By Donella Meadows
–February 12, 1987–
Peace groups all over the country have been asking “What shall we do about ‘Amerika’?”
“Amerika” is the TV miniseries, to be broadcast later this month, which depicts a Soviet takeover of the United States. Like most people in the peace groups, I have not seen the show, but I’ve heard rumors about it.
In “Amerika”, as I understand it, the Soviets infiltrate United Nations headquarters in New York and stage their invasion from there. I am told that the series starts dramatically, with goose-stepping soldiers marching down the avenues of Manhattan bearing the Hammer-and-Sickle emblazoned onto the Stars-and-Stripes. Then it dwindles to a rather boring (according to my informants) story about the increasing regimentation and decreasing liberties of the American people.
Why do the peace groups want to do something about “Amerika”? Because, they say, it is powerful right-wing propaganda, depicting with deceptive realism an event that could never take place. It raises unfounded fears that could lead to further militarization of this country. It imprints on our minds the image of the Soviet Union as a dehumanized evil force instead of a struggling nation full of human beings like ourselves. It falsely implicates the United Nations as a breeding place for subversion. It prepares the way for nuclear armaments and nuclear war.
This paranoid and dangerous broadcast cannot go unanswered, they say.
It already has been answered, of course, by the television drama “The Day After”, the horrifying portrayal of the consequences of a nuclear war. “Amerika” is appearing now because conservative groups sat around several years ago asking “What shall we do about ‘The Day After’?”.
We could call it a stalemate. Both the left wing and the right wing have now treated the American public to a dramatization of their deepest fears. “Amerika” will probably have the same effect as “The Day After” — so much hype beforehand that the broadcast itself is an anticlimax; so much discussion afterward that the experience gets smothered in a heap of words; a few people brought into the ranks of True Believers; not much long-term impact.
I’m not very worried about “Amerika”. I am worried, however, about America, a nation in which opposing factions try to manipulate the public by broadcasting nightmares. I would rather be guided by positive visions than by fears. And I wonder about the future of a democracy that contains two passionately-held views as incompatible as the ones that produced “The Day After” and “Amerika”.
Sometimes I despair about bridging the gulf between those two views. Those who fear domination by the Soviets live in a different world from my world. They talk to different people, read different publications, pay attention to different information. They store up evidence to confirm their own rightness and discount the evidence of my side (come to think of it, I don’t credit their evidence either). They think of me as an unpatriotic, unwitting dupe of the communist conspiracy. My side thinks of them as redneck, reactionary know-nothings.
To put it mildly, there isn’t much real communication between us, and television shows won’t help. Whatever is shown on “Amerika”, it won’t convince me to be afraid of the Soviet people — I know too many of them as friends. It won’t cause me to despise the Soviet government, because I already do. It will not make me fear that government, because I see it as inefficient and bumbling. If it can’t take over Afghanistan, mired in 16th-century technology, on its own border, it’s not going to take over Manhattan.
Similarly, nothing I can say seems to cause the right-wingers to feel the terror I do about the presence of 50,000 nuclear weapons on the earth. I don’t understand why they don’t fear those weapons, but then they don’t understand why I don’t fear the Soviets. I don’t see why they, who talk so much about freedom, seem unconcerned about the encroachment of our own military on our freedom. They don’t see why I’m unconcerned about Nicaragua and Cuba right there on our southern flank.
Of course there are plenty of people who find both camps extreme and head for the middle ground. They are the targets of “Amerika”. If the series is successful in winning them to the rightist cause, then the leftists will strike back even harder. The country will just be further polarized.
What the peace groups could do about “Amerika” is start a conversation on another level, a conversation that does not reinforce the divisions among us. We do not need yet another restatement of any point of view. The issues under debate are too momentous to be reduced to points of view. What we need is to get beyond our Positions and work toward an accurate and complete perception of the real threats and possibilities in the world.
We can attain that perception only by caring more about finding out the truth than about winning the argument. We need to listen — really listen — to what both sides think they know about the Soviet Union and about nuclear weapons. We need to weigh the evidence, admit our areas of ignorance, and sift out the facts from the self-reinforcing beliefs.
Then, maybe, we can we stop moving apart, propelled by our different fears, and start moving forward, together, propelled by our common goals.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1987