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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Of children and nations....

"If all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?" How many times has your mother used that old chestnut on you? And so we will eventually use it on our kids and they in turn will use it on theirs ad infinitum until there are no bridges in the world to use as an example. What were our mothers trying to teach us with this little rhetorical question? First of all you better believe that it was rhetorical, because at that point if you tried to answer you were quite likely to receive a quick wallop upside your head! But what was the lesson being imparted? Just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it right.

Remember the first time your younger sibling bit you? Then you, being the logical being that is an older brother or sister, ( but not much older) Bit the younger one back, and they screamed bloody murder, and what happened next? Mom or dad came into the room and clocked you a good one. But the little brother or sister was quickly comforted. Ever notice that the punishment was always to the one who was caught in retaliation? There is a lesson here too, I still haven't quite figured that one out, but maybe someday I will be smart enough to find it. One thing I did learn from it was that if I held my ground and let the younger one poke at me a few more times, mom would catch on and they would get punished! Always the more satisfactory outcome. What does this have to do with nations?

I was given a chance to sign a petition today to support teaching the Geneva Convention rules of warfare and combat in our schools. It makes sense, that we teach it, because it is mentioned in the news quite a bit, ( especially lately!) and it is part of both our history, and hopefully the future of the planet. When I say, "hopefully," I don't mean that I hope we have more wars so that we can use these rules properly, but rather that there comes a time when the basis for these rules, Humane treatment of fellow human beings, becomes the norm on the planet.

There was a time when the ability to grow crops and feed a population was limited by the ground that you controlled. If you didn't have enough farmland in your kingdom, or empire or whatever you wished to call it, you likely had lots of peasants starving and this caused them to rebel and cause problems for the throne. A bad ruler would simply go and kill his own people to make an example of them to stop the rebels. A good ruler would get his peasant army together and channel that anger into conquering more land so that they could haul in bigger crops. Or simply raid neighboring kingdoms for their goods and food. Today, the entire world is much smaller. Not in a literal sense, but in a figurative sense. The technology that allows Americans to grow bumpercrops of wheat and corn and oats, can easily be used by Russians, Germans, Chinese, or anyone in the world who wants to use it and has the land to put it to use. Those countries that do have the natural farmlands, have other things that we need. So we trade them. We send them the food they need and they send us the stuff that we need. It is much easier to ship wheat and corn that it is to move an army.

Since scarcity of resources is no longer the easiest reason to use for hating people, we have decided that ideological, racial, or religious differences will fill the bill. Keep killing. It's the way of the world. You don't follow the same book written by a dead guy 2000 years ago, as I do, so you must be bad and I must kill you. Your parents were born on a different hill that mine, so I must hate you and try to kill you so there are no more of you. You wear different shoes than I do, you must die. There are hundreds of reasons for killing and not one of them makes any sense except in defense of your own life, even then there will often be some doubt about the final choice. No matter what argument you can make there is a counter argument that is just as reasonable.

In the old cowboy movies it was so cut and dried, the good guys always wore the white hats so you knew who to root for. Of course that's if you considered the good guys cause to be right, some people obviously rooted for the "bad guy" because they felt much more in tune with his causes, but in the end, it was always the guy in the white hat who won the day and the heart of the farm girl. But how did he win the day? He was first and foremost reasonable. he used his brain much more than he used his brawn. Ok, to be fair in most westerns he also used his guns and killed plenty of bad guys, but if you remember he never fired the first shot, he was always defending himself. Real life isn't the movies.

In real life there is a vicious cycle to killing, and maiming and even torture. Once the cycle begins it can take generations before it can be ended, if even then. Ask Ireland and the IRA. It is like the Hatfields and the McCoys, or the Montegues and the Capulets, one dies so there is retaliation, but there is no mom to smack some sense into anyone and it continues to escalate until entire nations are brought into the fray. The United Nations was devised to be that "mom", who could put a stop to the squabbleing, but it seems that there is always some rivalry or other going on and someone needs to be smacked upside the head.

You know what really sucks about swatting mosquitoes? When you smack them you are often hurting yourself at the same time, and that is exactly what torture does to nations. There is the satisfaction of causing pain and discomfort to the enemy combatant, but at what cost? I have a friend who was in Vietnam in the late 60's. He fought some of the bloodiest battles of the war, and he helped with many body counts. One of the things that truly affected him was when he would move the body of an enemy soldier, and find them clutching in their hand, pictures of their loved ones. Suddenly they were not soldiers to him, but husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. He knew how he felt about his family, and how they felt about him, and he knew that what he was doing was not right, no matter what the reason. The training that he had received and the years of indoctrination about the "commie bastards", the "gooks" and the "enemy" was no more than political bullshit and what it boiled down to was that he and his friends were doing was not killing simply soldiers, but killing people. True, if he suddenly stopped fighting he would be just as dead as them, but even so, this is where his conscience kicked in, and why he still works hard to atone for what he did there.

Because of the Geneva Conventions, it was possible for American servicemen to become friends with their German prison guards after World War II. Not all of them, but there were some incredible frienships formed, because the guards were not allowed to mistreat their wards, because of the Geneva Conventions. This is only one example, but it is the best one I can think of. Sadly, this was the last time that the Conventions were truly followed, at least by more than less. There were still many evil acts done to prisoners, and often by those people seeking revenge or retaliation for the loss of family or friends. When cities were bombed, people died. Innocent people as well as combatants. Sure, it's part of war, they started it, it's the only way to win, and any other excuse you want to use, but the people that died had family and friends. On both sides.

One has to hope that at some point humanity will see the futility in war. The futility in hate, and the futility in religion, or at the very least the futility of trying to force ones beliefs on others. It probably won't happen in my lifetime, but I can dream. Until then there needs to be some rules to seperate the "Good Guys" from the "Bad Guys". The Geneva Conventions are a good start, "Adopted by 194 countries, the Geneva Conventions safeguard those who do not take part in fighting and those that can no longer fight – wounded, civilians, and prisoners of war. They protect American and foreign citizens alike." If there must be war, there must be reason, even though by definition, war is unreasonable.

" He hit me first!" will not stand up in the court of Mom, and it shouldn't stand up in the Court of the world either. Those that have walked the walk and talked the talk, can tell you that torture only gets you what you want to hear, not the truth. The Geneva Conventions were a good idea when they were new, and they remain a good idea today.
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1 comment:

Nadyne said...

Thanks for not only signing the petition, but blogging about it.