2011/03/25

Crimes Against Humanity

I am in my office, which is above the living room in my little house. The NewsHour is playing, and the menfolk are listening to a report about software
designed to safely store data about torture, murder, killings and other human rights abuses in countries around the world. It's meant to help human rights workers who are collecting that information and use it to document what went on -- or is going on -- in nations run by brutal dictators who might eventually be brought to justice.
It's pretty ingenious stuff, and my hat's off to the guy who invented this modern tool of resistance. His name is Jim Fruchterman - here he is, talking about this:


This is the sort of story that gives me great hope. In the same world that holds brutal dictators and their victims, there are men like this, asking themselves, What could I do with what I have that just might make this humanitarian problem less powerful? How can I help? I want to choose sides, and not just agree with the good, but also work for the good.

Tonight, when I was listening to the story from up here in my office, I heard the phrase of accusation, "crimes against humanity." That phrase came into being in the war-torn, modernizing, machine-making, bomb-dropping 20th century. That has a beautiful and grotesque irony to it, don't you think? What we did to each other became so enormous that we made a phrase to describe it. We, the people of the planet who decried the horrors of the World Wars, took a stand. There is no "us" and "them" at a certain point, we said. At that point, we're all us. Do that to them, we said, and you have done it to everyone.

Do not play this video if there are children nearby. This is the short French documentary Night and Fog. I have seen few things in my life more chilling.
Night and Fog Rare Holocaust Footage

There is no "us" and "them."

During this school year, I have read for a course in The Literature of Resistance. The above film was one of the documentary genre in History of Film. Over and over, the awareness has come to me, in class, and at work, and at prayer. There is no "us" and "them." All humans are included in the "humanity" against which crimes ought not to be committed.

There are a lot of reasons why I will always vote for public parks, public schools, public safety, public roads, and public transportation. These are the things we expect to find in a modern country, where there are more than enough resources for such things. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about health care - public, private, insured, uninsured, fee-for-service, wellness, crisis management, complementary, human-centered ... thousands of billing codes ... people sitting in their cars in the parking lot outside the emergency room, wondering how they will pay for it if they go in ... and how much more sense it would make, fiscally and practically, if we did not have such a disjointed and scattered way of going about it.

It's not a simple problem to solve, but we need to solve it. We need to solve it not only because we're throwing away both money and the health of a nation doing it this way, but more because there is no such thing as "us" and "them." A human being is a human being, and we have a moral and humanitarian obligation to stop pretending that the man left for dead by the side of the road is not our problem.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.
Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

3 comments:

Missy Hempe said...

This isn't very philosophical but Monday I have an ultrasound to see if I have a hernia. It is just the first step in what may be multiple tests to figure out what is going on. My share of the bill is over $100 bucks. Suddenly I found myself weighing the benefits of just living with the pain. What if they follow up with a more expensive test? I'm young and strong, but the older folks on Medicare like me . . .just makes me sad. It really is a crime against humanity to make health care a way for a few to get filthy rich. :(

Douglas Bienert said...

I just read your post after discovering the recent Rolling Stone article on a group of US Soldiers caught killing Afghanistan civilians for "sport". Really terrifying. The soldiers referred to "them" as "savages". "Us" or "them" indeed.

Stephanie said...

Well, Douglas, as you know, I have less reason than many of my peers to be in darkness or denial about what soldiers actually do. I know what soldiers do. This is precisely the sort of leadership issue the knowledge of which a certain soldier we both know actually keeps contained in her soul. How, I've no idea.

But the military is a huge issue. Not only is there a nearly unfathomable disconnect between what the military is and what the average American thinks it is, but there is also the same basic problem all "good" people have always had. How, in the name of anything at all, no matter now justified, do I deliberately shoot to kill?

There are only two ways: know for sure that what they're doing is "right" in some way, or know for sure that the other being is not a human like unto us. The cognitive dissonance truly drives soldiers mad - and there is no easy solution to the problem as long as there is any good in the world worth defending, or evil worth resisting, or absolute power corrupting absolutely.