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When I was a boy, I had to sleep with the light on. My sister had told me there were monsters that lived in the darkness under my bed, and that they come up and get you when you fall asleep. Of course, I knew that monsters didn't exist. But when you're little, your imagination can run away with you. So to my parents great displeasure, I would turn the hall light on and leave my door open. Just to be sure.

Recently, I got the image in my head of a another young boy, lying awake at night, afraid of the dark. Except this boy is in some little village in Pakistan. And there, the monsters are real.

He would have heard all about the strange, silent machines from the sky that come in the night and burn up whole villages. It's happened many times now, one just miles away. It's all everyone talks about. The great craters left where houses once stood. The dead children. The vows of revenge. And how most never even heard it coming - a faint noise from high above and then, terror.

Surely, he cannot understand much of what he hears. He knows nothing of the "War on Terror." He's probably never even heard of al Qaeda and certainly never met one. But what he does understand, he understands absolutely. Fear. He sees it in his mother. He sees it in his friends. He felt it sweep through his once happy village, like a wave of black adrenalin. That deep sense that children pick up on so well, that something very bad has happened. That we are no longer safe.

When we think of ourselves, as Americans, we think of our families and our friends, our neighborhoods with dogs and cats, and mostly decent people. Our well groomed lawns and great towering cities. Maybe we think of our culture, our music, movies, iPads, Hollywood celebrities. And of course we think of our conflicts, our joblessness, our politics, with red states and blue, and the week's big issue. Many of us have been thinking of an America we see slipping away. But whatever we think of our American experience, we almost always think of it from our American point of view. And as damaged as that experience has become for so many, we believe in its overall, essential goodness.

The young village boy in Pakistan knows none of that. When he thinks of America, he thinks of monster machines, that come with terrifying silence in the night, and burn children in their beds. That is the face of our beloved country, our empire. A mythical, omniscient beast. A nightmare.

My daughter is about the age of that boy. She gets scared in the dark too. I tell her she is safe, surrounded by people who love her, and that the only thing she has to worry about are those pesky giraffes, who use their long necks to reach in through her window and lick her face while she sleeps. That always makes her laugh. Sometimes we read "Scaredy Squirrel", a children's book character who inevitably finds that the world is not such a scary place after all. And, of course, I tell her that monsters are only imaginary. Increasingly, however, when I tell her that, I feel like I'm lying. I'm certain that my imaginary boy in Pakistan would say so.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A mythical, omniscient beast. A nightmare. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maryabein, tardis10

    I believe that is exactly the intended effect.

    Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

    by Wisper on Tue Feb 12, 2013 at 12:45:36 PM PST

  •  My father was born in Italy in 1932. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SilentBrook, Wee Mama

    He and his family spent many a day and night in bomb shelters, as Allied forces tried to liberate Italy from the lunacy of Mussolini.

    Terrified as they were, they welcomed American G.I.s because they knew that the actions of Allied forces could lead to their country’s freedom.

    They harbored no animosity toward Allied forces. In fact, my father emigrated to this country in the ‘50s and lived the rest of his life on U.S. soil.

    We can only speculate what’s going through the mind of your Pakistani child. Perhaps you’re right, and he’s going to grow up hating this country and, who knows, seeking revenge someday.

    Or maybe he’ll see the U.S.’s fight against terrorism as a noble cause which could make his country ultimately a safer place.

    I know my analogy about my father is not a perfect fit to today's situation, but only time will tell how it plays out.

    How about I believe in the unlucky ones?

    by BenderRodriguez on Tue Feb 12, 2013 at 12:51:48 PM PST

    •  I thought of that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      maryabein, tardis10

      Children of war. Nothing new there, sadly. But isn't this different? When you're at war, you know it. You know who you're fighting. You can look them in the eye. You can smell them. You can see them coming for the most part. You prepare. And then the war ends.

      These people are not at war. They are going about their day to days. Some, of course, are militants, and some knowingly put themselves in the proximity of militants. But the vast majority of these people are just people, living their lives. And while the chances that they too will be killed by a drone strike is low, that doesn't negate the fear of that possibility.

      There's a Sword of Damocles element to this situation. Out of the blue, so to speak. I am sure I, as an adult, would find it torturous. How a small child would find it is impossible to know. But I can imagine.

  •  We don't have to make up monsters. They're us. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Calamity Jean

    All you have to do is turn on the news on any random day, and you can see the monsters at work. One shot up a school a couple of months ago. There's another holed up in a cabin on the news right now.

    That's one of the reasons I refuse to watch 'slasher' films about brutal, violent murders - I know that somewhere those horrific acts are actually happening to real people. We don't have to invent vampires, zombies, demons etc. Far worse evil exists, for real.

    New Arizona State Motto; "Yeah, but it's a dry hate!"

    by Fordmandalay on Tue Feb 12, 2013 at 03:23:18 PM PST

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