If only tragedies in America would trigger greater compassion for the anguish of those in other nations. If only American pain would bring a deeper understanding of the pain felt by others in the world.
Sometimes it does.
It did with Cindy Sheehan who transformed her anguish over the loss of her son Casey into profound empathy for Iraqi mothers who'd lost their own sons. It did with Fernando Suarez del Solar, whose torment over the death in Iraq of his son Jesus, inspired Fernando to go to Iraq on a humanitarian mission.
But because American exceptionalism, first coined by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831, deludes Americans into believing American lives have greater value than the lives of those in other lands, this great transference of compassion doesn't happen very often. For exceptionalist Americans who believe the only suffering worth caring for is American suffering, the daily, even hourly anguish of vulnerable third world people is accepted blanketly by Americans as those people's predestined fate in the world.
All those humanitarian proverbs Americans learned as children: "there but for the grace of god go I" and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" hold little meaning for Americans who ascribe to exceptionalist ideology and follow leaders who launch wars that murder hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children.
To the three exceptionalist branches of American government and its exceptionalist citizens, the rest of the world's people are expendable. There is little difference between fundamentalist Islamist Bin Laden and fundamentalist exceptionalist Bush. Both accept the notion that killing one's enemy is the means to a necessary end. Both believe the notion that the world must be recreated in the image they divine.
In puerile sandbox language, it doesn't matter 'who started it.' What matters is that both ideologues do the very same thing. They gloat equally over the suffering of the other. Those who danced when the World Trade Center fell are no more perverse than those who chomped popcorn to the televised horror of "Shock and Awe."
It is astounding that servile TV pundits, whose job it is to levy conjecture that is usually wrong, call Barack Obama naive for introducing the same compassionate paradigm into politics that the better raised of us were taught as children. Problems are solved through discourse. It's good to make your enemy your friend. Work hard toward understanding. Might isn't right. Bullies are bad. Show compassion. Try to see it from the other guy's perspective. Play fair. Treat others as your equals.
For television pundits, who feed off divisiveness and recoil at originality, novel compassion is weakness. For Hillary Clinton, any novel form of politics is naivete. When Obama takes nuclear holocaust off the table, Clinton slams it back on. Is it any wonder there's a nuclear proliferation movement throughout the world? Why shouldn't there be when the United States proclaims it as essential muscle?
Clinton should be ashamed of her cavalier threat of nuclear annihilation. What leadership trait does this show? That supporting nuclear genocide is Presidential? Hasn't she studied Hiroshima and Nagasaki? It is obvious, if not to American exceptionalists, but to the rest of the global community, that an uneducated genocidal American president is much more dangerous to America and the world than a candidate like Obama who seeks diplomacy wherever possible and recognizes nuclear holocaust as a cataclysmic assault on humanity. Obama calls Clinton's actions politics as usual. They're much more virulent than that. Clinton's strong arm rhetoric is more rank heartlessness and bullying than politics as usual. Obama's Bush-light contrast of Clinton is genteel. Bush-like is more realistic.
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And when it comes to naivete, compare Obama's willingness to meet with world leaders to Hillary's hypothesis yesterday at Yearly Kos that America is safer than before September 11th because we now remove our shoes before flying. Indeed, who is truly more naive? Diplomat Mr. Obama or safety-assessor, Mrs. Clinton?
What is troubling from the whole Clinton/Obama dust-up is how Obama immediately responded with his "toughness," stating he would attack within our ally Pakistan's borders without first consulting President Pervez Musharraf. With that statement, Obama's international diplomacy flew right out the window. Clinton not only forced Obama into a corner, but she forced him to morph from civility into a Bush-style bully.
Not good, Barack!!
The day after Clinton and Obama had their diplomacy confrontation, their representatives appeared on MSNBC's Harball with Chris Matthews. Somewhat rumpled David Axelrod appeared on behalf of Obama, and somewhat neat Howard Wolfson appeared for Mrs. Clinton. Watching Axelrod and Wolfson square off resembled more a Democrat v. Republican confrontation than two Democrats going at it. Axelrod was the more genteel. Wolfson was a frightening clone of the Karl Rove school of spin and hatchetry.
If it's possible to judge a person by the company they keep, Howard Wolfson demonstrates just how Republican the Clinton camp is. He's a master manipulator who could easily captain a swift-boat. It's obvious that if Hillary Clinton is the Democrat's nominee, her Republican style campaign will battle the opposition party to the death. It's also obvious that Hillary will be a Republican-Democrat if elected. (Hardball transcript & Partial video clip)
Of the three Democratic frontrunners, only John Edwards refuses to pander to his opponents. He stays on message and doesn't falter. His policies are clearly defined and evolve from conviction rather than political expediency. His platform isn't prey for political bullying and his compassion is more palpable than his top-tier Democratic challengers and every Republican except Ron Paul. Edwards' outrage over American healthcare was visceral and credible during the CNN-YouTube debate. Regardless of how much Republicans attempt to distort Edwards' career as a successful courtroom attorney, he IS the only candidate who has opposed powerful insurance companies and corporations and WON! Edwards' average-American clients, the few in the nation to ever prevail over corporate America, were fortunate to have Edwards advocate on their behalf.
This week as I watched American journalists from across the nation flock to Minneapolis to cover the story of the tragic collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge, I thought, as perhaps many in America did, about the daily suffering of those less fortunate in countries around the world. About those who suffer worse tragedies than this on a daily basis for reasons more pernicious than inattention to structural decay. It is shameful and irresponsible to let a highly trafficked bridge become so weakened that it causes the deaths of 5, injures 111, and leaves 8 people missing. Nonetheless, there is still consolation that these deaths didn't result from deliberate military targeting.
As I watched the Minneapolis catastrophe, I remembered Lebanon in July 2006, whose bridges were purposely destroyed by Israel to prevent members of Hesbollah from POSSIBLY crossing them. There was little concern by the Israel government of the damage to the infrastructure of Lebanon and the unnecessary deaths it was causing.
According to Amnesty International, "During more than four weeks of ground and aerial bombardment of Lebanon by the Israeli armed forces, the country’s infrastructure suffered destruction on a catastrophic scale. Israeli forces pounded buildings into the ground, reducing entire neighborhoods to rubble and turning villages and towns into ghost towns, as their inhabitants fled the bombardments. Main roads, bridges and petrol stations were blown to bits. Entire families were killed in air strikes on their homes or in their vehicles while fleeing the aerial assaults on their villages. Scores lay buried beneath the rubble of their houses for weeks, as the Red Cross and other rescue workers were prevented from accessing the areas by continuing Israeli strikes. The hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who fled the bombardment now face the danger of unexploded munitions as they head home."
Most days on American news, there is a momentary glimpse of Iraqis in torment. Momentary for we viewers, but a lifetime for those in despair. Agonized women in hijabs and grief-stricken men bang their heads and chests or shake their fists in the air asking their god why their loved ones were killed. All too often the loved one is a child. On American television the carnage is barely seen. Broadcasters announce the numbers of dead, but we rarely see them. We do see the mourners. Their agony is excrutiating. Fifty dead. Sometimes thirty, or eighty, or twenty. Everyday. Anywhere. Anytime. Regardless of the naysayers and supporters of this war, these killings, these retaliations, these destroyed homes, these devastated lives are OUR doing. No, we didn't plant the bombs in the cars. Or the IEDs on the roads. But we planted the incentive. We planted the hate. And that was enough.
Those fists in the air of the Iraqi forlorn are not only asking why their loved ones were murdered. They're imploring their god to punish Americans for their pain. Death to America! Death to Americans! Thank you Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Franks, Myers, Pace, Perle, Wolfewitz, Feith, Rice, Powell, Tenet, Kristol and every high ranking military and neocon conspirator for the pain and terror you have caused.
Despite those who pontificate about the horror of Iraqi life under Saddam, every Iraqi casualty of war who was more than four years old had survived Saddam Hussein. They had livable homes with electricity and running water. Yes, they had a horrific dictator, but they could also walk to the store. Children played soccer in the streets and weren't murdered by the dozens during or after their games. Men and women didn't volunteer for suicide missions and children weren't outfitted with detonating bombs. The only vindictiveness in Iraq was in the regime of Saddam Hussein. Now the vindictiveness is in the hearts of the people - toward US! Thank you again, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al.
On Wednesday, August 1st, a great tragedy befell the city of Minneapolis. A bridge collapsed that killed 5 innocent people. The American media is consumed by the event because so few such tragedies occur here. When they do, they're nearly always accidental. In the aftermath of the collapse, America's grief is obvious, as is its fear, pushed by the media again and again. CNN Drama Queen Wolf Blitzer asks if Americans will suffer from the 'very real phobia' of crossing a bridge after this tragedy has occurred. When will CNN have the decency to terminate Blitzer's contract?
It's time to take heed America and sympathize with the suffering of the world. Use the tragedies at home to forge an understanding of the magnitude of the suffering of others. End exceptionalist ideology. Replace it with compassion. Not the traditional monetary compassion that fills the coffers of the Red Cross. But the energetic compassion that fills you so deeply that you'll take action to end the Iraq war and bring to justice the criminals who began it.
And damn! Elect a REAL compassionate President and legislature in 2008. Not those who pose as compassionate, or the rogues who threaten annihilation. Elect a TRULY compassionate President in 2008 who will bring healing to this nation and to our world.
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