It was the mid 1980s when I first saw the American movie classic, Red Dawn. Set in a small Colorado foothills town, the movie is a classic good guys verses bad guys movie pitting the blood thirsty red army of the Soviet Union against an all American, self-relient cast of characters fighting a guerrilla war of a second independence.
I had grown up on a steady litany of stories of the propaganda machine that was the Soviet Union, of their brainwashed populace; of their inability to know the truth.
We had Hollywood. And I wonder if Hollywood didn’t do a better job of brainwashing our populace than the Russian KGB did theirs.
They certainly had me.
I spent many a day throughout my elementary years planning the defense of my town from the inevitable invasion of those ‘red devils’, those commies who had plans to blow us off the face of the earth. I had an active imagination but it had plenty of source material.
Ask anyone over 40 and they’ll tell you that there was deep distrust of the Soviet empire.
And no one knew a single Russian person.
We lived off of myth.
And then the myth fell down. It was the Berlin Wall actually, but it is hard to imagine now the fear that so gripped the west for so many years.
So afraid of the communist threat was our nation that we entered bloody wars, we propped up cruel and tyrannical dictators over those who were democratically elected, we pumped millions of dollars in support to the mujahadeen in Afghanistan and we allowed our daily rhetoric to be that of vitriol, hostility, culture assassination, exaggeration and hysteria.
This is not to say that there was not actually a threat. I’m quite certain there was – competing ideologies by the world’s standards most always lead to confrontation. And when the two groups holding the ideologies also have a lot of nuclear bombs, then the threats escalate.
I was sitting in a book store under an Istanbul mosque several years ago talking with my friend Serdar about politics and faith and we began talking about the tension between the east and the west. I was trying to see a way forward, to see a way to better relations, to see some hope but Serdar stopped me.
“People always need an enemy. If one goes away, they find another. They need an enemy.”
He said it so matter a factly, as if it were true; gospel fact.
Is it true? Do we need an enemy? Do we look for a bad guy in order to make ourselves feel better?
I am not sure that we “need” an enemy but I am sure that we do have one.
Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” So yes, we do have an enemy.
But too often we mistake him for someone else. Depending on your persuasion it could be the communist or the catholic, the Muslim or the Jew or the evangelical Christian, the right wing conservative or the left wing liberal.
We end up creating gross over generalizations of entire groups based on their very worst examples. We vilify them as the enemy and neglect any real conversations that could lead to understanding and honoring relationships.
And we keep doing it over and over again. We keep repeating the past.