Some thoughts from New Orleans.
I’ve been in New Orleans almost two days now and I’ve noticed a recurring word: preserve. Preservation Hall, a historical jazz venue. The Po Boy Preservation Festival–as if po boys need to be preserved, when I’m happy to eat them any time. In front of St. Louis Cathedral, there is a grand statue of everyone’s favorite president Andrew Jackson, who honestly was pretty bad at preserving a lot of things: treaties with Native Americans, the authority of the Supreme Court, the U.S. central bank. Perhaps the only positive achievement I can list is what is referenced in the quote etched on the base of the statue.
The Union must and shall be preserved.
It makes sense for a city as old and culturally rich as New Orleans (1718) to be so concerned with preservation. The city’s population is dwindling. Katrina did a lot of the opposite of preservation. Jazz doesn’t seem to hold as much significance culturally, unless you’re really hipster, I guess.
Right now the whole country is focused on preservation: of our lives and of our values. Attacks in Paris, a cultural ancestor of this port city, have created a firestorm in the U.S. about how we are going to protect ourselves from the likes of ISIS and whether we should scrutinize Syrian refugees and Muslims in this country.
New Orleans also has the National World War II Museum. Why it’s in NOLA, I don’t know. But apparently the boats that landed troops at Normandy were designed in New Orleans. That’s about all I learned from the museum; the same information about the U.S. experience of World War II has been spouted out again and again as part of our national mythology. What was different for me was the experience: of being in a country at war, at having to make hard choices like enlisting or rationing or going to war in the first place. I watched a 4D movie about the whole thing narrated by Tom Hanks (yeah), which ended with this.
This film is dedicated to all those who made sacrifices to preserve liberty.
The film felt oddly familiar. During another week, it might feel like experiencing WWII was mere nostalgia. Yet here we are, facing enemies overseas we’re not 100% committed to fighting. Sort of at war, sort of not. This is not necessarily to say we should just pick a side–but already worrying “dark forces,” as T-Hanks puts it, are making themselves known. Already we are talking about outright rejecting Syrian refugees and already we are talking about labeling and rounding up Muslims in America.
It sounds, of course, like rejecting Jewish refugees of Nazi persecution and interning Japanese-Americans in internment camps. We should think about what we’re trying to preserve. Simply our lives? The Western way of life? What about our values? Union. Liberty. Freedom of religion. Tolerance. Frequently WWII gets boiled down to good vs. evil, light vs. dark, but I think we forget that some of the same dark forces at work in Nazi Germany took hold in our own country. Fear and hatred of the other, whether they be Jew, Japanese, or black.
We’re trying to preserve a lot of things: our safety, our decaying cities, our livelihood, our political system, our “greatness,” if you’re wearing the Donald Trump hat. Let’s not forget what makes all these things work in the first place.