Other times and other lands
As a child in the '60s, I used to travel to Canada on occasion, fishing, camping, and sight-seeing. It always seemed a trivial matter going across the border, not much more complicated than traveling to another state. But that was then . . .
Last weekend a friend and I drove to Grand Forks, British Columbia to have dinner. The Canadian Customs officer at the border crossing north of Colville couldn't have been friendlier, and made us feel very welcome in Canada. We had a great dinner, and about 10 p.m. we came back into the U.S.
I drove up to the tiny one room office of U.S. Customs and stopped at the stop sign as required. Nobody seemed to be manning the post, so I looked around to make sure I was at the right place. Suddenly a Customs agent came tearing out of the office and rushed up to the passenger side of my car.
Without any form of greeting or welcome he said gruffly, "Do you know if you had driven through this checkpoint it's a mandatory $5000 fine! Now shut your engine off and give me the keys!"
He proceeded to go through my car and everything in my trunk. Appearing angry because he could not find anything of interest, he handed the keys back to me with a surly "OK, you're free to go!" Not so much as a please or thank you.
Our ordeal at the border illustrates the 'Them versus Us' attitude that is prevalent in America these days. I can't remember my parents ever treated rudely when our family returned from Canada. Was it really so long ago?
No, it wasn't so long ago that we could feel secure in the presence of 'Peace Officers'. They were there to help us. Now we fear those who once protected us. How many of us feel uneasy when we see a police car in our rear view mirror? And why? Because the protectors of the peace are now at war. That is why it is 'Them versus Us'; no one knows who the real enemy is anymore.
The term 'War on Drugs' came into the public consciousness during the reign of Presidents Reagan and Bush. As in all wars, we required an enemy to demonize and triumph over. In this case, however, the enemy is domestic drug users, and they are completely indistinguishable from other Americans. We have therefore become an entire nation of suspects, guilty until proven innocent, and our civil rights are just troublesome obstacles to be maneuvered around by zealous prosecutors and enforcers.
I pose these questions to you, gentle reader: When will we awaken to the danger posed by a government that will wage war on its own people? How much are we willing to sacrifice for the illusion of security? Will we wait until death camps propagate like cancer across the land before we heed the warnings obvious to all? Newt Gingrich, William Bennet and current lawmakers have all proposed mandatory death and mass executions for some drug law violations.
We can become a great nation if we wish it, leading the world into the next millennium, embracing the future with open arms, but first we must open our eyes and our hearts. We have work to do. It's never too late.
It's coming to America first.
The home of the best, and of the worst.
It's here they've got the range;
And the machinery for change;
And it's here they've got the spiritual thirst.
-From Democracy is Coming [to the USA] by Leonard Cohen