Remembering Hiroshima

(Disclaimer: this post solely represents the opinion of the author.)

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, the climax of the gruesome struggle in the Pacific between the US and Japan. Approximately 90,000 people were killed immediately, and another 50,000 died within two years. Added to that was the toll paid by the survivors, and their descendents: radiation sickness, cancer, leukemia, mutation, genetic damage, and birth defects decades later add an incalculable amount of human suffering to the toll. Three days later, this Boschian tragedy was re-enacted, at Nagasaki.

It’s almost cliche, now, to dutifully go through the debate: the Japanese started the war, Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Manila, execution of prisoners, refused to surrender. The Bomb not only saved a million(?) Americans, but actually saved Japanese lives as well, by obviating the need for an invasion of Japan.

And so forth. For every one, there is a riposte, every charge, a justification. These justifications-and that’s what they are-are necessary, because they help obscure what the nuclear attack on Hiroshima was:

A massacre. A slaughter of the innocents. I don’t know what else you can call hitting an undefended city, containing few if any targets of military value, with a nuclear weapon.

You can call it justifiable if you want-I’ve given you the basic outline of the usual main points. Many do. But remember what you are doing: you are justifying the massacre of civilians, on a previously-unimagined scale. If massacres are justifiable, then where does it stop? It doesn’t, until it reaches its logical conclusion: justifiable genocide, as promoted in the Times of Israel last year.

Hitler and Stalin both thought massacres were justifiable, as seen in places like Babi Yar, Katyn Forest, the gulag archipelago, and the German concentration and extermination camp system. “Bomber” Harris was a big fan, as seen at Cologne, Hamburg, Dresden, and a hundred other incinerated cities. So was Curtis LeMay, whose firebombing campaign against Japan-hitting a major Japanese city every other day-made Harris look like a bush-leaguer. And of course, the Japanese officers who ordered the rape of Nanking, created IJA Unit 731, and killed hundreds of thousands in China, Korea, the Philippines, and Okinawa thought they were justified too. And Truman, who promised Japan “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on the Earth”, went to his grave justifying his decision.

Nobody escapes the truth. Either these acts are universally wrong, or they are not. And if the massacre on a vast scale is justified, then why not genocide? After a while, they start to become indistinguishable from one another. If it is morally acceptable to nuke a city, then what is forbidden? And why? Is there still something worse, where we can draw a line and say “We won’t do that”?

So, amidst the jingoistic chest-pounding and nationalistic roars on one side, and the solemn memorial of the dead divorced from the acts of the leadership who brought this horror upon them on the other, remember Hiroshima, sacrificed on the altar of the justifiable massacre as an offering to the gods of vengeance. A vast, boiling, multi-colored monument to the failure of human beings to rise above their base, brutal, bloodthirsty programming. Remember the dead, the hibakusha, and the downwinders. And remember, even after all this time-it could still be you, your kids, your family.

We are all downwinders now.

Overcoming Through Forgiveness?

We shall overcome.
We shall overcome.
We shall overcome some day.

 

I always loved that song as a child. I believed it, too. My family is what my son calls a “patchwork quilt”…a little of everything. Growing up, I surrounded myself with all kinds of people, because people are people to me. We all bleed red, right? The idea people were people informed my entire young life. Aging came with knowledge and awareness that my child’s brain could not process. I’ve learned, through experience, that color blindness is a slogan. It’s also a weakness.

The recent events in a South Carolina church are possibly a result of that weakness.

For those unfamiliar with me, I am a fellow traveler through life who happened to be born with ovaries and not quite white skin. By not quite white, I mean dark -VERY dark- skin. I am a black woman. Yes, black! No hyphenated American here. Move along. Those travelling alongside me are as diverse and colorful as a rainbow. There is one who holds my hand, nudges me forward, and even carries me some days. He is a wonderful man who happened to be born with not quite dark skin. Not quite meaning as white as a cloud, but he’s MY cloud, and I love the caring person that he is underneath the not quite dark skin. With him, I share four of Heaven’s sweetest angels. Speaking of Heaven and angels, yes, I believe in a High Power.

And that brings me to my question. Every headline I’ve read lately has zeroed in on the fact that the families of the victims have forgiven the terrorist who killed their loved ones. Yes, I said terrorist! If you don’t recognize racism as an ideology rife with terroristic tendencies and methods, read a book. But back to my question. Is immediate forgiveness the answer?

On one hand, I applaud -admire even- these families. They have experienced a tragedy the likes of which I can not fathom. Forgiving the terrorist may be a crucial part of their grieving process, and I pray comfort and peace over them, however that’s accomplished. As a fellow believer, I know that love, compassion, and forgiveness are expected. Likewise, I know that truth and justice are required in any truly free and equal society.

On the other hand, I wonder if it is healthy for us, as a nation, to focus on the forgiveness of a killer without much care for the conditions that lead to such forgiveness-needing acts?

I don’t think it is. As it is, in order to be heard, black Americans must react in a certain (submissive?) way to events involving race. We must make the disclaimer that we know all white people aren’t racist. We must exude grace through our pain. We must speak softly. We must condemn ‘black on black’ crime in Chicago and openly plea for less fatherless homes. We must criticize Al Sharpton. We must march, sing, and quote Dr. Martin Luther King. We must do any and everything except…

BE ANGRY. Even after this most horrible and OBVIOUS racially motivated hate crime, we must not show anger. We should forgive immediately? A hate-filled terrorist slaughtered people who welcomed him with open arms, literally responding to an olive branch with a gun, and shows no remorse should be immediately forgiven? He asked not for forgiveness, but for a living witness to what he hoped would be the beginning of a race war…and this is the conversation we’re having? This is after the conversation about motivation, because saying “I’m here to shoot black people” has SO many meanings.

My faith is strong, but I’m not at Forgiveness Avenue yet. I am angry. I am sorrowful. I am angry. I am filled with worry over the state of the nation my children have to live in. I am weary of our cowardice in regards to repairing race relations. Did I mention how mad I am? I wanted to look around and see that others were as disgusted as I was. That everyone was as disgusted as I was.

I’m comforted that I saw some of that. Thank God for good people! I saw other things, too. I saw that far too many of us would rather keep sweeping shit into a corner and spraying Febreeze than to go on and deal with the busted sewage pipe. I saw that far too many of us still don’t recognize the power of language (thug vs mentally ill) and symbols (heritage vs symbol of oppression). Thank you, South Carolina for recognizing that some divisions are bigger than a flag. I saw that in 2015, far too many of my fellow Americans ignore the reality hundreds of years worth of bigotry created, and expect me to forgive in order to overcome.

Someday.

 

 

We are here.

So Ferguson happened.

The pictures say a lot, don’t they? What they say depends on who’s doing the looking. To me, it says dangerous times are ahead.

If you recall, I wrote about this very thing many months ago. In that piece, the militarization of America’s police departments was discussed. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that Ferguson has been a forward moving train..gathering steam..barrelling toward us at a speed sure to cause massive damage when it finally made impact. Armored vehicles and military grade weapons are not new. SWAT teams are not new. Abuse of authority is not new. So, I won’t go into all that again. This begs the question: Are we truly surprised? Or are we simply expert reactionary Facebook/Twitter/Instagram protesters?

If, indeed, you are truly surprised..or if you really don’t understand why minorities, all across the nation, are angry..or if you find it impossible to fathom the type of desperation, frustration, and hopelessness that causes you to destroy your own communities…

“Hence I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”

“I was going through the hardest thing, also the greatest thing, for any human being to do; to accept that which is already within you, and around you.” –Malcolm X

We are here.

Remember when I said it depended on who was doing the looking? Yeah, well, African-Americans have always been here. This type of drama plays out on the stages of our communities Every. Single. Day.

America has done this. America – with her high handedness, her conceit, her total lack of will to right her wrongs – has done this. America is masterful at “breaking” a subset of people, at burdening them until they collapse to their knees, then punishing them for not standing up straight. (Bootstraps, anyone?) Systemic racism is like kudzu in the foundation of this nation. It has sprung up around -and intertwined itself with- every aspect of life. So much so, that far too many can’t recognize what a privilege it is to not be black in America. America wants to keep us in check with The Dream. (That they began waking us up from before we got too deeply involved in it.)

Americans have allowed it. (And by Americans, I mean ALL of us. Hang on, black folk, I’ll get to you in a minute.) There has been silence where there should have been shouting. Heads have been turned when we should have faced issues head on. Apathy has replaced action. The face we show to the world has got to be flawless, but our inner workings are as ugly as homemade sin. That ugliness fuels riots and rebellion. Unfortunately, when a people is left without power, they react in ways those without such experiences can not possibly relate to.

But, here is the thing…you don’t need to relate. You need to acknowledge. So, you’ve heard of Michael Brown. And Trayvon Martin. You posted about how sad it was for their families. You posted about the senseless waste of life. You may have even found a local march in an attempt to show your support. And then, you moved on with your life. Life does go on, right?

Not for Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Russell, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Alonzo Ashley, Wendell Allen, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, Manuel Loggins, Ezell Ford, Kimani Gray, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Steven Washington, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Travares McGill, John Crawford III, or Eric Garner. To name a few.

The constitution was meaningless for these young men and thousands of others like them. But, guess what? That means that the constitution is meaningless for you, too. Today, your kids are pretty safe from lying in a pool of their own blood for hours in the middle of the street. What of tomorrow? Don’t think for a moment it can’t happen. It has already happened. For years, disgruntled blacks complaining of police brutality, harassment, and use of excessive force were ignored. Remember? We had it coming. We deserved it. We were whiners. While you were giving the “birds and bees” talk to your kids, we were giving the “statistics show that you will probably have an encounter with police, so this is how to avoid being shot” speech. Then one day, a funny thing happened. Your neighborhood cops became overzealous. They demanded respect without being bothered to return it. They began bursting into your homes, with or without warrants. Just like that, our problem became your problem. Welcome. You are here. What are you going to do about it? Point guns at officers of the law? You just might get away with it, but black people….

“America’s greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.”
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”
― Malcolm X

….know they would be shot down. Immediately. So what do we do? March and sing? Riot and loot?

No.  Plan our lives!  We must give up on the notion that America cares. Still waiting for forty acres and a mule? Ha! Hell, we can’t even eat skittles or jaywalk! The first step is to know your worth. Self hatred, doubt, and lack of pride are the greatest enemies we face. Stop allowing this country to dictate your value. We must be present. Present in our homes and in the lives of our children. Present in our communities and programs that lift one another up. Present in our classrooms where we learn how to play the game.  Present in our children’s classrooms to ensure they are well prepared to face the world. And, like my Grandma always said, “America ain’t giving away nothing. Money talks, bullshit walks.”  Therefore, we must purchase our equality with the only currency power accepts – ballots and dollar bills. These are our weapons; we must wield them well. The logo on your foot, the name on your rear, nor the initials on your purse are more important than the number on your bank balance. Finally, speaking of walking, high step it to the voting booth. You can’t expect to be heard when you don’t speak!

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” —
Malcolm X

So, yes, we are here. But we don’t have to remain here. Stand for something.

 

Further Reading

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/07/26/wealth-gaps-rise-to-record-highs-between-whites-blacks-hispanics/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/police-killings-data/14060357/

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2014/0815/If-They-Gunned-Me-Down-on-Tumblr-Pressing-parents-to-take-a-second-look

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/michael-brown-shooting-us-cannot-lecture-others-on-human-rights-amnesty-says-9677800.html

 

The Covert Action Virus

Twenty or so years ago, I had a conversation with a soil scientist of my acquaintance, who had recently returned from an extended trip through Central America. He had been teaching alternative farming techniques to peasant farmers being squeezed into less and less available land, as part of a private aid group. It sounded to me like an ideal gig for the Peace Corps, so I was surprised when he answered: “Uh-uh. No way. If you’re in Central America with the Peace Corps, everyone just assumes you’re CIA. Nobody will talk to you, and you can’t get anything done.”
I was taken aback, given that, as the Peace Corps itself says:

Persons who have been employed by an intelligence agency, or otherwise have been associated with intelligence activities, are ineligible to serve as volunteers. This exclusionary policy is one aspect of the broader, long-standing policy of maintaining an absolute separation between Peace Corps and intelligence activities conducted by the U.S. government. This absolute separation is necessary to protect volunteers’ safety and to maintain the trust and confidence of the people in the countries in which volunteers serve.

The inverse, however, is also true. Because of this exclusionary policy, the Peace Corps would in fact make an excellent cover for an agent. This goes to the very nature of the deception that is the core of what intelligence agents do: it does not matter what lie is believed, as long as a lie is believed. As long as the target believes something that is not true, he/she can be manipulated. Which means that everything is a potential cover story, a legend, and a potential target for infiltration and exploitation. Every bureau, every commercial outlet, every information source is a potential target. Every cell of the body politic is susceptible to this, either proactively or by being compromised; a virus of deceit, secrecy, and covert action.

The problems with this are obvious, and became apparent to me again this morning, when I opened Firedoglake and saw USAID Fake HIV Center in Cuba Undermines Global Health Efforts. I followed the links; the gist, as reported by the AP, is that “Over at least two years, the U.S. Agency for International Development — best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid — sent nearly a dozen neophytes from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru to gin up opposition in Cuba.” These untrained agents, supplied with encrypted flash drives, and codes for communications, “posed as tourists, visited college campuses, and used…[a]n HIV-prevention workshop one called “the perfect excuse” to recruit political activists.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the operation was set up by the same contractor that dreamed up the failed “Cuban Twitter” project.

This program is being defended by the Obama Administration: according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, the program “enabled support for Cuban civil society, while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desires Cubans express for information and training about HIV prevention.” Note the moment of honesty: the secondary benefit of the HIV awareness program was HIV awareness. The first was covert action.

This type of covert action is not rare, as Peter at FDL goes on to elaborate; nor is it just medical aid being used as cover. The fake NGO that was used to decapitate a FARC unit in Columbia is missing, but he includes the fake hepatitis vaccine program in Pakistan that helped identify Usama bin Laden-since then, the Pakistani Taliban has outlawed polio vaccination and killed 60 vaccination workers, allowing polio to make a robust comeback. Another one Peter could have pointed to was the role of the NED-the National Endowment for Democracy-in Ukraine, where it has spent tens of millions of dollars on a wide variety of programs. As  One of the founders of the NED-“whose purpose is to support foreign organizations sympathetic to US foreign policy goals” explained it in 1991“A lot of what we do was done 25 years ago covertly by the CIA.” And so it is: whether it be Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Albania, Iran, Cuba, Mongolia, or Venezuela, the NED is there. No wonder Putin was pissed about US operations in Ukraine. Every dollar spent there was intended to lessen Russian influence. Every single aspect of the “civil society” NED is supporting there can be considered a covert operation targeted on Russian interests.

And that’s the real issue-the meta-issue. The effect of using everything as a cover for covert operations is the certain destruction of the ability of people to have faith in institutions that, in a democracy, require faith to operate (rampant conspiracy theory-the guaranteed response to pervasive secrecy-has the same effect). You can have democracy-or you can have deceit and covert action. You can have citizen participation-or you can have counterintelligence programs designed to “expose disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize…” You can have journalism-or you can have Operation MOCKINGBIRD, in which the CIA compromised dozens of journalists and fed them CIA propaganda. You can have community policing-or you can have Phoenix Program-style counterinsurgency as law enforcement, in which pervasive surveillance, secret and unconstitutional police methods, and Special Operations teams combine to “neutralize threats.” Radley Balko reports an average of fifty thousand SWAT raids annually in the US…we have come a hell of a long way from “to serve and protect.”

And that’s the point-when everything is a covert action bureau, or cover, that is all it is. It cannot be an institution that operates by deceit and covert violence, AND be a democratically-controlled institution responsive to citizens’ needs. You can have democracy, and freedom, and all the messy processes that democratic institutions require to operate; or you can have the expediency, secrecy, deception, and violence of government-by-secret-police-agency. When your service providers collect and sell your information; when your cell phone is tracked by retailers in the mall; when your movements are tracked via car tracking, facial recognition programs, and ubiquitous cameras; and when your police subvert oversight by deceiving responsible authority, your institutions have become spy agencies, whose tools are secrecy and deception: anathema to self-government in a free society. A paradigm of covert action, or a representative democracy. You cannot have both.

You cannot have both, and there will be no progress until this question is answered, definitively. Subverting change in defense of the status quo, after all, is what intelligence agencies do. Our government is infected with a virus, that has seemingly moved into every cell; healing America will require, first, a robust immune response from a citizenry that will not be able to suspend the necessary weight of disbelief much longer, and second, an intense vaccination course to keep the patient from  relapsing.

 

The Pagan History of Christmas

Everyone loves Christmas. I mean, really we do. As a society and as individuals we love it, despite the stress, irritation, and weight gain it brings. But what do we know about its origins? Sure, we’re told that it’s the celebration of the birth of Christ, but I know I always wondered what in the hell decorating a tree has to do with Jesus being born? Short answer: absolutely nothing. But there’s more than that, and I’m here to tell you all about it.

Let’s start from the word Christmas, as this is one of the few things about this day that actually does have to do with Christianity. The word ‘Christmas’ is combination of Christ’s mass. It comes from Middle and Old English where it was Christemasse and Cristes mæsse. The latter is a phrase dated back to the 11th century. Now, that brings me to the vile word of Xmas. The current church has seen this word as an attack on Christmas. If they’d do their homework, they see that its not so. In ancient Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter X (Chi in Greek) was the first letter of the word Christ. Also, in Rome, the same letter was used as an abbreviation of Christ. So therefore, Xmas is not an attack against any religion, deity, or holiday, but merely ancient shorthand.

Now, lets move on to the date, December 25th. According to the Bible, Jesus was born in Bethlehem when his parents went there to be counted for census and tax purposes, I believe. It also says the shepherds were watching their herds that night. No where does it make any mention of the date. December is the cold and rainy season in the area that was known as Judaea. Earlier in the bible, it is noted in both Solomon and Ezra that the shepherds were not allowed to take the flocks out at night during winter months, so as to protect the livestock. Also, travel on the back of a mule would have been quite difficult for anyone, pregnant or not, during the harsh winter months.  There is a lot of astrological evidence that is pointed out, but an exact month has not been pinpointed. In researching this, the three months most believed months are April, May, or September. But with the current evidence, it may not be possible to ever truly know the month.

The Roman holiday of Saturnalia shares a lot of aspects with Christmas. Saturnalia was not celebrated on the 25th, but the 17th, and lasted until the 25th, with the feast of Sol Invictus. It was an insanely popular holiday that was an all around good time. The holiday closed schools and people made and exchanged gifts. There were also large feasts in Roman homes, in which everyone was equal. Slaves took part in the feasts, were allowed to gamble, and were exempt from any punishment. In an effort to not be persecuted by the Romans, early Christians did participate in some of the common traditions, such as lighting candles and hanging holly and mistletoe. A celebration of the Christ’s birth was first called by Telesphorous between 125 and 136 AD. In 320, the Pope, Julius I mandated that December 25th was Jesus’s birthday. Finally in 325, Constantine made Christmas an ‘immovable’ feast, along with Easter, and Sunday as the Sabbath.

Probably the most Pagan of all of Christmas traditions (oddly enough, the most popular too) is the Christmas tree. Evergreens were revered because of their ability to survive the winter months. Germans and Scandinavians of the Middle Ages used trees outside their front doors to ward off evil spirits. Some historians date the tradition of lighting a tree to none other than Martin Luther. The story goes that he was walking through the woods and was amazed by the way the light hit the snow on the trees and cut a tree down. He brought it home where his family and he decorated it with candles and tinsel. Some trace it to Saint Boniface (patron saint of Germany), saying that he interrupted a pagan sacrifice and crushed the oak tree they were using with his punch and an evergreen sprang up through the remains of the oak.

The controversy surrounding the tree goes both ways. There was a period, specifically during Cromwell’s rule in England, and in the early colonial days of the US, when all usual Christmas celebrations were banned, for being “too pagan”.  To some very fundamentalist Christian sects, the tree is forbidden by Bible and should not be used or celebrated at all. Some of these sects may not celebrate Christmas at all. Cities that have public trees have seen challenges because some secular groups see it as a symbol of Christianity, and renamed the community tree a holiday tree.

Another favorite part of the holidays is gift giving. There are few joys like finding presents for the ones we care about, and watching them enjoy it. The biblical story is that we give each other gifts because the Three Wise Men brought presents to Jesus, shortly after his birth. While this may be the case, gift giving around this time of year pre-dates the birth of Jesus. One of the main tenets of the Roman festival of Saturnalia was exchanging of gifts. Much like today, children were given toys, and other gifts were given depending on the social status of the parties involved. Some gifts would be as simple as pottery or combs, or others as elaborate as slaves, jewelry, or perfume. The Romans would even attach small poems and verses, like a version of early greeting cards.

In conclusion, what Christmas was then, and what Christmas is now, aren’t much different. People getting together, eating copious amounts of food, exchanging presents, and all-around merry-making. Nowadays our holidays are a bit more commercial and the decorations start after Independence Day, but it’s all for the sake of traditions. Traditions are one of the few things that every civilization in recorded history have in common. So whether you believe yours are from the Romans or the Bible, hold them close, and hold them dear. They are one of the most important things we have.

Who Wrote This?

Many of you may not know this, but one of my sons has Asperger’s Syndrome.  After many years of trying to force public schools to meet his needs, my husband and I decided to school him from home.  Public schools, and how they educate pupils with special needs, deserves a post of its own.  Wait for it, it is coming.  But that is not what I want to discuss today.

Virginia utilizes a “Virginia Studies” course for fourth grade students.  The curriculum mandates instruction and retention of information about the state’s history, ranging from Jamestown to the Civil War.  Naturally, there is no way to not include the plight of the Native peoples and Africans.  My child noticed right away how the language used, in an official textbook, didn’t describe events, as they truly happened.

(Him)  Wow!  This book is really not accurate, Mom. 

(Me)  Well, no, son.  It does not tell the whole story.

He saw right through the book’s attempt to force the Natives into the role of aggressors.

(Him)  How can the English really be called pioneers?  Pioneers settle land that hasn’t been settled before.  This land was settled.  And how come my book calls them savages?  And why weren’t they (the settlers) nicer to the tribes that taught them how to survive?  This book is not good!  Who wrote this thing?

He laughed at how the enslaved Africans were portrayed.

(Him)  Everybody knows that the slaves wouldn’t be laughing and dancing after all the work was done.  Slavery was not fun!  This book is stupid.

He is nine years old.

In all fairness, Aspies tend to have highly focused interests in certain topics.  The Powhatan tribes are one of his “things”.  But what of those children who trust what is written in their textbooks?  What message are we sending when Native peoples are seen as wild things who just needed to be tamed?  And the atrocity that is slavery is made out to be just a job, with singing and dancing at night?

Then, I was reminded of the fight in Texas.

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a block of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.

And this, in Louisiana.

Really?  Dinosaurs and humans?  The KKK a decent organization?  Slave masters and the Great Depression were not so bad.  Really?  Because math is too hard and we have good reason to doubt climate change.  No use fighting the rapture, ..excuse me..,  globalization.

Is it really a surprise that our children are falling through the cracks?

Look.  I get it.  We are Americans.  We want our children to be proud of their country.  We want them to recognize that America is one hell of a great place to live.  We, Americans, feel exceptional.

Recently, we were reminded of the dangers of exceptionalism.  Our newest BFF, Vladimir Putin, had this to say:

It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Many of us are leaping to the defense of our new friend.  But keep in mind, he has also said this:

We will not allow someone to impose their will on us, because we have our own will! It has helped us to conquer! We are a victorious people! It is in our genes, in our genetic code!

This is all to remind you that every country feels it is exceptional.  History and facts are not ours to change, shape, and mold.  Our children deserve to know what happened, as it actually happened.  They deserve to hear many sides of the same story.  What we have been giving them, and seemingly want to continue to give to them, is propaganda.

Adam did not ride the back of Brontosaurus.  Slavery was not a club.  Natives were not savages.  The KKK and the Great Depression were horrible.  There is a separation between church and state.  Climate change is real.

Our children truly are our future.  Pride in our country is all fine and dandy.  I just don’t want to hear my grandchildren asking, about their textbooks, …Who wrote this thing?

Talking about the uncomfortable

A few weekends ago, my partner and I were rearranging some things in our house. This included–to my delight–bringing two bookcases filled with my books out of the study and into a main room.

My partner joked with me as he surveyed the all three bookcases (the third must remain in the study).

(This is a paraphrase.)

“I can just imagine someone coming to our house, browsing your books, and saying ‘You have a lot of books about the Holocaust and Shoah.'”He paused for effect.

“‘Um, especially for someone with blonde hair and blue eyes. Nope, no Nazis here.'”

I laughed a little. I do have blonde hair, blue eyes, etc. It was a joke in my “Philosophy in the Wake of the Holocaust” course that I was the only “Aryan” in the room. I’m used to others joking uncomfortably about this topic. Genocide is a heavy topic (quite the understatement) and makes people uncomfortable.

When people are uncomfortable, they joke. They also will avoid that which causes the discomfort.

But I have always been fascinated not just with the Holocaust and Shoah, but with all genocides. My books on the Armenian genocide (sorry, Turkey, but that WAS a genocide), the Japanese genocide during WWII, Rwanda in 1994, and early 90’s Yugoslavia don’t attract attention. My guess to explain this phenomenon is that many people aren’t aware of the above mentioned genocides, aren’t aware that as I write this and you read this, there are genocides being carried at this very moment.

Let me be clear: I don’t “like” genocide. It is a sick act of sheer cruelty with no possible explanation that would make it somehow permissible. But as someone who prides herself in human rights advocacy, knowledge of the depravity humans are capable of is important to me.

The philosophical implications are important to me. And honoring those who were victims of genocide by not forgetting and trying to learn their stories–that’s of the utmost importance to me.

Not reading about rapes, murders, not talking about these atrocities, and any other act that fits this definition–that doesn’t make them go away.

There is no eraser or magic wand.

If anything, it’s terribly harmful to not discuss these terrible acts throughout history (including now).

Please do me a favor. Read a memoir of a survivor of genocide. Remember the millions of people who have and still are suffering. Talk about it.

With genocide, silence and avoiding the topic because it’s “uncomfortable” is deadly.

“Excavation is Destruction”

372px-Map_Akrotiri_1600_BC-en

Map of the site where I worked and studied in the summer of 2001, more than 3000 years after it was destroyed in one of the most violent volcanic eruptions

During college, I spent three summers studying in Greece.

(Where else would a Classical language and Philosophy major study?)

I was fortunate to have scholarships all three times.

So. . . . to take a break from politics in this blog–I’m not going to explore how austerity in Greece has really hurt this and many other archeology sites–I thought I’d torture share a poem I wrote while working on an archeology dig in Santorini, during the summer of 2001.

Ancient Akrotiri is sometimes postulated as Atlantis, but better known as the Greek equivalent to Pompeii, is on the southern end of the crescent-shaped island, and we (students) would spend our breaks mesmerized by the Aegean, trying to make out Crete in the distance.

During one of the breaks, I sipped water, ate my τυρóπιτα, or tyropita, and scrawled this in my notebook,  quoting the kindly director of the project, who was also our professor:

Lost in Excavation

“Excavation is Destruction” –Archaeologist Cristos Doumas

Sunburned-dust covers animal bones,
golden beads from a necklace,
and shards of brightly colored tinted glass,
shells from a nourishing ocean feast

And the haunting human bones…

We will be nameless,
Unknown to our children.  Defined as
Merely bones and genetic codes,
males and females in
sickness and health.

Who will remember,
who will remind the children—
our children!—
that these human bones
once simultaneously bore
the beauty and  burden of living flesh?

that the remnants of bones
breathed in the heat, the intoxicating perfume of summer,
saw the clear waves of heat roll across the sandy beach
and the first frost of winter
glisten on the olive leaves?
heard the chiming crickets and squealing donkeys?

Who will remember,
who will remind them that these
dry, brittle, marrow-less bones
smelled the refreshing salt tang of the Mediterranean
and savored the first bites of
harvested grapes in autumn…?  and our
feelings—the vicissitudes of life—cannot be fully discovered,
fully appreciated,
through nucleic acids…

Forgotten loves, fears,
melancholia, euphoria—all are
buried and lost,
for the paper
the clay,
on which we attempt
to record these emotions
disintegrates in the harsh climate.

Shall these heights and depths
of previous lives
remain unrevealed,

or will the child,
while gently scrubbing our bones,
removing  the caked soil and grit,
be a little more gentle, considerate—
perhaps even a little more contemplative—
while laying our long life-abandoned bones to dry
in the rays of the same sun

that was once dimmed by flesh…

Not Far Enough

This past weekend, my family made our umpteenth trek through the nation’s capital.

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We picked quite a day for it.  It was nearly 100 degrees.  And the humidity!  Let’s just say it was the type of heat that would make Satan knock on your door to ask for a glass of iced water!

Our plan was simple.  The children would see each and every thing they wanted to see.  If time allowed, I could do the same.  Which was a good thing, since the only thing I hadn’t seen a million times was the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.

We spent many hours walking and talking.  We spoke of the American spirit and discussed inventions that changed the world.  We debated which famous American was best, in his/her respective field.  I had to referee the occasional brotherly skirmish.  In other words, it was your typical garden variety family day-trip.

It never dawned on me that I would learn anything .. from my children.

Let me remind you:  It. Was. Hot. My asthma was trying to take center stage.  I had four (somewhat spoiled and over-indulged) boys in tow.  By the time the kids were satisfied that they had seen all they wanted to see, I was exhausted.  And, sure, trying to ensure the satisfaction of four boys can make me a little cranky.  My overall mood was not great.

The more we walked, the less oxygen I seemed to take in.  I was stopping every ten feet to catch my breath.  I wanted to give up on the journey.  I was urged to give up and “just see it next time”.  But I have lived long enough to know that there may be no next time.  And to be perfectly honest, that stubborn Mommy part of me was determined that if I had been walking through an inferno for 7 hours, I would damn well see that exhibit.  Or pass out trying.

Not understanding, my oldest son remarked: “Mom, I know you want to see this thing, but it’s hot and you can’t breathe.  Maybe we should forget it.  Is it really worth all that?”

[Enter visions of cotton fields, torched houses, protests, jail cells]

To which, I responded: “That is why I must keep going.  Men and women, like King, got sick.  They kept going.  People told them it wasn’t worth it, but they kept going.  Heat wasn’t the only thing beating at them, but.. They. Kept. Going.”

So…we kept going.  I was dizzy, light-headed, and wheezing.  But I kept going.

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Finally!!  We were there!  At that moment, my fatigue vanished.  My initial joy was not in seeing the monument.  It was in pride that I made it without collapsing.  It was all about me.

Once I realized that, I took a step back.  I removed myself from the equation.  I remembered how grateful I am for those –  like Dr. King –  who removed themselves from the equation, daily, so that we all might have a better quality of life.  I read his words on the Inscription Wall, and I felt humbled.  And small and petty.  My small accomplishment of “making it” paled in comparison to the type of endurance he needed.  Every day of his life.

After having splashed my face and arms with water from the waterfall, I turned to the faces of my children.  Observing me.. and my humility.

Initially, I was a little embarrassed.  They, then, did something I will never forget.  They, too, splashed their faces and arms.

At that moment, a lesson was driven home.  Children need to observe humility.  They need to see adults continually fighting for what is right, fighting for a more perfect union.

Sadly, it isn’t  hard for me to imagine Dr. King’s America.

An America of fear, prejudice, and hatred.  An America where equality is privilege.

True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.     MLK 1963

An America of poverty.  An America that excuses bad behavior and ignorance.  An America where workers are treated poorly.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.     MLK 1964

An America at war.

It is not enough to say “We must not wage war.”  It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.  We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.     MLK 1967

I can imagine it, because that is MY America, to a lesser degree.  We, as a society, have become complacent and selfish.  We rationalize this by saying we have come pretty far from King’s America.  Well, I say we haven’t come far enough.  I say there is always work to be done.

Wouldn’t you agree?

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Shared Suffering

Anyone who took the time to read my last post, may be a little surprised at what I say next.

Beneath all of the sadness and hiding behind all of the outrage…was pride.  Yes, you heard me, Pride!

Why?  What on Earth was there to be proud of??

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US!!

Not just the above us, but…

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THIS US!!

The us that stood together –  shoulder to shoulder, our voices mingling – to protest our displeasure.  Displeasure with a culture that hasn’t yet gotten over its biases.  Displeasure at how cases, involving our children, are handled.  Displeasure at how our laws are written.  Displeasure at how our justice system works.

A large number of Americans – all across the nation – came together for a common cause.   No matter our respective “colors”.  How’s that for tasting the rainbow?  You’re proud, too, right?

(Feel the but coming?)

But with that being said, many of us know that we are not headed for the pot of gold.  We know that our (individual) voices are often marginalized, if not silenced.

And as much pride as I have in what we did above, I fear that we won’t use that momentum going forward. 

That is because each of us is guilty.  We are guilty of paying especially rapt attention to the hot-button issues that touch us on a personal level.  And..we are ALL guilty of not paying (as much) attention to the suffering of others.  Sure, we are quick to jump to the defense of someone who has been blatantly wronged and gets enough media coverage (which seems to be up to fate).  But, then what?  We have a tendency to return to our respective corner, lick our wounds, and rest up for the next assault against our rights.

I, as a non-wealthy, cisgendered, black woman, have my own problems.  (You do, too.  Am I right?)  Sometimes it is difficult to step out of my shoes and into someone else’s.  Further, it is extremely easy to focus on what matters to me, to the exclusion of all else. 

I was as guilty as anyone else.  I spoke out against an injustice, here or there.  I volunteered for a campaign or two.  And I was proud of it.  But, I have come to realize that is not enough.  Not by a country mile.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.  – MLK

We must combine our grievances to fight for the common good.  We can not afford to become so encapsulated in our little bubbles, that we forget about the gay couple who asks only the freedom to marry.  We can not focus all of our energy on the plight of the woman when our oceans are becoming more acidic by the day.  It would be a mistake to disregard the plight of the immigrant, in favor of the black struggle.

Let’s be perfectly honest.  Any politician who does not believe that a woman is a fully cognitive being, capable of making her own decisions..probably won’t believe that poor people are not making a concerted effort to remain in poverty.  If any politician is able to look in your face and deny climate change, that politician is equally likely to think ‘drill, baby, drill” has no impact on the environment and that “education mills” have got it all wrong.  Any politician that doesn’t recognize the ingrained cultural biases in society..probably won’t understand why “the gays” are making such a fuss.  A future leader who will snatch your right to vote..will snatch your right to marry.  If he or she wants to pay for prisons and not schools..chances are he or she will not be too worried about the uninsured.  If a politician can’t value the unions..how much does he value the worker?

Consider this…

Those who have no problem stepping all over our rights have a plan.  They have a view of the world that we do not share.  Say what you will about them, they are tenacious.  They are determined and they are fighting with all they have.  They are investing millions and millions of dollars into their efforts.  They are buying the kind of country they want.  And have absolutely no guilt over it.  In fact, when we are hesitant to get with their program, we are labeled as lazy.  Or takers.  Or, sometimes, traitors.

And what are we doing?  We’re waiting..

Well, we can not afford to rest up for the next assault on our rights any longer.  We simply can not.  When we fight for the rights of the poor, the worker, the children –  we are fighting for our rights.  When we battle for the rights of our fellow citizens, we win the battle for ourselves.

As long as justice and injustice exist, human beings must be willing to do battle for the one against the other.

 – John Stuart Mill