Indifference in the American Heart
Daniel A. Swalec November 19, 2020.
A Modern Uprising
Significant flaws and tragic failures in American society are on full display in 2020 with many citizens shifting to anger and standing up in defiance of the status-quo. The world has witnessed a half frightened, half indifferent society demand a better and more just future not just for themselves, but for their neighbors and children. And while some factions of the nation and its government invoked a mythical ‘great’ America of the past, others find opportunity to proclaim a “new progressivism in the streets, in classrooms, on social media– everywhere but the places with the power to solve problems” (Packer 2020).
Amid this global pandemic, and with the generations-old oppressive walls that divide the country now standing in full and public view, it feels important to look at the history that created this buildup of indifference in America (Cunningham 2020, 49:30). The change in cadence of our everyday society called attention to both the wide-ranging disparities across the nation and the specific atrocities that incited many citizens to take to the streets in protest to demand change. In 1946, Dr. Albert Einstein wrote, “we will not change the hearts of other men by mechanisms, but by changing our hearts and speaking bravely”. With the brave voices of so many speaking out in search of the basic pillars of American democracy, of liberty and justice for all, now is the time to search for liberty and justice for all by embracing Einstein’s new way of thinking. Now is the time to change our hearts and speak bravely.
A Changed World
In 1945, the energy of a glittering white object in the sky over the city of Hiroshima would kill hundreds of thousands of people and completely transform the center of the Japanese city. A mushroom-shaped cloud hovered above a “dazzling flash of light, brighter than even the sun” (Tharoor 2016) and the shockwave from the explosion shook the American bomber named Enola Gay in midair. Below, a strange and hideous world was left behind, as human shadows were etched into stone and the entire city seemed to disappear in the flash (Tharoor 2016).
On August 9, 1945, another B-29 bomber named Bockscar dropped its 10,000-pound payload above Nagasaki. This second atomic bomb, named Fat Man, took flight only three days after the Enola Gay let go of Little Boy in the skies over Hiroshima (Los Alamos National Laboratory 2016). These two explosions combined to redefine the capabilities of international conflict, as Little Boy and Fat Man simultaneously released radioactive particles in the air above Japan, and uncertainty across the globe.
Ten months later, as the world continued to struggle to understand the power of this newfound science in the theatre of war, Dr. Albert Einstein called public attention to the challenge of a nation having the ability to wage war on another without dispatching troops to foreign lands. After championing the race to develop nuclear research in America, he worked to share the idea that “a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels” (Einstein 1946). As leading scholars agreed and joined to form The Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, those in the places of power did not seek their advice nor share their perspective. No one in positions of power even listened.
Contemplating Powerful Words
Dr. Einstein’s realization in the wake of the bombings was to change the understanding of the problem ahead. He recognized that without seceding from competition with America’s adversaries and without professing the dangers and condemning this newfound power with the world, the whole of humanity could never be truly free from the fear that continues to haunt it.
Albert Einstein died 27 years and two days before I was born, and while I am not a historian, I do consider myself thankful to have found Dr. Einstein’s writings. I was moved by the power of his words and their continued relevance today. He recognized that holding onto the reigns of this nuclear energy would result in a superiority for those in control, touting America’s “tremendous responsibility of leading mankind’s effort to surmount the crisis” (Einstein 1946). Unfortunately, the world witnessed a continued stronghold and leveraging of nuclear arms instead of the transcendence that Einstein professed. A decision that led to the increase in American superiority on the world stage and the eventual threat to the core principles of American democracy visible in the world today.
Conflicts Foreign and Domestic
Not long after Einstein’s 1946 warning that a “sober nation can become drunk with victory” President Truman’s doctrine set America on a path toward an inebriated existence as the leader of the free world (Truman 1947). His creed spawned the beginning of American exceptionalism and “activist internationalism”, and America began trading one adversary for the next (Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy n.d.).
By 1947, American leadership began a decades-long series of more covert military confrontations. While it never officially declared its cold war against the USSR, international battles continued as America engaged in proxy wars of combat and espionage to fight the Communist ideas of its adversaries. The nation’s focus was so invested in the problems of the world, it never noticed that its leadership had cast aside the constant vigilance necessary for the great American experiment to succeed (Dale 2007).
With ardent focus on the collapse of communist ideology and the fall of the Berlin wall, American’s attention had been drawn away from the pillars of subjugation dispatched across its own domestic soil (Niblett and Bhardwaj 2019). Cast as memorials of an almost century-old civil war, they celebrated cruelty to a people not seen as worthy of the American dream. The strength of these monuments was equal to the Confederate ideals embodied within them while the provenance framing them acted as a valiant distraction from thinly veiled and oppressively unjust truths. Glorification of these “murderous traitors who fought for the right to trade in human bodies” (Cunningham 2020, 48:50) existed solely to sustain, normalize, and disseminate these forcefully held oppressive beliefs to large swaths of American society in a dark and hazy indifference.
Armies of these massive cenotaphs littered the nation. Forged of zinc and ‘white bronze’ placed on plinths of carved stone (Giaimo 2017), they personified a tall but silent reminder of the power that some hold over others. American supremacy and its fight against foreign oppression distracted its citizenry, while societal sleight of hand traded the core and self-evident truths of democracy for a callous, concealed, and combative Jim Crowe.
In the time since Einstein’s writing, indifference toward one another has seemed to increase in America, with society entering a “strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness… cruelty and kindness, good and evil” (Wiesel 2016). It seems likely that an ‘America First’ ideology has pushed Americans further apart and bolstered apathy towards others across the nation. America seems hungover, the result of a drunken victory celebration, acting as both the sin and the punishment that is “always the friend of our enemies” (Wiesel 2016). American indifference masks the real problems rooted in the core of its society, a reality Einstein predicted in a 1947 manuscript, The Menace of Mass Destruction.
Everyone is aware of the difficult and menacing situation in which human society… now finds itself, but only a few act accordingly. Most people go on living their every-day life: half frightened, half indifferent, they behold the ghostly tragi-comedy which is being performed on the international stage before the eyes and ears of the world (Rife 2005).
Seventy-Five Years Later
Not surprisingly, seventy-five years after Einstein’s 1946 letter, the world continues to face significant challenges. In hindsight, his answers seem easy and obvious, and yet still no one with the power and in positions to solve our problems can ask the correct questions. Even with the prominence of Einstein’s name, and the countless references to his theories and ideas, our modern leaders seem no closer to recognizing the actual problems in society than the leaders were in his day. Unsurprisingly, another fact that Einstein predicted, this time in a 1939 essay.
And yet I know that, all in all, man changes but little, even though prevailing notions make him appear in a very different light at different times… nothing of all that will remain but a few pitiful pages in the history books, briefly picturing to the youth of future generations the follies of its ancestors (Einstein, Planck and Heisenberg 2019).
As modern society continues to recreate the follies of our ancestors it focuses on the problems of the world as competitive and adversarial, instead of recognizing the root challenges within. In 1946, Einstein writes, “often in evolutionary processes a species must adapt to new conditions in order to survive”. In 2020, humanity once again finds itself in another of these evolutionary moments, filled with challenges that require humanity to set aside stubborn indifference and realize that the real challenges ahead are ones of the heart.
Contemplation of a Formidable Future
The whole of our great American experiment cannot progress if decisions must first pass a litmus test showing their effect on individuals with power. As a society we must once again see value in the advancement of others and the impact that shared prosperity will have on us all. We must set aside our role in peddling democracy across the world. We must work to advance our own democracy and finally recognize that we are all created equal. We must stop selling an idea of equality and focus on the compassionate heartfelt consideration for others that is crucial to achieve this ideal. Until we finally realize we are all humans, we are doomed to repeat our ancestor’s mistakes and propagate their problems into our futures.
Now is the time for our society to find kindness in one another. We must look to our neighbors and hold their feelings within our own hearts. We must find clarity between values and actions and stand together to embrace the idea that “love follows hate, as hate follows indifference” (McMaster 1866), see that the path ahead holds not just obstacles but opportunity, and that our nation truly is stronger together. We must finally understand that if we embrace a new way of thinking and look within ourselves, we can find the solutions to our deep-rooted conflicts and recognize that hate derived from indifference can result in love.
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