Tag Archives: war

bat·tle

Francisco José de Goya, Y no hay remedio (And there's no help for it), 1810-1820 Plate No. 15 from Los Desastres de la Guerra, etching on paper

bat·tle (bat´’l),  n. [ME. & OFr.  Bataile; L.  battalia, battualia, exercises of gladiators and soldiers in fighting and fencing  <  battuere; see BATTER (to beat)],  1. a fight, especially a large-scale engagement, between armed forces on land, at sea, or in the air.  2. armed fighting; combat or war.  3. any fight or fighting; conflict.  v.t. & v.i. [BATTLED (-‘ld), BATTLING], to fight.  give (or do) battle, to engage in battle; fight.

When I was a senior in college, I took a class on “Catholic Social Thought.” We went through the different teachings the Church had about equality and justice and we ended the semester with the idea of peace and of just war. I remember vividly a day when we were talking about war and the need to step in with things that got out of hand. Dr. Barbieri, the instructor of the course, was very good about exposing us to charged issues and the different sides and then getting out of the way to let us hammer it out on our own. On that day, an outspoken senior, who was on ROTC, sitting far down the conference table from me talked about how war was justified in many cases. He said that war had happened since the beginning of time and that man’s natural tendency was towards war, was towards fighting as a way to resolve issues.

Although I was an outgoing person, I hesitated to speak in that class. I was worried I would say something wrong, and the absence of a set way of thinking from the professor meant I had to decide for myself. What if I decided the “wrong” thing. But that day, I disagreed with him. I opened my mouth, not knowing exactly what I was going to say, and I told him that I didn’t believe men and women’s natural tendencies were towards violence but towards compassion. I said that I didn’t think war was ever justified.

He brought in World War II. How were we not to fight in that instance? And I surprised myself in that moment in saying that I didn’t know the answer to that, but that neither did any of us. Did I believe that the Nazis needed to be stopped? Yes, absolutely. But how could we know we could not have been stopped in another way if it hadn’t have been through war? History had already played out and we were living with the reality of what had occurred. But none of us knew what would have happened if the war hadn’t occurred. Could the mess of Nazi Germany have been conquered in a way absent of violence and war? Maybe not. I certainly didn’t know the answer. But neither did he.

The definitions listed above are all literal battles. They refer to physical battles, to violence that involves bodies. But the newer Webster’s dictionary also refers to battles as “an extended controversy.” A controversy has been brewing in the state where I reside, Arizona. The controversy is in regards to HB1070, a bill that passed on Friday, April 23. Jan Brewer signed into law a bill that mandates police officers to pull over anyone that they have “reasonable suspicion” may be in the country illegally.

Native American Dancers at May Day Rally, Tucson, May 1, 2010

We are a proud nation and we often forget the legacy of our forefathers, that our foundation was built upon genocide and slavery. We feel so proud of our citizenship that we forget that unless we are Native American, our ancestors were once citizens of another country. And many of them didn’t come over here with any legal papers on hand. They came on boats for a better life. Mexicans often come by car or on foot. The difference is that we have decided that we want our country to ourselves. That “they” are too much.

It is in these kind of battles that I think it is important to bridge the divide between those on different sides. It doesn’t help for us to yell at one another. It doesn’t help for us to categorize each other as “those people.”

My mother’s first language was Cajun French. When she and her classmates began kindergarten, they were forbidden from speaking French. Many of them didn’t know any English but they were expected to communicate nonetheless. As punishment, six-year-olds were made to kneel on dry rice in the corner or write “I will not speak French in school” hundreds of times on the blackboard. The ensuing result for my mother is that she didn’t teach me French and until ten years ago when it was required by her job, she barely spoke it herself.

I genuinely believe that much of the problem white citizens have with Mexicans immigrating here is not because they take jobs away or because they don’t come here legally. I believe many Americans of European heritage feel threatened by the Mexican culture, which has a rich language and deeply rooted traditions. I believe that White Americans have suffered a great loss and are still grieving for it.

We came here from our European countries in search of a new land and a place where we could be ourselves, to practice our own religion and our own traditions. And the truth is that America has not always supported this. Many of our ancestors abandoned their traditions to become American and we don’t like seeing other people have their cake and eat it too. We didn’t have that chance. Why should they? They should because no one should have to abandon their cultural traditions when they go to another country. Our culture is embedded in us. The places we come from, the people who love us are within us and that doesn’t change when we change physical locales.

This country was founded on the tragedy of one culture dominating another, but does that mean we should continue in this very dangerous path? It seems that now White Americans want immigrants from other traditions to give up what we had to, to sacrifice their cultural roots to be part of this country. But just because we had to go through this suffering doesn’t mean we should continue this cycle.

It seems to me that beyond this being a political battle or even a cultural battle, this law and many other anti-immigrant laws are about the internal battles within all of us. What do we need to do to find our own identity so that we don’t feel threatened by others? What can we do to appreciate our country as a place that is full of people of all different ancestral roots, people who come from rich, cultural traditions? Can we learn from what has been lost before we ask others to sacrifice who they are and where they come from? What can we personally do to reclaim our own traditions so that we can make ourselves whole again?

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de·pop·u·la·tor

de·pop·u·la·tor n. a person or thing, as war or famine, that depopulates.

This word feels appropriate given recent disasters and the current state of the world. Massive earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. The tsunami in Indonesia and hurricanes of growing strength in the Gulf of Mexico. Two wars being led by the United States—one against Iraq, one against Afghanistan. When you add perpetual famine and civil wars in Africa, we are already up to a sizable amount of depopulation.

What seems to be shocking is not that depopulators happen, but that we seem to encourage them and to act in ways that only add to the problems when depopulators occur. Indebted countries that don’t have the resources for building infrastructure or planning for natural disasters become further indebted just to meet the basic needs of their citizens, while lending countries thrive. Citizens of wealthier countries, we who can afford it, give money after the fact, but this money is not enough to rebuild, just to provide in the moment so that people do not starve or die from lack of medical attention or access to prescription drugs. Even our act of population, of producing children, in the United States means more depopulation elsewhere. For it is our children who utilize so many resources. It is we who leave the largest footprints. Our needs and desires mean that people in other countries get less.

Today is the vote for healthcare in Congress. One search of “depopulator” leads me to “Obama Depopulation Policy Exposed” on a website called “infowars” run by a man named Alex Jones. The video’s caption explains that panelists “warn of the revival of eugenics under Obama’s modern healthcare through the denial of care to millions who would be judged ‘not fit to live’, just as in Nazi Germany.” Besides the obvious offensive idea that a man who is half African and who has faced racism all his life would institute policies similar to a race genocide in Europe, I wonder if the spread of misinformation and the encouraging of talking points over a real conversation are not other forms of depopulators. Because the truth is that if healthcare is not more accessible in this country, more citizens will die. And the right is doing everything possible to encourage Americans that healthcare options for all will make us all suffer, financially and physically. This is just not an accurate representation of the bills proposed by Congress nor of the ideals of those in power.

I worked for three years at a San Francisco nonprofit that served the city’s poor and homeless. One of our programs was a free medical clinic. Many of the people we served were skilled workers or people with multiple degrees but they were unable to afford health insurance (http://www.soundpartners.org/node/1606). Because of this, so many poor and homeless people do not receive preventative care. This means that when they actually get to a clinic or hospital, their conditions are critical. And they can’t pay. We are paying for people who can’t afford insurance now, but we are paying more than if we would provide preventative care for everyone in this country.

Yesterday, I was taking a walk with a Canadian friend, who has not paid much attention to the debate here. I told her the vote was today. “What’s the big deal? I can’t understand why people don’t want to have universal healthcare,” she said.

“Well, this isn’t even for universal healthcare,” I told her. “It is just to give people who don’t have insurance an option besides through private companies.”

She looked at me, stunned. “That just seems ridiculous to me.”

I am a writer and an educator. I teach adjunct at a local university and community college. I make meager pay, but I do it because I love teaching writing. I am encouraged when students can tap into their own voice and I appreciate being a person who conveys to them that their voice matters. As a writer, I create work that seeks connectivity. In answering questions for myself, I hope to invite others into my journey and have a pseudo conversation with them. However, I do not receive benefits for my work. I currently pay forty-seven dollars a month for a plan that does little more than cover catastrophic or emergency care. I don’t want to be uninsured and my parents don’t want that. So I pay the money, even though I can’t really afford it. But I don’t know how much longer I will be able to. And I don’t know when or if I’ll have a job that offers benefits. I don’t believe that I, or anyone else, should have to do work we are dispassionate about to be healthy. I don’t think we should abandon the work that is important to us so that we are protected in case of accidents or chronic disease.

I think there is an undercurrent of the health care debate that is seldom identified. I wonder how many people who are adamant about opposing health care reform are uninsured. My guess is not many. If people who have continued to obtain jobs and stay in jobs not because they are following their passions or using their gifts but because they are steady jobs with good health insurance, I can imagine that offering healthcare to everyone could engender a bit of bitterness. What if artists, musicians, writers, freelance educators, woodworkers, pottery makers can have insurance that allows them to be well in their body and still produce art? When then did many people stay in their jobs for? What if people who don’t have “real jobs” get the same benefits as them? What if these freeloading lazy artists get to produce their crappy art on the public’s dime? My sense is that people who have not allowed themselves to create may not want to be a part of a program that takes care of artists, who often sacrifice stability and security because they have to produce their work.

Physical depopulation is a dangerous thing. But so is depopulation of the mind and soul. We need to be mindful of starting wars or of turning away from those in our world that are hungry. We also need to be mindful of spreading untruths or of discouraging people from pursuing what is important to them. Through aid, through dialogue, through healthcare for all, and through a genuine attempt at understanding, we can work against depopulators of our community and of the wellness of our community members. We cannot blame the environment or the government for these casualties for they are our responsibility as well.

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