The burden of my last summer at home began to weigh more heavily as the final days of July slipped into August. I had come home in June unenthusiastic, even averse, to seeing any of the people to whom I”d ever applied the title “best friend.” I”d fallen out of touch to some degree with everybody, a separation compounded by this same “everybody”s” choice to stay in New England and therefore together. Everybody, that is, except me.
But as June gave way to July I had forgotten Ann Arbor and remembered to ask for marshmallow instead of whipped cream on my chocolate-raspberry-truffle ice cream from Kathy John”s, the restaurant where every night, whether we were hungry or had no other place to go, we”d avoid the unavoidable upcoming semester. And the we became coherent again as, determined to avoid any cliched “nothing left in common,” I found in my friends people changed just like I had been changed by our first year at school.
Our complaints had turned from calculus labs to sweatshop labor as our concept of “sit-in” adjusted to include the term “living wage.” Some evenings we”d sit on the soccer fields of our old middle school and plan the revolution until someone would drop the loaded declaration, “Well, I”ve got work tomorrow” and soon a caravan of cars would disperse from the parking lot, each one honking softly as it turned out of sight. Midnight had become late again.
It was, therefore, a given that I”d call one of these re-found friends on the evening of Sept. 11 to discuss and dissect the beyond-tragic, beyond-human, morning attacks. “Isn”t it awful?” I asked him, hating myself for thinking of no more eloquent way to define what I now euphemistically refer to as “the events of the 11th.” “Yeah,” he replied. “But you know what? The United States has already killed half a million Iraqi children with its sanctions. That”s awful.”
This person is one of the most compassionate I have ever met and I don”t think he realized what he was saying. The thought of half a million children gone because of my country breaks my heart. But so does the thought of the 6,000-plus children, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers buried in fallen rubble across New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The two feelings are not mutually exclusive.
It is in situations like this, when the dichotomy between extreme right and extreme left blurs into nothingness, that the political spectrum gives its secret away: It is a circle rather than a line. Soon many more people, many more children, will die in Afghanistan because of some people”s hate for the “Other.” But the deaths of thousands in New York have been met with the complacency of a few, because of the hate some people feel for themselves and their country. Nobody worth mentioning celebrates these deaths, but from both sides comes the language of deservation and justification.
And in the midst of our struggle to determine and direct what is right, to decide how the United States should proceed with Afghanistan or reflect on the evils of our own foreign policy, some find themselves forgetting the children who will lose parents and the parents who will lose children in a part of the world that for most of us, until now, existed only in buried headlines. And harder to understand, but still true, some will find themselves forgetting that nobody on that missing persons list, now topping 6,000, deserved to die for the failings of a nation.
On Friday, the Daily reported that, “Chanting “stop the war” and “U-S-A,” anti- and pro- war student groups clashed verbally yesterday on the Diag over the subject of U.S. military actions and policy.” (“Protesters rally to stop war,” 9/21/01). This kind of display does nothing but garner media attention for the shouting antagonists and degrade the memory of the dead.
As we plan our rallies and strategize over dinner we have to carry with us at all times the reality of death. And for those of us who ardently advocate peace and oppose more senseless loss of life, it is okay to make some people feel uncomfortable, but not to marginalize with hostility and antagonism regardless of to whom these feelings are directed any potential advocate for peace.
At this university, we have a constant inferiority complex when we compare ourselves to the legendary names and groups of the over-romanticized 1960s and “70s student activism. But it”s been more than 30 years and we should have learned that we do not need to shout to be heard. It”s been more than 30 years and we should have learned that some struggles are too sad to romanticize.
Johanna Hanink can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.