Sunday, April 26, 2009

The world according to wells: why we are special

Not being The Huffington Post, I usually avoid commentary on current events, but the confluence of two seemingly unrelated news items got me thinking of this country, who we are and why we are special. Let me note, upfront, I do not mean this in any jingoistic sense. I’m more than aware of our faults and missteps.

First the feel good item: our NCIS-like rescue of the freighter captain from pirates.
One crack SEAL team, three perfect shots and our guy is saved.
We pay them not one cent: they pay the ultimate price.
Protecting its citizens on the high seas is, after all, among the oldest and most basic of governmental responsibility.
The Buddhist part of me abhors the violence and loss of life.
The Jewish part of me applauds the Mossad-worthy surgical justice.
The message that reverberates startles the pirate world and beyond: this country will go the distance in defending an individual American life.

Now on to the bad news.
We tortured people.
Parse it as you will
Call it “harsh interrogation.“
But, like porn, we all know torture when we see it.
We are not talking about a few renegades from Abu Grav, here folks.
This was a systematic government policy.
Terrorism is no excuse.

That’s the same twisted thinking that led to destroying a village to “save it” in Vietnam.
This is not the American way.
We know it in our collective gut.
Hence the debate.
And herein lies our uniqueness.
Where else, could such a public conversation take place?
What other country would create, not to mention, publish a “torture memo"?
What government would voluntarily release photos documenting such behavior?

Yes, history records evidence of other reprehensible acts on our part. Slavery, Native American extermination, Japanese internment, medical experiments on unknowing “volunteers” spring to mind...

Yet, as an adolescent studying that history, I can still recall how lucky I felt at being born an American—especially being female, and Jewish. Yes, yes, I know, I wasn’t born into one of the above groups. I take that into consideration.

Other countries get parts of it better.
Health care, parental leave, 6-week vacations.
We definitely work much too hard.
I admire the red-line secularism of the French, for instance.

As far as we are from approaching perfection, people still risk--and lose—their lives daily to set foot on our soil, to give birth to their children within our borders. But that doesn’t give us license for arrogance or complacency.

I don’t even mind being held to another standard by the world at large.
I learned that lesson in sixth grade when Mrs. Gold rejected my hastily written thank you note she had assigned the class.
I protested, pointed to those from my classmates she had accepted.
“You,” she replied. “Can do better.”

1 comment:

carol said...

Yes, we can do better. I still have hope that we will do better and that we will NEVER resort to torture again. I fear, though, that history repeats itself all too often.