Sat, May

Here We Go Again: What Do Americans Look Like?


JUST SAYIN’-While shopping the other day, I met a lovely older couple, Ishmael and Miriam.  They had been married over 60 years and going strong.  It turned out they had been born in Puerto Rico and with their respective families, moved as young children to New York City where years later they met and married.  She was modestly dressed and trailed behind him when they walked.  They have lived in Los Angeles since the ‘50s—being contributing members to the community and adhering to their religious and cultural principles.  

Would you guess by the description that they are Muslim?  Are Duck Dynasty idiosyncrats Muslim with their long, unshaped beards, uncut hair wrapped in bandanas?  Is Congressmember Keith Ellison a Muslim with his clean-cut appearance, well-coifed, with a look right out of GQ? 

What about former private Bowe Bergdahl or his parents?  Fox News claims they neatly fit the description of the Muslim (see photo); therefore they must be Muslim or at least Muslim converts or “sympathizers”—whatever that means. 

For the Bible-thumpers amongst us, let us not forget the original Ishmael (God has hearkened) who was deprived of his birthright.   The Jewish Ishmael became the “Father of a Great Nation” --his descendants, the forebears of Islam.  He was a prophet and the direct ancestor of Muhammad.  

Regardless of history (biblical or otherwise), Muslims (here and in many places) have been given short-shrift ever since the beginning of the beginning—rarely receiving the respect and rightful place in our history books that they deserve. 

By the way, Congressmember Ellison is proudly Muslim, the Bergdahls are Christian, and the dear couple I met is in fact Jewish and descendants of the Israelites. 

For those who love to study history, it is a little known fact that our Founding Forebears fought a long and arduous struggle to make certain that “new Country on a Hill” would not be a theocracy—it would not be a Christian Nation but a country, quite specifically, welcoming to Jews, Muslims, atheists, and agnostics (or any other group) on an absolutely equal basis before our blind-folded Lady Justice. 

Once again I am so proud of our President!   He was uncompromising and unapologetic for the actions taken to free our last soldier held under Taliban control—a POW (regardless of the reason) who deserved rescue and a return home to family and friends (and to country).  Maybe Obama was listening to the “still small voice” within us, instead of to the ranters among us. 

Let us think before we speak, and consider before we judge.  How about getting all the facts first—that would be different!  You right-wingers, you far-right of right Republicans who love to claim President Lincoln as one of yours and one to emulate, you should also remember what he famously said:  A leader cannot please all of the people all of the time 

We enthusiastically vote for leaders who can make the important decisions at three in the morning, “far from the madding crowd.”  Are we to castigate President Obama because this decision has not pleased all of us?  Are we to give any credence to those numbskulls who are finding another reason to demand impeachment?  If we were going to impeach anybody in recent years (in my opinion), it should have been then-Vice President Cheney for getting us into this war in the first place! 

Yes, we leave no soldier behind!  Isn’t that our mantra?  Republicans and Democrats alike, at every level, have gone on record, demanding negotiations for his return.   As Obama alluded, in such situations we are not negotiating with friends--we are fighting an enemy.  There should be no surprise, therefore, when results are not everything we wanted or hoped for. 

Most of us have seen Saving Private Ryan.  I don’t remember any moviegoers or critics then protesting that the Ryan character should not have been saved, that those soldiers who were killed on the mission died in vain.  What about the compassionate release of the German soldier in the same story who had won the sympathy of the American captors?  Didn’t he go on to kill more Americans? 

Yet all soldiers are human and often view each other that way.  Wasn’t it during lulls in action during World War I that Allied soldiers played cards with their German counterparts, only to try to kill each other when fighting resumed later in the day? 

Alright, that’s fiction (though actions like that surely did occur in real life and more than once). But what about the based-on-truth rendering in Lone Survivor in which the little boy (we don’t kill children) was released only to tell his villagers about the nearby Americans—militants (we might say) who were willing to fight to the death against the American “invaders”? 

In war, terrible things transpire.  The enemy kills, but so do we (and, ironically, both sides pray to the same god, whatever He or She is called).  

When modern wars reach their conclusion, it is standard practice to exchange prisoners (sometimes even during the span of the warring years).  Didn’t W release over 500 of the enemy?  Yet, strangely, no complaints!  Did anyone accuse Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu of being addled for agreeing to a 1000 to 1 exchange?  Likewise, if we can help it, we don’t leave our soldiers behind either.  “Period.  Full stop.” 

So why all the hypocrisy with regard to this President’s 5 to 1 decision?  There is no question that this decade-long war is drawing to a conclusion.  Why not save our soldier who has been held (a victim of torture, deprivation, and psychological trauma and largely forgotten) for 5 excruciating years?  Those five Taliban would have been due for release anyway within the next few months.  And more releases will surely come.  What could possibly be wrong with doing the right thing? 

Do we base our decisions on who is more deserving?  It reminds me of the early days of utilizing the new dialysis procedure when those needing the life-saving procedure were put on a priority list—based on how much they contributed to society.  Sounds a little barbaric to me!  Talk about death panels! 

As a child of the ‘60s, I am still saddened by how we abandoned our returning Viet Nam veterans.  We had changed our minds about the virtue of the war and turned our backs on the soldiers who had been forced to witness and be a part of atrocities that would forever change them—often victims of life-long PTSD and still on our streets, begging for handouts, a little compassion, and, perhaps, the grace of forgiveness.  Killing babies and old people, mothers, and the disabled—that’s what they experienced.  Little different from what we do or are perceived to do in Afghanistan today. 

On the other hand, contemporaneously, our own American soldiers have often had to watch helplessly as their brethren were blown apart or permanently maimed.  Can you imagine the images seared into their minds?  And the guilt over surviving?  This fighting is not always long-distance during which a soldier can remain detached.  It’s in-your-face—hand-to-hand.  This is not video war games in which the enemy is killed but then can get back up to fight another day.  This is for real.  

We are asking young men and women to do things we ourselves are unwilling to do.  And yet too many of us remain insensitive to what this kind of war (or any war) has on the psyche and to the how and why people change. 

Is it so far-fetched to see how then-private Bergdahl viewed all this through the prism of humanity—that the “enemy” villagers are not so different from our own neighbors and our own selves back in America?  Did he simply want to see for himself what these people and that land were really like?  

Or did he have a break-down, witnessing so much that his mind collapsed under the heart-breaking circumstances?  Did he break the rules in his own mind?  Why weren’t his previous temporary forays reported so that he could get the kind of help (obvious to many of us now) that he needed? 

Aren’t we a nation in which the accused are legally considered innocent until proven guilty?  Don’t we almost uniformly support the phrase, “Don’t rush to judgement”? 

What is so different this time?  Must we once again listen to the right-wing refrain that whatever decisions President Obama makes is wrong?  Leave the unworthy Bergdahl behind?!  you say.  ¡Increíble!   

Again, we hear the shrill screams of outrage from the very people who not too long ago demanded we negotiate whatever it would take (including prisoner exchange) to bring him back!  My head is spinning from the outcries by the same evil-spirited haranguers and those mealy-mouthed objectors who are afraid—very afraid—that they might lose re-election if they speak out on the “wrong” side. 

As Yeats once said in a war poem written long ago: 

I know that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above;

Those that I fight I do not hate,

Those that I guard I do not love …


Something to think about … 

Just sayin’!


(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)







Vol 12 Issue 47

Pub: June 10, 2014


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