Isolation and Integration

Like millions of Americans, I idly clicked on my FoxNews.com shortcut to make sure the world was not imploding while I started blankly at my computer screen all day. I almost clicked away from the page just as quickly, but slowly the headline settled into my brain: “Thai Military Launches Coup.” It was the sub-header that intrigued my interest by specifying that the Thai Prime Minister was at the United Nations when his military chose to overthrow him.

Suddenly I realized how different this story is from the same occurrence just 20, 30 or 50 years ago. Instead of a military coup in Thailand taking place in Bangkok with nationwide implications, this coup had just taken place on the doorstep of the world. Everyone in every corner of the earth was reading this story, making judgments, awaiting reactions and contemplating the impact this might have on their lives.

I can’t say my personal interest in Thailand has ever gone much beyond my love for Thai food. However, this story brought home to me the increasing interconnection of the world.

Many Americans who could hardly have identified Bangkok as belonging to Thailand yesterday will by sundown tonight be intimately familiar with the images of tanks overrunning the capitol and overthrowing democracy. It will be no different than if this had occurred next door; the other side of the world is now not so far from our own. The world’s response to this forced instatement of military tyranny will be anxiously anticipated, and whether we like it or not, it will be questioned whether this action will be “permitted.” The Thai military was particularly defiant of this new integrated world since they waited until the Prime Minister was away hearing President Bush address the General Assembly before seizing power, as if to say “You go deal with the rest of the world, we’ll run things our way at home.”

International conflict drawing out attention finds an example in nearly every day’s news. A few weeks ago, Americans had their attention riveted to their televisions and computers as violence intensified between Hezbollah and Israel. Tomorrow it may be another nation, another tragedy, another conflict, and it will surely find its way to our computer screens as we click our way through history in the making.

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I think there is a strange paradox among young Americans. We live simultaneously isolated from the tragedy and poverty that our generation faces in most of the earth while at the same time we are barraged with real-time updates on drama unfolding around world. We do not have the excuse our grandparents had of simple ignorance of the way the rest of the world lives. We see their faces; we watch the gunshots and tsunamis.

It is as if we stand on a platform overlooking the rest of the world and watch them tossed and turned, drowning in the waves of life. We do not live in a struggle for mere survival, but much of our generation does and we cannot deny that reality. It is so easy to become hardened to the news reports, the tragic pictures, the hurting that should echo in our hearts but so easily bounces off as we focus on our own task of the moment. Superman reminded us, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” We took the reminder and shrugged it off with the excuse that we have no supernatural powers. And yet, do we? We’ve been given much, and we will be held responsible for how we respond. It’s time we stop waiting to see how the government responds to the images on our screens and start finding out how we can respond.

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