I wrote this piece on a Good Friday over 25 years ago. Tragically I have had to add to it ever since. In the aftermath of the “mother of all bombs,” it seems appropriate to post it on this Good Friday.
A young, hopeful ‘would-be’ thought she could jump-start her career with a stint in the USO. She obtained fake ID, forged her parent’s signature and was off with a group of fledgling dancers to someplace called DaNang. She never quite got there.
As the transport helicopter flew over the countryside she noticed scorched villages, some with fires still smoldering. The young officer on board assured her that it was routine precaution to “clear out an area” for the safety of the entertainers. As the armored machine was landing, some people came running out of the bush. Some had clothes that were on fire. No one had guns. As they came closer, the soldiers on the helicopter scrambled to action. The gunny manned his weapon swearing that nobody was going to get close enough to lob a grenade. The dancers were ordered to the back of the chopper and held down so they couldn’t see anything. The young girl managed to see though, and what she saw changed her life.
Two women came running up to the helicopter. One was elderly and carried something on her back. The other was young and carried a baby in her arms. The mother begged the soldiers to save her baby, holding the child out as she ran. There was a blast of machine gunfire. The old women fell and her baggage tumbled from her back. It was a three-year-old child. The mother fell also, and the baby tried to crawl toward her. Another round of gunfire spit out, then silence except for the sobbing of the dancers and the whirling of chopper blades. The young girl screamed, “Why babies? In God’s name, why babies?!” The lieutenant tried to console her, choking back his own tears, “Don’t cry. They were just coons, anyway.”
My grandfather was a Jew. Many in his family perished in the Holocaust. After WWII my uncle received a letter from a cousin in a French hospital, sent with the notice of her death. She had survived the concentration camp because she said she was sure that “people would have done something if only they had known …” But while she was in the hospital she overheard a doctor comfort a colleague who was helping to care for the survivors, “Don’t be so upset, they’re only kikes.”
The weekend after the 1st Persian Gulf War ended I was standing outside of my parish church after Mass talking about the carnage and how the New York Times had reported that US tanks had buried Iraqis alive in the sands. A young woman not much older than the girl was when she went to Vietnam, sneered, “Why do you care? Those ragheads got what they deserved.”
Because of September 11, 2001 those who call themselves our leaders tell us they must bomb and kill anyone they have ‘deemed’ our enemy. They say all terrorists must be destroyed: the Taliban, the Afghans, the Iraqis. But isn’t it “terrifying” and “terrorizing” to bomb a people continuously? Isn’t it “terrible” to use terror to further economic ends of oil and geopolitical dominance rather than to seek justice and ultimate peace?
What is the definition of a terrorist? One who inflicts terror upon another. Do not the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria feel terror with every drone strike, with every cluster bomb, daisy cutter, depleted uranium and incendiary bomb that is dropped? Do not the Palestinians feel the same terror that Americans felt in the WTC as they are crushed by the buildings they dwell inside being bulldozed over them? Who are the terrorists now?
It seems we are content to continue to kill in the name of democracy and the preservation of “our” way of life. We even invoke the name of God when we pray for the safety of our troops and the assurance of our victory. Do we thereby invoke God’s name for the devastation and annihilation of those with whom we combat? For we are all children of God, despite the labels we impose upon each other.
We are NOT coons, gooks, kikes, ragheads, or hajis. We are PEOPLE—people who share the same hopes and dreams for our children, and the same red blood that was shed on a cross 2000 years ago. We are more than Americans, Europeans, Africans, Asians, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists…. We are more than our nationality, our culture, our religion, and our ancestry. There is only one race—the human race. There is only one family—the human family. In our Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, we believe that our Creator deemed us “good.” As Christians, we believe that our Savior “re-deemed” us good by his example. By de-humanizing others, we forfeit our own humanity. Every bomb that drops destroys our souls along with the bodies that it rips apart and the earth that it tears to shreds.
When we contemplate the sufferings of a human being on a cross 2000 years ago, let us not forget that our brothers, sisters and our children are suffering and dying today and every day around our world. They are “crucified” by our active cruelty or callous indifference. Paraphrasing the iconoclastic “Blowing in the Wind,” by Bob Dylan how many Good Fridays will it take till we know that too many PEOPLE have died? And when, IN GOD’S NAME, will we finally stop it?
Mary Aktay © 1992, 1994, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2017