Paying Tribute

In her best-selling Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins imagines a world of the future—a dystopian reality in which North American society has been replaced with a world where workers toil for the good of a small elite, threatened with the use of force, and given hope only by the small chance of winning a deadly game.

What makes the world of The Hunger Games so eerie is that we can see remnants of our present-day reality in it—enough remnants that it scares us to think that maybe, just maybe, we are headed down a path towards totalitarianism.

And while The Hunger Games is a work of fiction and of fantasy, we would do well to understand the signs in our current society that make Suzanne Collins’ disturbing imagination all-too-real.

In The Hunger Games, teenagers, called “tributes,” from each of the oppressed districts are forced to fight to the death in a reality television show broadcast throughout the nation.  Their gruesome deaths are entertainment for the elite people in the Capitol, and the entire nation is forced to tune in and watch their children die.

That certainly isn’t reality, is it?

The reality is that our nation exists in what Chris Hedges, author of Death of the Liberal Class, calls a state of “permanent war.”  Hedges writes, “since the end of World War 1, the United States has devoted staggering resources and money to battling real and imagined enemies.  It turned the engines of the state over to a massive war and security apparatus.”   We are kept in a constant state of fear that mutes dissent in the name of patriotism and fuels a war machine that benefits a privileged elite.

Our wars require not only a steady stream of money—taken from our paychecks and pockets and diverted from health care, our social safety net, education, and infrastructure—but also a steady stream of young, able-bodied people willing to die for our country.  All too often, they do.

I am not suggesting that the death of US troops is entertainment for the elite, as is the death of young people is in The Hunger Games. But their death serves to reinforce a status quo that there are people whose interests are served by our nation being at war.  The death of brave young soldiers helps us silence objections to unjust wars being fought in our name, it helps us dismiss Occupy movement as “fringe elements,” and it helps us rationalize police brutality towards non-violent protesters.

Lest we appear unpatriotic, those of us morally offended offended by the deaths of US soldiers stay eerily silent about what is fueling those wars.

We cannot afford to remain silent about the fact that corporations are profiting from this state of permanent war, and those same corporations have wrested control of our political and economic systems.

As we approach our annual celebration of Memorial Day, we will pause to mourn the lives lost in service to our nation.  It is right and good to do this.  Once we are done with our moment of silence, however, we owe it to our soldiers to raise our voices.

We must insist on a society where people matter more than corporations.  Where the lives of young people are not used as disposable input into a system of profit-making and wealth creation.

We must insist on a society where political power is checked and shared—and not allowed to run amok through Super PACs and corporate donations.  Where the wealthy and the poor have equal access and equal voice, where money is not speech, and where corporations are not people.

We must insist on an economy based in love and compassion, rather than fear and greed.  We must insist on an economy based in mutuality rather than coercion.  We must insist on a nation that treats the “least of these” in the human family as if they were the divine in our midst.

We must raise our moral voices loudly, my friends.  We might not find ourselves in the Hunger Games if we do not, but to create the future we want to see we cannot remain silent.

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