Reposted from Medium
Three Facts Every American Should Know — And One Question Everyone Should Ask Themselves
I read, as you might have, that the NYT found the youngest kid in America’s new “detainment centers” — in plain English: concentration camps. He was four months old. Four. Months. Old. I was shocked and horrified. Angry and disgusted. And I grieved, too, remembering being an abused little kid, helpless, afraid, myself. I found myself asking a few questions.
What kind of people are so afraid of a four month old baby that they tear apart their own democracy just to persecute him? What is there in a four month old baby to be afraid of anyways? What could a four month old possibly ever do that would threaten the history’s most powerful country, one that has nuclear bombs and laser-guided drones? Doesn’t it point to something going badly, badly, wrong with us? In the end, I distilled my thoughts down to this.
There’s a question that every American needs to ask themselves at this juncture in history. It’s a simple question, but a hard one. Maybe it needs to be asked daily. And if the answer’s an uncomfortable one — then it only raises more, harder questions. That question is this. What kind of people are we letting ourselves become?
That’s not a rhetorical question. I genuinely mean that each and every one of us should be asking it every day these days — and thinking long and hard about the answers, as difficult as they may be to stomach. I don’t want to be your grandpa (I’m sure he’s lovely), but. If you want to be a civilized person, a good citizen, a functioning adult — your first responsibility is asking this question. It’s your duty: a moral duty, an ethical duty, a social duty, and a political duty, too. Why? What happens if enough of us don’t? Well, we slide headlong into even more horror and ruin, don’t we? We honor history, truth, our ideals, the dead, ourselves by remembering who we should be, must be, can be. But let’s begin with the facts.
Here are three simple facts to think about as you ask yourself my little question. They are brutal and uncompromising truths. They are repellent realities, which offend and disgrace morality, ethics, reason, history, truth. Yes, really — but go ahead and judge for yourself.
The first fact is that we are torturing people in concentration camps now, including women, children, babies, and the elderly. Yes, really. Refugees and migrants are detained in a place called “the Dog Pound.” The Dog Pound is exactly what the name suggests: a place where babies are treated like animals. They are dehumanized in textbook ways — referred to as “bodies”, routinely denied food and water and medicine, kept in a vast kennel, where they have to scrap for their own shelter.
Here’s the exact international legal definition of torture — from the Rome Statute, which defines crimes against humanity. “Torture means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused.” Does the above count as severe pain or suffering? There’s a pretty simple way to tell. The Dog Pound. Would you want to be sent to such a place? How about your kid, wife, daughter, granddad? Why not? Because they’d…suffer severe pain, physically and mentally. And if you don’t get that, just ask yourself — what’s the Golden Rule again — the basis of all morality from Jesus to Buddha to Kant?
(Leave alone, for a second, the consideration that such people might be “guilty” — even though a four month old can’t be guilty of anything, except being adorable. That doesn’t mean they deserve to be tortured.)
What kind of people torture others in concentration camps? That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a serious one, that you need to think about — and ask yourself if you like the answer. If you want to be such a person, a country, a society. Sure, it’s true that we haven’t reached the grim depths of more depraved forms of torture, sure. Human experimentation, forced labour — do I need to go on? But is that the lowest of low bars we’re setting now — “at least we’re not Mengele and Goebbels, broseph!!” Are we OK being just one notch or two better? What does history say about where such people end up — did the Holocaust begin with extermination — or with dehumanization and segregation? Questions, questions. Are you asking yourself any of them?
Here’s my second fact. We are committing genocide. Yes. Really. We euphemistically say that little kids are “forcibly removed” from their parents. Maybe we even go so far as saying they are adbucted or kidnapped. But even that is a polite half-truth, an evasion. The truth — difficult and terrible — is that we are committing genocide. (Maybe that’s not a surprise — we have many times before, on natives, on blacks, and so forth. Here we are again. Will we ever change? Grow up?)
Here’s the exact international legal definition of genocide, again from the Rome Statute on crime against humanity:
”Genocide” means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The bolding’s mine. Go ahead and reread it. Think about it. I want you to really understand it — because when you do, you’ll see there’s no way out, no debate, no argument. We are taking kids from one group, and giving them to another — from migrants and refugees, to “real” Americans. That is the exact and precise definition of actual genocide. This is real. This is us.
We are now committing genocide — in broad daylight. En masse. Every day. (Again, it’s true, if you want to nitpick, that we’re not on the highest level of genocide — extermination. But we are very much within the category, my friends. There is no escaping this fact. And do you really want to be the smug, clueless guy that protests: “well at least we’re not the worst genocidaires in history!!” — setting the lowest bar imaginable?)
What kind of people commit genocide? What do we call them? What does history say about them? What kind of people commit genocide — and then ignore it, flicking through Kardashian pictures on their smartphones? What kinds of people cheer on genocide? Hard questions. But they are not rhetorical questions. Your duty, remember, is asking these questions. And if you don’t like the answer…then perhaps you have another duty, too. To resist, to transform, to improve.
My third fact is the most brutal — but simplest — of all. It is the answer to my first two questions. What kinds of people build concentration camps? Torture vulnerable groups in them? What kinds of people commit genocide?
Maybe some of the answers you’ve come up with are things like: terrible people, moral weaklings, disgraces, and so on. Moral answers, in other words. That’s a start — and yet there’s a much simpler and more straightforward answer, that some part of you is still defending against, preventing you from saying or thinking. That answer is this. What kinds of people build camps and commit torture and genocide?
And yet the American public sphere seems unable or unwilling to discuss this in any serious way whatsoever. I applaud the NYT for publishing the article about the four month old. But at the same time, I can’t help but know that it’s years-long refusal to call concentration camps and torture and genocide what they are is only perpetuating the myth that everything’s OK, aiding the bad guys, and enabling fascist-authoritarianism. The American public sphere refuses to use the lexicon, concepts, history of fascism to describe right now — and that is promoting the myth that what’s happening in America is something that’s not fascism, something better, something less alarming and shocking, something that will magically go away.
But what other kinds of people do terrible things like build camps, torture people in them, and commit genocide? Is there any other answer than “fascists do?” Please understand — I don’t mean to say you are a fascist-authoritarian. A fascist society is not made of 100% fascists. How many fascists does it take to make a society of them? The grim answer is: a committed enough minority.
I don’t know you. The question is: do you really know you — the truth of you? What kind of person are you, right here, right now, at this moment in history? There are three kinds of people today, broadly speaking. Those that cheer on all this. Those that look away, hoping it will go away, resorting to polite half-truths, afraid. And those that refuse to look the other way, and stare it right back in the face. So. Are you complicit in all this? Even if it’s by omission, negligence, looking the other way? Even if it’s, as in the case of the NYT and all the pundits, refusing to call things what they are, therefore constructing the myth that things are what they are not?
Only you can really say. If you understand what kind of people do the terrible and disgraceful things above. If you are someone that genuinely and fully understands exactly why such things are so reprehensible. If you get the international laws we’re breaking — and the norms and codes that go along with them — and the history we’re disgracing, forgetting, and repeating along the way. If you understand who you really are, right here, right now. So. Are you really living up to your own responsibilities and duties — moral, ethical, social — as a civilized human being right now? No one can ask more of you. Just that much is enough. If all of us did that — the bad guys would be stopped in their tracks, in days.
And yet. What kinds of people are we if we can’t even ask my little question — what kind of people are we letting ourselves become? The answer to that should be as obvious as it is damning. We are cowards. We look away from the things we must look at, because they frighten us with the knowledge of ourselves. We cannot even open our eyes, because we don’t like what we see. And there is nothing more disgraceful than a coward. Especially in times like these.
Because that’s what the bad guys want you to be the most.