Out along highway 95 in southern Nevada there’s a sign, a series of signs actually, bright, metallic-blue against the silvery-gray desert sand that covers the landscape for as far as you can see. This series of signs mark out sections of the Veterans Memorial Highway, each section about a mile long, memorializing the veterans from successive wars fought by Americans over the course of our relatively short but violent history.
There along that stretch of highway we see signs for the two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, The Cold War, Desert Storm and so on. After several miles and many wars we finally come to the last sign, ominous there in the brutal, barren and strangely surrealistic beauty of the Nevada desert. This sign reads, Dedicated to the Veterans of the Global War On Terror. There it stands glaring out at the passing motorist, a frightening reminder in an Orwellian world designating a road that goes on and on seemingly forever, that has no end, just like the global war on terror and so it is.
Out in this part of our world a person can find lots of loneliness and solitude, along with a stark natural truth in the ragged mountains, the bright-white salt flats and that ever more and more elusive but so necessary treasure, peace and quiet. This part of the country with all its vast space and natural beauty is also home to the Fallon Naval Air Station, the Fallon Naval Range, the Hawthorn Army Depot, the Nellis Air Force Range, The Nellis Air Force base, The Creech Air Force Base, the Nevada National Security Site and the highly classified USAF training range commonly known as Area 51. There’s not much else out in this desert–what’s left of the struggling to survive Piute Indian Tribe, a few very old, old-time prospectors and miners, a few ranchers with their farms and families spread out across the land, a couple “cat-houses” with what few working women that remain during a pandemic and the occasional motorist speeding along from Reno to Las Vegas or Vegas to Reno.
This memorial on the Memorial Highway is a sad, unsuccessful and inadequate effort at honoring the veterans, who fought in Americas many wars, some dead, some forever wounded both physically and mentally, some simply abandoned on the sidewalks of other roads, in mean cities and towns all across America. These are the men and women, who fell victim to the pressure of not being able to take it, the war and all that comes with such horror, now prisoners of poverty and despair, who fought for the social and financial freedom that only the rich and successful actually now enjoy. Like so many of the towns, mines and old rusted bits of machinery seen along the way, these vets gain nothing from this cheap and tacky memorial. But there it is, left out now on the side of a road, to the corrosive elements of the ancient desert for those unsuspecting travelers passing by. For those serving in this country’s military who are exposed to such roadside rubbish I can’t help but to wonder how they might feel, not much of a tribute here for those willing to risk their lives for our country, a one mile piece of black asphalt in the middle of no-where with that last sign of resignation that marks a piece of highway and a war that just goes on forever with no end in sight, The Global War On Terror.
The politicians, war profiteers and those who simply go-along, need not think too hard on any of it or lose sleep or cry tears for our nations veterans. There are those veterans who moved on, who had the strength or support, the loving family or the important job and personal drive that kept them functioning, alongside so many who now find themselves being stepped-over and consciously avoided as they sleep in doorways on hard concrete sidewalks and beg on the street-corners. We civilians do our part, we support our troops, we thank them for their service, we put up road signs and we can carry-on to Vegas or Reno where Americans still left with some scraps of money can drink, gamble and otherwise check-out, numbing the pain and diverting the mind away from tragic thoughts and lives of desperation.
A global war on terror, or a Pax Romania, to use an older version of the phrase, becomes the obvious road to travel for an empire that, having abandoned its good sense and better angels, becomes that very thing that it claims to fight against. That empire, losing to the sins of vanity and pride, is left searching for meaning in useless and blatant over-consumption, lost opportunities, worthless desire, narcissistic, illusions of grandeur, spectacle and war. In this, our global war on terror will destroy this nation as all empires chasing world domination are finally destroyed, either ending bit by bit as a slowly dying fire, or maybe snuffed out in a blinding flash of nuclear rage. But it will end because a nation cannot win a global war on terror, especially when that nation has given itself over to the very terror that it fights against. In this the USA is, as they say, its own worst enemy. The war on terror you see is that last desperate war that every still eager, but over-extended empire, eventually faces as it clings to its last hopes of forced global dominion. We are left watching our nation as it squirms and struggles to over-compensate for its failure and inability to live and govern in peace.
The crumbling of an empire is a sad and frightening thing when viewed from the historical perspective that time provides but for those living in the moment of destruction. It can appear at times to be nothing much more than a kind of irritation or frustration over those everyday things that once came easily and without much thought. Once great, bustling societies turn and change as they gradually become slow, inconvenient, producing products of questionable quality, over-priced and sometimes, now even hard to obtain at all as even the availability of products in the land that was once a consumer paradise become compromised by corporate greed and inefficiency, on the one end, and social-economic poverty on the other. As once reliable systems begin to fail, there comes the inevitable noise, cries of disapproval from what is left of the consumer class. In decline, the blame games, denial, passing of responsibility and out-right deception kick-in, leading to a pointless theatre of finger-pointing, scape-goating, accusation, all posing in this environment as a viable form of government and sincere and earnest leadership is stamped out wherever even a spark of the real statesmanship might appear.
The United States has reached the summit in both foreign and domestic affairs, and now it starts its descent. We have squandered our resources, both the natural and the human, and we are finding that moving towards a world of inescapable continual war and forever debt is the only option left to a nation bankrupt both in its spirit and in its moral core, and so has become a nation without a foundation and with no solid place to stand. Our proclamations and declarations have become like sand as the meaning of those words are desecrated by the hypocritical maneuverings of unfaithful servants who use righteous words to defend filthy actions. In division, created by an environment of disloyalty and lies, the formally powerful and those who would hope to be powerful someday, squabble and fight over what’s left of the waning empire as it slips away.
Where a nation once stood united in a national purpose, a national destiny, as wrong-sighted as that purpose may have been, the U.S. has now become little more than a prize coveted by individuals for individual purposes, adding more shame and folly to the already burdensome insult and injury that we suffer. But where there are empires there are emperors, and with the latest examples of presidents whose ambitions would establish dynasty and dominion at great cost to common democratic truth, the contenders parley favors that promote their own goals and ambitions and that true and honest statesmanship, which is putting the affairs of the state before personal ambition is dead to them. Therefore, not finding wisdom in the pursuit of personal ambition, foolishness becomes the normal way and foolishness of the highest degree as it is found in these highest-of-places, in the capitols of empire.
All is well that starts well, and the United States did not start well. The end does not justify the means for those suffering injustice and the perfect is not the enemy of the good. It is the source from which goodness flows, not the other way around. This nation was founded on conquest and the theories of supremacy and dominion, might makes right and an unusually strong ability these days of being able to accept mediocrity and failure, even when faced with the obvious results of that settlement. Therefore to hold up the ideal without the works, hypocrisy and out-right deceit have become so prevalent that like that famously invisible forest we heard about, we generally can’t even see those things we so abhor in theory. And so, still never having freed itself from the pride and lust associated with the conquering mind, the nation will inevitably suffer the consequences of its association with such forces as those. Continuing on if it will not reform itself, it will burn-out, a nation addicted to power and death rather than a nation that thrives on the common good, cooperation and the blessings that come to a nation that enjoys and elevates virtue, both within the home and world-wide. Virtue we know, cannot be minimalized, compromised or side-stepped and still be called virtue.
There are many of us still alive that remember how at the height of U.S. power and fortune this country was shown the way to even greater glory and prosperity in that awkward but joyous time loosely defined as the 60’s. Certainly this way was not confined to that one particular decade, but that counter-culture, back-to-nature and forward to peace movement was a moment of grand social awakening and did contain many answers to the social, political and environmental problems that were even then starting to press in hard on society. There are indeed answers, solutions to our problems. These things are not some mystery. Start with respect and love of life and there will be found the cure to most everything that ails our nation. In that other time the young and dream-filled youth of America stirred up by the ridiculous prospects of the nuclear age, the Cold War, The Vietnamese War and the fears of a planet poisoned beyond repair came out, innocent in their social understanding and easy expectations of success, but strong in their desire for a safe and clean planet. They were beaten back, shot down, ostracized, jailed, exiled and murdered for daring to think outside the rigid box of acceptable politics even then being built around the people by the corporate and academic world that worships obedience to the system and reverence to the bottom line above simply caring for the welfare of the people, the nation, or even life on Earth. And so they, their children and now their grand-children, as then, are still treated in this way to this day when they stand up for peace, social justice or environmental protections and stability.
Those children of all these ages, as children do, were and still are thinking about their future, the future of their country and the future of our planet, yet they are made into outlaws, run underground by their own government, by their own neighbors and families for daring to contemplate a world free from war, hunger, poverty and racism. There were many great ideas, experiments and actions that came out of that time and even more that emerges from today, but too much heart and energy are lost in the souls of those simply trying to survive against the power of the older, entrenched cultures and once great generations. As we turn looking for allies, it should be remembered that the great ones we once admired, can become bloated and deceived by the pride and vanity of their own success and no help will come from them. Obviously, they too, like those from previous civilizations, thought that they knew best.
The industrial and agricultural machine which could have been, and still could be utilized to feed the real bodies, hearts and minds of the world, were put into use instead as political leverage, hording the wealth, holding out war and starvation as the price for any who are non-compliant to today’s boss. Men with a lust for power rather than those with a grand vision for humanity have so far won the day and now even to talk of a utopic society is dangerous in some minds for promoting false hopes, and has been all but cancelled in favor of what is seen as the more socially responsible visions of dystopia, scenes of endless war, climate catastrophe and cultural suicide culminating in the last phase of such a terror until it is literally every man, woman and child for themselves, this being the way of collapsing empires and civilizations crumbling down.
We do not wish to hear the news of our collapsing society in the same way that we do not wish to hear the news of that which would save us. Thoughts of ending wars or living through and confronting the other destructive forces we have set in motion are taken with a good measure of cynicism and a pre-ordained defeatist attitude. We find we are no longer able to believe in ourselves which exposes us to other socially contagious diseases, those of apathy, laziness, depression and dependency on the very systems that are failing around us. In our descent we find we are snow-balling, picking-up speed and weight with every turn of the ball. This brings us to a dark and dreaded outcome but it is the inevitable outcome, the outcome we face if we do not change course, but change, which is constant in nature is so hard to achieve in societies that fear without understanding, both shadows and light.
If you do read the news with a careful eye you will see that the US even as it violently picks around the edges of its empire, is gearing-up for and standing-up to posture for what could be its last fatal move in a rather long list of bad choices, war against Russia and or China. A war against these powers is unwinnable in any way, a war that would leave the US, Russia, China and the rest of our world in ruins. As our government dangerously postures and throws weight around it should be remembered that it is US aggression, not Chinese or Russian aggression, that is the force behind this horrendous, and possibly final mistake, should we continue to make it.
Facing up to such foolishness as the finality of the world and of life as we have lived it is the true motivation of those activists and dear ones who cry out at every occasion for sanity and for peace in this world starting, as it should, here in the great American empire. There is nothing more important to our survival than changing the course of the American Empire, changing the ways of a prideful and aggressive nation into a nation of humility, peaceful and supportive of all humanity.
Out on highway 50, the so-called loneliest road in America, about 50 miles east of Fallon Nevada there’s another stretch of highway where on the banks of the salt covered dirt that form the shoulders of that road, there’s another memorial. This peoples memorial built with small chunks of black volcanic rock that lie scattered all across this part of the Nevada desert is another kind of memorial all together, one built with the hands of who-knows how many people. In this huge, collaborative piece of art you can find some amazingly creative ways that people have used these black rocks to spell out words or to draw little pictures, to memorialize their personal love of one another and by showing that personal love, love of the world around them. Many of the works are simple little hearts or simple little messages of the Bob Loves Karen type. Other works are sometimes more elaborate, pretty designs with more broad and inclusive messages, sometimes simple, direct, stand-alone words, love, peace or the peace sign and heart-shaped symbols that designate those hopes.
Taken as a whole, these simple statements in stone form an amazing, grand piece of art that stretches for about 10 miles along both sides of this “loneliest highway in America.” The total number of little black stones moved to form words or pictures must be in the tens of thousands and the number of people, regular people like you and me that contributed to this work must be in the thousands or hundreds at least. These people that came along with the energy to create and the hundreds of hours that collectively went into the building of this fine, people-powered memorial stand-out in their anonymity for having done this impressive thing with nothing more than rocks and dirt. A little further down the highway, there is another memorial of sorts, a very large cottonwood tree decorated with hundreds of shoes that have been tossed up into the trees branches and another hundred that fell out over time lying on the ground below, a shoe tree. It was one autumn day when I first saw it, and it seemed to fit the place well as another lonely little memorial out along this loneliest of roads, a reminder of the shoes others wear in this walk of life.
Both of the public works out on highway 50 came to us free of charge and free too from the burden of death and destruction that is so often associated with memorials, obvious and hard to avoid out on the Veterans Memorial Highway with its tribute to war. Here on highway 50 the message is a message of love and hope, Bob loves Karen, Bill loves Patti, Patti loves Karen, and on and on it goes. I’m sure that among those names, if we could do the research to tell each of those stories, we could find enough disappointment and sorrow, success and joy, as we could ever find on the Veterans Memorial Highway with its impersonal, generic message on stark, industrial quality signs, lacking in any form of creativity or any true and sincere effort. There as we contemplate these two memorials we can see the stark difference between the work of people who show and reveal their personal feelings in memorials to what they find important and meaningful to remember and then, over there, the government’s idea of the same.
The people are wiser than their government, more creative, more energetic, more conscious and by far, more prone towards producing works of art than manufacturing war. Our government, so grandly celebrated as the great democratic hope of the world is far from being true to its over-inflated image. We do not want a world of constant war; we do not want to be a nation feared around the world seen to others and rightly so, as the real terrorists. We want, even taken as a whole, what every sane and reasonable person wants: peace, love and an opportunity to live our lives free from the guilt we bare as members and citizens of a country obsessed with and blinded by its own power. We do not want to be the last generations of a country whose empire is crumbling before our own weary eyes. We want to thrive, and to thrive we must want that same success for those around us as we want for ourselves, success for those who struggle in their own nations, with their own governments.
Our world has grown very small, our neighbors are not enemies but family, our resources are shared as is the air we breathe and the water that we drink, the land we farm and the roads we travel. Our phones are from Korea, our cars are from Japan, our food is from Mexico and our oil is from Iraq. These are the last days of isolated empires concerned only for their own expanding ground and governments. It is true today in a sense and in a way that it has never been more obvious, evident or urgent; a world divided against itself cannot stand. We must learn now, that it’s not just a clever saying, we either live together or together we will perish.
There is no amount of deflection, of hiding behind parties, patriotism and ideologies that can save us, only a completely honest and careful examination of our true nature can help us and not just an examination but a real and dedicated movement away from war, lust and greed, towards charity, generosity and a sincere love of life. This is no time for half-truths, half-steps and half-hearted people. What is needed now is an earnest and total commitment to the greater good. This commitment begins and ends in global justice, in peace, and in love, or there will be no meaning in our original hopes, in our beginning, only the lonely silence that is left to a world destroyed by its own best hope.