Only Shades of Gray

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s many of you know, my academic specialty is Japanese Literature. And perhaps the most important aspect of J Lit–as well as J culture in general–is that everything is portrayed in different shades of gray. Things are not divided into black or white, only shades of gray… Sounds like an old Monkees song. This concept, however, is not exclusive to Japan. It is, I think, a part of our very lives.

Concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, left and right, liberal and conservative, play off each other. There can never be anything that is absolutely good and absolutely evil. Our lives, our thoughts, our history, our existence is simply too complex to be categorized in bulk into one category or the other.

So when a president announces, “You’re either with us, or against us,” I am totally turned off. Sure he was addressing countries who would not participate in the Iraq war cum debacle–and many allies felt punished for disagreeing with US policy. But the target of this attitude cannot be limited to foreign countries. To think this suggests a lack of understanding of the effects of texts and context. Some would argue, “That’s not what he meant.” If this argument is enough for you, then you live in a limited, uninmaginative world. The Declaration of Independence states that “All men are created equal.” Of course, the the framers of the Declaration meant “All white men”. They did not mean women who could not vote. And they didn’t mean the black Africans that people such as Thomas Jefferson owned as slaves. However, today, “All men are created equal” is all inclusive–well, at least in theory. And why is this so? Because the context is different. We live in a society and culture that recognizes the changing times. So are we misinterpretting the Declaration? Should we adhere strictly to what the framers meant and take away the vote from women, enslave Blacks, and return all Japs to internment camps? Of course not. Byt the same token, I find myself in a different context from the Bush administration. If I am against the war; if I question the validity and legitimacy of invading a country, especially when many of the reasons for invading Iraq have proven to be as fragile as the more than 1000 US lives lost in the battle, then I find myself in the same position as these foreign countries. Since I am not with the Bush adminstiration, I am, I guess “against them.”

But, judging my patriotism based on opinions that deal with more than just “Are you against terrorism”–especially when that aspect is bundled with the US invasion of Iraq–is insulting. The invasion of Iraq has had so many negative consequences–a rising federal deficit, the increase of terrorists in the world, the declining prestige of the US abroad, not to mention the lost lives–it is hard not to hesitate, question, indeed express an opinion that is not plainly black and white. As an American, I reserve the right to my opinion, whether it agrees with the president’s or not. His suggestion that any opinion that does not agree with his is unpatriotic is an insult to me. And it should be to every American.

And yet, it appears that the very president who insists on painting his vision of America in absolutes colors is the man that the majority of Americans want. My way of thinking–that there is more than black and white, that plurality is the goal we should strive for–is in the minority. And I could not be sadder…

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