Thresholds of Inclusion

“Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” (Abraham Lincoln)

 “Blood just looks the same, when you open the veins.” (Karl WallingerIs it like today?)

 

If you wish to find someone just like you, who looks and thinks exactly the way you do, then perhaps the only place you can look is in a mirror.

However, here’s a thought. Imagine that as you’re looking at the mirror it begins to move progressively farther away from you. The further away it is, the more time that transpires before the light bearing your image reaches the mirror and returns. If, in this scenario, the mirror should reach, say, the distance of the sun (for the sake of argument, it’s a really big mirror), then the image that you would see is still yourself, only it’s you roughly sixteen minutes ago.

Broad Museum

Mirrors, at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles (source)

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Reconciling “Unbridgeable Differences” in Vietnam

Last week, U.S. Sec of State 

A fourth and final lesson of the Vietnam conflict is playing out before our eyes: that with sufficient effort and will, seemingly unbridgeable differences can be reconciled. The fact that Mr. Obama is the third consecutive American president to visit Vietnam is proof that old enemies can become new partners.

Looking to the future, we know that mutual interests, above all else, will drive our partnership with Vietnam. But it is strengthened, as well, by the natural affinities between our societies. These include family ties, a tendency toward optimism, a fierce desire for freedom and independence and a hard-earned appreciation that peace is far, far preferable to war.

 

Perhaps this is another reminder that the conditions of the present are not permanent. Nations and individuals who are currently at odds may find themselves as future allies. All is flux.

The Allison Center for Peace

Flowers are better than bullets.”       – Allison Krause, 1970

 

This week marked the 46th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State University. On May 4th 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard fired 67 shots at college students who were protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. Four unarmed students were killed, while nine others were seriously injured.

A few months ago, I found a website named after Allison Krause, one of the young students killed that day. Just as this website is named after my brother Kevin, Allison’s younger sister, Laurel, created the NGO The Allison Center for Peace in honor of her memory and as a way to search for the truth for what happened that day.

In 1979, the relatives of the victims at Kent State received an out-of-court settlement from the state of Ohio and a “statement of regret and intentions” from Ohio officials. However, even today, they do not have all the answers. In 2012, they formally requested that the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague consider justice at Kent State. And this Wednesday, they asked that the FBI release whatever relevant documents they possess.  

Laurel Krause cited the British government’s apology for the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings in Northern Ireland as a possible model “for America to heal the wounds of Kent State.” There are parallels between Bloody Sunday and the Kent State incident, both involving government troops firing upon their own citizens. After a lengthy investigation and report, in 2010 British Prime Minister David Cameron had this to say:

“What happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day, and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the government — and indeed our country — I am deeply sorry.”  

The families of the victims of Kent State are looking for more than “a statement of regret and intentions.” An apology and an honest accounting can both go a long way.  As I’ve written before, several governments have shown courage by confronting some of the more difficult parts of their past. In addition to Bloody Sunday, the Japanese government apologized for colonizing Korea, and the U.S. Senate apologized to African-Americans for slavery and segregation. My favorite example comes from 2007, when the Danish government apologized for the Viking raids of Ireland, which occurred 1,200 years earlier.

If an apology can be extended (and accepted) after a millennium, then perhaps there is no statute of limitations on confronting a difficult past, for understanding, or even for reconciliation. While others have warned that apologies and truth commissions are not a panacea, and that “confronting the past is ineluctably political,” it is clear that the families of Kent State should not have to wait 46 years for their wounds to heal.   

“It’s never too late” to do the right thing: UXO in Laos

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Laos on Sunday, foreshadowing a visit by President Obama sometime this autumn. It will be the first ever visit by a U.S. President to Laos. There are probably several reasons for the visit, including strengthening ties, checking Chinese power in the region, etc. Most relevant to me is the hope that more will be done to alleviate some of the damage done during the war years, especially by removing leftover unexploded ordnance (UXO).

CNN article mentions two emotions that Americans might feel toward President Obama’s position towards Laos: guilt and optimism. It quotes Channapha Khamvongsa, who founded he NGO Legacies of War, which works to raise awareness of UXO in Laos.  Continue reading

Year in Review: Top Posts of 2015

Congolese children play on a destroyed military tank in Kibumba, DRC. Prime Collective.

Congolese children play on a destroyed military tank in Kibumba, DRC. Source: Prime Collective.

These were the most viewed posts of the year. It wasn’t the biggest year for this blog in terms of number of visitors, but there were a few highlights. Themes included war, human frailty, sex and love. I ranked them below, with #1 being the most read.

 

13) …And They Shall Beat Their Tanks into Playgrounds (Mar 24th, 70 words) 

   A simple collection of photos that I thought would inspire hope. “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares.”

 

12) Thoughts on PTS and “Moral Injuries”  (Jun 24th, 898 words)

    “If there is any good news, perhaps it’s that individuals who suffer a moral injury must, almost by definition, have some deep reservations about certain acts of violence. After all, one’s sense of morality cannot be injured if it didn’t exist in the first place. Secondly, the concept of ‘injury’ implies that healing is possible.”

 

11) Did the Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki Affect Child Growth? (Jun 1st, 705 words)

   Yes. A look at some old data.

 

10) Courage and the Past (Apr 20th, 710 words)

   “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  ― James Baldwin

 

9) Confronting Human Frailty (Mar 4th, 557 words)

   Seeking lessons from the Tragic and Utopian perspectives of human nature.

 

8) “The Fundamental Connection That We All Share” (Jul 28th, 222 words)

   Very short post on President Barack Obama’s observing famous fossils in human evolution. All people have evolved from our common origins. We’re all connected.  

 

7) “To Tame the Savageness of Man” (Aug 4th, 981 words)

   Another attempt at finding hope.Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.” –Robert F. Kennedy, on the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination (1968)

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“Many times, I have kissed & cryed over this”

In an 1839 letter from Emma to Charles Darwin, shortly after they were married, she wrote about her worries that Charles’ pursuit of scientific questions on evolution might lead him further away from religious faith. Emma wrote: 

“May not the habit in scientific pursuits of believing nothing till it is proved, influence your mind too much in other things which cannot be proved in the same way, & which if true are likely to be above our comprehension.”

At the time, Darwin would have been around 30 years old, two decades before On the Origin of Species was published. Their correspondence showed that Emma’s concern that Charles’ need for evidence could not be applied to matters of faith, and that this probably meant — to her distress — that they would probably be separated in the afterlife. At the bottom of her letter, Charles added his own note: 

“When I am dead, know
that many times, I
have kissed & cryed
over this. C. D.”

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Our Trivial, Different Ways of Being Human

From Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” (p. 283):

“We have held the peculiar notion that a person or society that is a little different from us, whoever we are, is somehow strange or bizarre, to be distrusted or loathed. Think of the negative connotations of words like ‘alien’ or ‘outlandish.’ And yet the monuments and cultures of each of our civilizations merely represent different ways of being human. An extraterrestrial visitor, looking at the differences among human beings and their societies, would find those differences trivial compared to the similarities. The Cosmos may be densely populated with intelligent beings. But the Darwinian lesson is clear: There will be no humans elsewhere. Only here. Only on this small planet. We are a rare as well as endangered species. Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have captured the most comprehensive picture ever assembled of the evolving Universe — and one of the most colourful. The study is called the Ultraviolet Coverage of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (UVUDF) project.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field. (Source)

Being Wrong

It gives me hope when people can admit they were wrong. There’s something redeeming about admitting that one’s judgment is fallible rather than refusing to admit error for the sake of ego.

As an example, this clip from Errol Morris’ film “The Fog of War” features Robert McNamara discussing the events of the Gulf of Tonkin incident. In it, McNamara revealed that the U.S. likely misread sonar signals that supposedly indicated an increase in Vietnamese aggression. This misinterpretation helped escalate the war, causing irreparable harm to many. The key exchange:

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“To Tame the Savageness of Man”

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

–Robert F. Kennedy, on the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination (1968)

“Have I sinned?”

— Anwar Congo, The Act of Killing  (2012)

“They are souls, like us.”

— Greek fisherman Babis Manias, after saving a refugee child from the ocean (2015)

Robert Kennedy Memorial (Source)

Robert Kennedy Memorial (Source)

The inherent dilemma of all social animals is the tension between balancing two obligations — the ones we we have to ourselves, and those we have to others. One cannot be completely selfless, sacrificing everything for others. Nor can we be totally self-absorbed, ignoring the rights of others. Somewhere in that tangled mess of sometimes overlapping, sometimes competing, interests we get a sloshing mixture of cooperation and conflict.

Sloshing fluid, here representing the shifting dynamics of cooperation and conflict (Source).

As primates, humans have a deep history as social beings, probably going back tens of millions of years. According to Shultz et al. (2011), primates began their path as intensely social animals around 52 million years ago, probably as a means of protection from predators as our ancestors made the shift from nocturnal to diurnal living. One benefit of living in groups was strength in numbers, but a reliance on the group also had drawbacks, such as the need for at least some modicum of self-restraint to maintain group cohesion. After all, one cannot just do whatever they feel like whenever they want, particularly if those wants conflict with the wants of others. 

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Apologies Are in the Air

Hopeful news comes in threes (I think that’s how the saying goes). I just happened to come across three stories today related to apology and forgiveness.

1. In Bolivia, Pope Francis apologized for the role of the Catholic Church in the harm done to Native Americans:

“Some may rightly say, ‘When the pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the church. I say this to you with regret: Many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God.”

He added: “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”

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