01/22/2012 10:22 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2012

Emotional States of the Union

Perhaps sooner than later it will be a given that we consider our emotional states as urgently as we do our economic, military, educational, physical health, and political state of ourselves as a nation. On the eve of the Presidential State of the Union message to be given on Tuesday January 24, 2012, we can pretty well know beforehand that we have a campaign speech coming which will spell out the advances of the present Administration in preparation for the national elections in 2012.

So Iraq, and why? Because its events, casualties for human life and for our yearning for the truth and demanding and getting it, are still with us. While so many of us cringed and hid our outrage at the war because of the fierceness of accusations, and perhaps even guilt about seeming unpatriotic in the wake of September 11th, many of us have put that outrage, along with our human grief to sleep. Yes, there are groups enraged by the recent National Defense Authorization Act passed into law by President Obama on December 12, 2011, few people put the dots together, Iraq to now with the pervading hate and fear of terrorists to the detriment of love of the truth and the safety of democratic principles.

As most of us fling ourselves into life and/or politics on the faster lanes, information flows rapidly while nuances are kept underground. Nuances are unpopular because they cause us to think and worry and ponder about what is really wrong and what we would have to change to have freedom and accountability be part of our key discussions about how we operate. And so we get habituated by the hype, the adrenalin rush of campaigns, of "occupying" even, while on the whole it is too easy to become preoccupied with conforming and striving that we don't dare reflect on what happens in our world and how we feel about it.

On the web site of Common Dreams, there was a piece last Sunday, January 15, by Dennis Bernstein entitled "Silencing Donahue and Anti-War Voices". It included an interview with Phil Donahue, fired by MSNBC in 2003 because he dared to offer up real controversy in the face of our involvement in Iraq. Phil Donahue, as it turns out is the co-producer, with Ellen Shapiro of a necessary documentary called "Body of War" released 2007.

The film follows the story of Tomas Young, a young soldier who enlisted after September 11 in hopes of going to Afghanistan and came home crippled after five days in Iraq, his spinal chord severed leading to many injuries, much pain and severe loss of control over much of his functioning. Tomas is the human being with the human set of stories of which we have been deprived as Iraq discussions have increasingly centered around numbers, economics and strategy. He is compelling, not only because of the sadness of his situation but because of his emotional growth, his increasing passion and competence to not only stand up (this being figurative) but sustain a battle for justice and truth to be heard about the lies behind the war, and the lack of help afforded veterans.

The film has the kind of drama our emotional states need, not that of a slovenly sentimental memoir or portrait, but of the reality that Tomas has lived, and also that we have lived as a nation. In Tuesday's speech we will likely hear congratulatory announcements about our so called exit from Iraq, without ever coming to terms with our entry--a malignancy damaging and breaking much of another nation, which compromised a thirst for truth in our own, among all the other losses.

"Body of War" is a film that insists on history being part of the present. It has intermittent footage of daily events in the life of Tomas and others in the anti-war movement, side by side with the repetitive propaganda about weapons of mass destruction, nuclear hazards, about the near witchcraft attributed to Saddam Hussein. It is unrelenting in making us--if we would--look in our own emotional mirrors and seek to understand where we were, what we did or didn't do and what we can do now to humanize our emotional states and thereby our cognitive choices. It is unrelenting in the resounding noises of votes basically for the war and with the heroism of the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia and some others, the testimony of Byrd being truly inspirational.

We have had no post resolution of apology to our country for the lies told and we have had none to the families of soldiers who died, and none to Tomas and his brothers and sisters who fell into devastating injury. We have had no apology to the people of Iraq or to the global community for actions taken that provoked more violence, but rather we have the war cries against terrorism shifting from abroad to home, and no doubt they will change direction over and over.

We hear and say that without learning from history we are doomed to repeat it, while so many of our kids are bored with history, the subject in school. My take is that they are bored because we give them one version and leave out the empathy piece, empathy with the many sides of a conflict. As such we leave out the fact that until this moment the past is history, the past day or year or five minutes.

What is interesting is the passion of curiosity which can only be allowed if we are not apologists for our own actions or for our own inaction. As we face another election we already are primed for the anti-Washington, and the "I can bring it back to the good old days". That's another hallmark of totalitarianism, the constant repeating of the harking back to the good old days, days imagined to be magnificent -- instead of getting sober about our past and our present so we can prepare for our future.

We are in emotional trouble, also because we haven't digested and integrated our history, even our recent history in Iraq and in Afghanistan. If anything we have become used to numbers, and to faceless stories. We have become used to the congratulatory statements about ending a war, when the human stories continue, and what was done and has been done is still lodged within us.

We need more stable emotional states so that we can want -- before, during and after --information that will help us to the truth when it is available. And we will need more stability to stop thinking of life, war and even politics as only a team sport that requires passions only for team victory rather than for the stamina to go in the direction of truth seeking.

In other words, my recommendation is that emotional states of our beings and our Union, be considered and reconsidered as fundamental.