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A Shameless Plug (for Civic Engagement)

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Lucky for me, I am going on Jon Stewart tonight to talk about my new book The American Way of War. The Daily Show is a national treasure and, in an age of such cynicism about the media, I think a whole generation of Americans will look back at these past eight years and feel a warm spot in their hearts that Jon Stewart kept us all laughing and thinking during a time of such challenge. I think it's not unlike how my parents' generation remembers Lenny Bruce -- as a voice in the wilderness, and one that understood the power of laughter to keep us all sane.

I, on the other hand, am a bit of a bummer. I spend all my time trying to understand the real mechanics by which the American system lost its way. I think unless you really retrace the steps of the past and figure out where you took a wrong turn, you risk taking more wrong turns in trying to solve the problem.

As I wrote here over the weekend ("Real Change Trickles Up"), we need to be extremely careful as we approach November to commit ourselves as individuals to serious engagement in the rescue of our society -- and that this engagement requires far more than just casting a ballot on election day. I have a mission. And my mission came from talking to thousands of people around the country as I toured with my last film Why We Fight. Everywhere I went, in small towns and big towns, among military audiences and civilian, I faced the same question "What can I do?" My mission is to try to encourage people to keep asking this question and to seek answers to it in their everyday lives. So much of the story of the past eight years is one of good people doing nothing while awful things happened around them.

To give an example, George Bush has for some time suffered a 70% disapproval rating and the defining issue of his presidency (until recently) has been the Iraq War. So in a country of 227 million adults, this 70% rating would suggest a possible 159 million eligible war-protestors. Yet, what we saw instead was that the largest U.S. war protests are lucky to rise above 100,000 (and were shamed by the numbers that marched in other Western democracies). This reflects a disturbing disconnect at work between what people think about our society and how they conduct themselves as members of it. This gap must be closed if we are to have real change.

No matter who enters the White House in November, we as the public will have to overcome our inhibitions and break our habits of disengagement to become the shapers of our own destiny. Otherwise, no matter what the intention of any candidate, our future will be shaped for us by the same forces that have brought us to this juncture of crises.

Though I wrote The American Way of War, I am first and foremost a moviemaker. So to give you a sense of what the book is about, I cut together the trailer below. Notice Chalmers Johnson's great statement in it that the upcoming election "is about the Constitution. If you don't restore it, it doesn't matter who you elect." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Last time I was on The Daily Show, my mom told me I swiveled in my chair too much and that it made me seem nervous. So first of all, I hope not to swivel in my chair. But second, I hope I can get across to people that, though we all must vote on election day, that is only the tiniest beginning of all that we need to do in the coming years to restore this country and the world. It could be an exciting time, if we are ready for the long haul.

Eugene Jarecki's 2006 film "Why We Fight" won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival as well as a Peabody Award. His new book, The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, and a Republic in Peril, has just been released by Simon & Schuster/Free Press. He will be appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart this Monday, October 20.