Understanding

And we say we don’t know why “they” act that way.

One of the more frustrating — not to say stupider — arguments I run into when talking to people about Iraq is the one about “why can’t they just stop killing each other?” or “we liberated their country and then they started looting it” or “we don’t act like that here when things don’t go our way” or some variation of the same. The idea that as Americans we’re better, we behave in a manner befitting our Constitution, we don’t do political violence and we don’t kill to solve our problems.

Every time I hear it I just want to laugh, out of sheer frustration and the knowledge that there’s only so many times you can bang your head on the wall before it starts to dent the wall. Because really? We’re so different? We’re so much better? We’ve all learned to live with each other in perfect paradise, that we can look in utter befuddlement at people settling scores and enacting long-held revenge fantasies and taking what they think is theirs and acting, in short, precisely like human beings, no more virtuous, no less vicious? We’re all okay now, that we can say it would never happen here.

I’m not talking equivalencies here, that Iraq is just like Detroit or the West Side. I’m not talking statistics. I’m talking motivations and emotions. To pretend that we don’t understand how people can be like this is to ignore not only our own past but our present, a present in which people shoot through the windows of a black man’s house because he had the temerity to run for public office, a present in which we walk down one street but not another and say one neighborhood is “good” and another is “bad,” a present in which our politicians declare that it’s really no big deal, your ancestors having been sold like cattle, so just chilll out already, is to pretend to ignorance of the highest order.

“We don’t kill each other over politics in this country,” somebody said to me recently, forgetting Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln even, asserting our inherent superiority and evolutionary adulthood.

(I mean: Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket. We don’t kill each other over politics. At our best, no, we don’t. Not directly, anyway. De facto apartheid, educational inferiority, the kind of victim-blaming that makes deliberate ignorance of poverty possible, no, we don’t kill over politics. Not with guns. We let economics do it for us. If only the Iraqis were so civilized.)

We do it here. Maybe not as often, maybe not all at once, maybe not on TV. Maybe there aren’t panels on CNN, maybe nobody asks Jonah Goldberg and Charles Johnson to weigh in with their nuanced views of what the United States goverment should do to intervene, but we do it here. We’ve got no right to say we don’t understand.

A.

5 thoughts on “Understanding

  1. darrelplant – excellent point, and Happy 34th Anniversary to Roe v. Wade today!

  2. Don’t forget the abortion clinic bombings over the past few decades. Oh, maybe that’s not killing each other over politics. Maybe it’s killing each other over religion (although it tends to be one-sided killing).

  3. “We’re so different? We’re so much better? We’ve all learned to live with each other in perfect paradise, that we can look in utter befuddlement at people settling scores and enacting long-held revenge fantasies and taking what they think is theirs and acting, in short, precisely like human beings, no more virtuous, no less vicious? We’re all okay now, that we can say it would never happen here.”
    There was an article just yesterday in the SF Comical about how circumscribed the lives of young black men are in certain neighborhoods. They go to school, they go to a few other places, but mostly they stay on *their* street to avoid any chance of being mistaken for someone else and dying as a result.
    I suppose the suprressed racist wingnut response would be that Iraqis and african americans are…y’know…brown, so that would explain it.
    I think if the current experiments in concealed carry laws play out and with the expiration of the assault weapons ban, we’re going to be seeing up close and personal just how willing we are to kill one another.

  4. We don’t kill each other? No, maybe not — we let the weather do it for us. One might glance at those photo galleries Scout has posted over there on the right. The first pic in the August 2006 collection says quite a bit in one word.
    Peace, V.

  5. Uhm, dudes, the Iraqis are fighting a civil war, but we fought our own civil war and it was even more deadly than what the Iraqis are fighting. 1/4th of the military-age adult males of the American South ended up dead or disabled in that war. That’s right, 25% of the adult male population of the South. Nothing happening in Iraq right now even comes close to that butchery.
    We don’t kill each other? (SNORT!). Yeah right.
    – Badtux the History Penguin

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