Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dear Phan Thi Kim Phúc: Your Thoughts?

Nasty people provoke a nastiness in me.

I'm not proud of it, and have spent much of my life both regretting it and trying to change.  Although aging and fatigue are not valid reasons to cease trying to become an extraordinarily forgiving and non-snarky person, that's the only petition I can offer the court.

Adam Sorkin tweeted something today that ought to be the theme song of many lives, and which makes me laugh, at least, in the midst of my leftist, materialistic, smartass grinchiness:

–I will not be the subject of your mockery. 
–Oh, I think you shall.

I've been thinking, even against my will, about Syria.  My active will has been doing as much reading about Syria and the "situation" there as my weepy, waxing-and-waning-in-visual-acuity eyes will allow.  And then, of course, there are dreams.

An excellent beginning article comes from scholar Juan Cole's attempt at an independent-minded news analysis blog, Informed Comment:  "Top Ten things Americans need to Know about Syria if they’re going to Threaten to Bomb It."  I'd never heard the quote he leads with, and appreciated the addition of more Ambrose Bierce in to my muddled Devil's Dictionary of a mind -- “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”

Of course, Juan Cole most likely doesn't have the refrain "Nothing matters" as the running backbeat to that bit of Bierce irony.

I'm a hawk on this one.  A nasty hawk.

Perhaps it's that I know and trust in USAmerican air power and ability to surgically strike.  Obama was right when he said the "US doesn't do pinpricks."  It's the understanding of how disabling an air strike will be that has al-Assad issuing cocky demands today, via Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  The proposal that Russia has fabricated is going to be, my omniscient self foresees, woefully inadequate.  It certainly ought not be the basis for a war criminal's demands.


That's right, I shock myself whenever I toss around that label, knowing that the USA is signatory to the League of War Criminals. I could also argue that any war, any military action, is criminal.  But reductio?
That's arguing for wimps.

Or that's arguing for the angelic.

I don't fall into either category, though I've wimped out often enough.  Still, neither wimpiness nor halos are basic to my character.

I dream of napalm and agent orange.  I dream about 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phúc and Nick Ut's iconic photo.  

She lived, and now lives in Canada, where she has the gall to say such things as: 
Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?
-- Kim Phúc, NPR in 2008

No, Kim Phúc, I can't.

Because the iconic photos keep rolling in.  Because you survived, in large part, not by love, hope, and forgiveness, but by the actions of Nick Ut in getting you to a hospital.  Because someone (guided by human decency, yes) DID something.

At least I can definitively give Bierce's guiding "nothing matters" a resounding "ef-off" at this point in life. Sadly, though, and in high contrast to most of my dearest friends and those relatives of mine who actually think about things beyond what they will inherit, I also give the Grand Whiff-Off to platitudes that impart worldly usefulness to notions of personal improvement.

Of course, I've no idea what Kim Phúc thinks of the gassed dead in Syria, particularly the children.  She may be a stern master, an avenging well-armed angel.  I don't know.  

22 August 2013, Duma neighbourhood of Damascus, REUTERS

South Vietnam, 9 June 1972 | Nick Ut

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