Walt Kelly was the creator of a fabled comic strip named “Pogo.” Pogo was a possum who lived with his friends in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, and though his most famous cartoon appearance was printed during the Nixon Presidency, its truth is as clarion today as it was those decades ago.
Pogo and his friend “Porky Pine” are walking through the swamp when Porky Pine says, “Ah, the beauty of the forest primeval gets me in the heart.” Pogo answers, “It gets me in the feet.” The cartoon reveals that their home is full of trash, broken bottles, and garbage.
Porky Pine replies, “It IS hard walkin’ on this stuff.” Then Pogo delivers his most famous line: “Yep, we have met the enemy, and he is US.” Walt Kelly, via Pogo, diagnosed the cause of the majority of our society’s troubles. It is “us,” not “them.” Our trouble is much closer to home that we realize.
As an example, observe the violence and murder within our nation. The enemy is not so much “out there” as it is “in here.” Per the FBI, there are more than 1.1 million violent crimes every year in this country. That’s a reduction from where we were two decades ago, but it is still an astronomical number, as about 17,000 of these annual crimes are homicides.
And consider, that since the September 11, 2001 attacks, this country has spent $1.5 trillion combating the “War on Terror.” And since then, 125 or so Americans have died from terrorist attacks in this country. During this same period, America has suffered some 200,000 murders, and the social costs for this violence exceeds $2 trillion.
Our generic, run-of-the-mill, nightly news violence to which we have become so accustomed and desensitized, is costing us even more than our wars abroad, not to mention the incalculable, untold burden of loss, hate, heartbreak, and desperation. Indeed, “We have met the enemy” – at least the most lethal enemy – “and he is US.”
I admit that it is easier on the conscience to fight enemies at a distance: The outsiders, “them,” and “they.” It takes incredible courage to turn to our problems at home, to look within, to do something about our self-inflicted wounds. Bombs can be dropped by a single command, at the flip of a switch, or the toggle of a drone’s joystick, “neutralizing” the enemy.
But domestic violence, hate crimes, easy access to murderous weapons, suppressed anger that explodes with killing force; the lack of mentors, education, healthy families, and moral grounding – these have no push-button solutions. These terrors require a fierce, protracted “war,” a movement of intervention and transformation, a revolution of positive, practical, holy, redeeming action.
And this is hard work, harder even, than keeping external enemies at bay. But it must be done, for as President Lincoln summarized, this country’s fate does not rest in the hands of an external enemy: “If destruction be our lot, we will be its author and finisher.”