COLUMN: A missing peace: The collision of the Middle East and the Midwest

By Brian Pierce

As I write these words, I am in a car on my way to a weeklong fishing vacation in the upper peninsula that my family has tried (not always successfully) to take every year. By the time you read this, I will most likely be relaxing on a boat that is lazily wandering across a lake. I’m probably holding a fishing pole and watching my bobber slip gently above and beneath the surface as it gets lost in the specks of sunlight glimmering on the water. It’s the type of image that inspires poets, and if I were one of them I would describe the beauty of the natural landscape I swiftly and eagerly approach.

We have driven past cornfields and farmhouses and fenced-in grazing lands for ill-fated cows and all the other everyday landmarks that represent the Midwestern lifestyle.

We have also driven past at least a dozen gas stations, and the radio is tuned to WBBM news, which just a few minutes ago updated the escalating conflict between Israel and Lebanon and now reports on the concerns that the violence will spread across borders to Syria and Iran. It is a vision reminiscent of the beginnings of World War I, only instead of an assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand lighting the powder keg, it is two kidnapped and eight murdered Israeli soldiers.

The contrast between where I am and where they are is inescapable. My parents, at my urging, put in a CD, the soundtrack to the new film “A Prairie Home Companion,” and now the car isn’t filled with news of an unending cycle of violence but with pleasant Minnesotan folk music.

It helps just a little bit for just a little while. But when we stop for lunch I can’t avoid the newspaper stands in the front of the restaurant screaming headlines of impending war. The chaotic Middle East has yet again wormed its way into the calm Midwest.

We eat, and then it’s back on the road. Four more hours left. All I want is serenity, and almost all I see is serene, but there is this itching knowledge that all is not serene out there, and like a mosquito bite, every time I scratch it, it just gets worse.

What to do about Israel? What to do especially with thousands of American troops stationed in the heart of the Middle East? What to do about the threat of destabilization to the Lebanese government, one of the only democratic states in the Middle East? What to do about Syrian and Iranian support for Hezbollah?

I’m a relatively smart guy, but I don’t know, and all the people out there smarter than me don’t seem to know either. How can a problem so weighty with consequence be so unsolvable even among our greatest minds?

I don’t know that either, but until somebody figures something out, I’ll just have to learn to stop scratching the bite. Meanwhile, the soybean field we are passing looks especially green, the people driving in the cars around us look especially friendly, and the week of vacation before me looks especially welcoming.