaking natural beauty, its culture of ambition, its history of progress, its rich diversity of peoples and ideas and, most keenly, the sheer potential for greatness that yet lays unexplored and dormant. In the 232 years of our common history, we Americans have truly accomplished great things. The fortunate coincidence of a land of plenty and an inventive and industrious workforce has enabled us to achieve the impossible again and again and again. Our potential is as powerfully untapped as a chain of atoms awaiting fission, as cosmically unprecedented as the first few steps on the moon. Our achievements came with great sacrifice – both willing and unwilling, both volunteered and coerced. This nation has passed through dark times in its journey, but I believe there remains spirit enough in all of us to redeem history’s undue suffering with a free, tolerant and ambitious future. As far as we’ve come, there remains much more that must be explored. The manner in which we do explore is a fundamental question for our generation.

It’s disheartening to see, then, that at this moment the answer to that question seems so resoundingly violent and unenlightened. In the name of war, in the name of raw militarized destruction, the American government at present chooses to spend itself into record-setting deficits. Young American bodies and minds are at this moment being wasted – destroyed or irreparably changed by the base brutality that is the nature of all armed conflict. And for whom? If it were ever put to a vote, Iraqis and Afghanis would elect to have us withdraw immediately. Even if we withdrew today and left Iraq and Afghanistan somehow stable, the citizens of those countries would have to pick up the pieces and contend with a destroyed infrastructure and an imposed political system. And the citizens of this country – what could we ever say we gained from those wars? No spoils could ever justify the lives lost, the trust betrayed and the people misled. And, indeed, no spoils are there.

All this destruction duly funded and yet tuition costs rise steadily. This prioritization of war over understanding does not speak to the America I love. Should the expenses forked daily onto the flames of war be used to illuminate rather than destroy, we would be able to provide college educations to all of our returning troops and, further, to every American and every student in all the world. We have that potential. In a few short years, any investment in education will pay itself back with the fruits of an educated workforce. Just ask the recipients of aid under the GI Bill who paid back every dollar they received with the $6.90 they earned. Retargeting our national priorities toward education would also engender goodwill, a security that surges in war spending could never buy.

I believe America is merely temporarily lost on its path to greatness. A new, peaceful, enlightened world is possible. If we want it, nothing can stand in our way.

CHEYA CARY wishes you a Happy Halloween, a calm week of midterms and an expedient trip to your polling place. Drop him a line at cjcary@ucdavis.edu.

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