Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tuesday Topic

This post is a response to Tuesday Topic #2 in which I am trying to argue that we suffer from a dangerous empathy-deficit...

the problem with us aMEricans is that we do not have empathy for the "other." We have been raised to believe that America is and always will be right, that we always have the best intentions for the world, and that we have only altruistic intentions for the rest of the world. What history book covers the CIA coup in Iran in 1953? What history book covers the brutality in which we suppressed the Filipino independence movement right after the Spanish-AMERICAN War? Besides the universities, our students are not being told of the darker side of our history. It's not all to be proud of, but our students would not know that.

Take for example, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How many of us think that it was a glorious show of might makes right and a justified action to save American lives? Do we ever think that there could have been another option? Perhaps we could have bombed an isolated atoll in the Pacific to impress the Japanese. Perhaps if we might have allowed the emperor of Japan to keep his throne as a ceremonial figure such as the monarch of England and had expressed our willingness to make this concession if you may to the Japanese, perhaps the lives snuffed out by the incinerating pillar of death and sorrow might have been spared. As Dong Long points out, the doves would have cast their lots with the most fanatical of hawks if the Americans had insisted on disposing the emperor. Perhaps if we had not spent the whole war dehumanizing the Japanese who appeared as monstrous vampire bats flying over to suck out the vitality of our country, we might see the other side and have empathy for them.

We see this dehumanization of the enemy or the other throughout our history, especially when it comes to war. Who can forget Colonel John Chivington's infamous words when he ordered his men to massacre the Cheyenne and Arapahoe at Sand Creek, "kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice." Who can forget the dehumanization of the Koreans and Vietnamese when we could not distinguish between the "friendlies" and the enemy (which would tragically lead to our troops massacring innocent civilians caught in the crossfire)? Who can forget the countless numbers of victims whose lives were destroyed in our everlasting quest for Manifest Destiny?

This is the tragedy of this war today as it seems like we are doomed to repeat the terrible decisions we have made in the past instead of atoning for our actions. Can anyone tell me the difference between what we are saying about the people of the Middle East to what Chivington said about the innocent women, men, and children his troops were about to massacre? Can anyone point out the difference about how we brutally dealt with the Filipinos who wanted us out of the Philippines just as the Iraqis desperately want us out of Iraq? We are bombarded with stereotypes of the people of the Middle East as vicious terrorists, suicide bombers, radical fanatics, "ragheads," "towelheads," etc. that we cannot see them as humans. This is why you can have ignorant and unfeeling cowards advocating for turning the whole Middle East into a concrete parking lot or whatever the phrase is. We cannot see that the Iraqis might WANT a democracy, but that they don't want it imposed at the point of a gun barrel. We cannot see that the Iraqis do NOT want their oil in the hands of multinational corporations and that they like any other country would want control of their own natural resources. We cannot see that the Iraqis who have lost children, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, etc. are turning against us because we promised them that things would be better than it was under Saddam.

It is pointless to ask us Americans how we would feel if another country invaded our country. Would we be not in arms becoming the freedom fighters we so despise in Iraq right now? You can't ask that question, because the answer will be, "No one has the strength to invade America. No one would dare invade." No, we can only see the Iraqis as an ungrateful childlike-people who much like a lion cub we are raising would someday turn on us, ungrateful and oblivious to the fact that we are "helping" them and "liberating" them. We cannot see that we are the aggressors and occupiers of an occupied country. If we did not condemn the French for establishing a resistance movement against the Nazis, then why do we not extend the Iraqis the same courtesy? Yes, that's right, because they are resisting us. Sympathy for the French Resistance or the Prague Spring rings hollow when we do not extend the sympathy for those whom we have been oppressing.

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The first chapter of Geoff Millard's not-yet-published book is titled "Fuckin' Haji" and discusses how nicknames are used to dehumanize the "other".
Historical antecedent - "gook"

A "worthwhile" enterprise, thus did
The General promote
Invasion, pro-war zeal encrusted
With sentiments to dote:
He earns his living from the war,
It is not patriotic
Or patriotism under care
Force-fed antibiotic.

The fighting man upon the ground
Will seldom favor war,
But desk-bound generals, it´s found
More "realistic" are--
Especially when, good fancy fare
Thereby may fill their plate,
One´s base-camp life so debonair,
Tab picked up by the state.

Careerists run the policies,
So that, although they may
See well what the whole world too sees,
They bite their tongue, and they
Accede to what the emperor
As is in charge that day
Views pertinent, prudential, or
Whatever one may say.

The war not only was immoral
But foolhardy to start,
Yet Generals will have no quarrel,
Whose sweet is mighty tart;
The chill upon that Chardonnay
May suit their palates fine,
For worthwhile things are A-OK,
One´s desk not on the line.
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