Go to the People? Tom, are you kidding?

I recently read an article by respected journalist and author Thomas L Friedman in which he advocates that the incoming Secretary of State break all the rules of diplomacy, leverage social networks and go direct to the people of foreign states, and have them agitate for change over the heads of their leaders. At first thought, this looked like a breakthrough idea; then I got nervous when I considered the consequences.

I have been a great fan of Mr. Friedman, reading most of his books and articles. I admire his travels through hostile regions of the world and his powers of observation. But our Tom tends to portray the world as flat, except in America. How much more of an incursion into the affairs of one’s neighbours would his proposed solution be? It conjures images of aircraft flying into foreign lands, dropping propaganda leaflets. Given the current open questions of whether drone attacks are acts of aggression on foreign soil, and whether waterboarding is torture, do we want to compound the situation by openly turning social media, which one could argue was invented in America, into a weapon of mass change in states that don’t share western ideology?

America took over a hundred years to go from the Wild West to a “civilized nation,” and one could argue that with its continuing need for “the right to bear arms” and the mass shootings that occur from time to time, whether it is still not out of its Wild West days. So why not give these other nations, many of whom have just emerged from their liberating “springs,” the time to find their way and evolve towards becoming “democratic” and “civilized,” and all the other labels we smugly plaster ourselves with? Providing education to these nations on how democratic institutions work, explaining their pros and cons (for there are cons too, lest we forget), and then letting them decide, would be a better use of time and money than inciting the masses with the dropped leaflets strategy.

He goes on to propose how the Secretary could end nuclear proliferation, again using the sledgehammer approach, and I found that hypocritical. I was reminded of a club that says to new candidates, “You cannot enter our club, nor can you go out and form your own.” Why not disarm altogether, everyone, club members and non•members alike? And do it tomorrow. And let’s not forget who to•date has ever dropped a nuclear bomb(s) killing civilians; it reminds me of that truism that those who point a finger have four pointed back at them.

I don’t envy the new Secretary of State’s job. It’s a tough, demanding and often thankless job. But as America’s face abroad, the Secretary has the burden and the responsibility of being its ambassador of peace, the promoter of its values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It would indeed be demeaning of that office for the Secretary to be seen pursuing back•door end•runs on other heads of state, however flawed those heads may be. Perhaps it’s not this Secretary’s time to bring global peace, perhaps no one can, because humans, in America and abroad, are by nature aggressive, acquisitive and involved in the game of survival of the fittest, no matter how many trees we hug and how many hands we shake.

As for Tom, I will continue to read his articles for their out•of•the•box ideas, but I reserve the right to disagree with him when he proposes to walk us off the edge of his flattened world.

The Savage within us

I get sent “interesting” videos by friends, fans and strangers, but a couple I received recently turned my stomach.

One was of a raid by soldiers on a village in a country that will remain unnamed; the soldiers—for they were uniformed—arrived in this dusty main street of the village on a busy market day, disembarked from their vehicles and promptly went about shooting every man, woman and child in sight who were going about their peaceful business. The grim footage was covered by a handheld camera that traversed every slumping body until there was no more movement; if a limb moved, it was machine gunned into submission. The lack of sound made the film all the more ominous. For a while I wondered if this was a staged video, but the graphic looks of surprise and horror on the faces of the attacked would have challenged even the most brilliant Hollywood movie studio. The soldiers then nonchalantly got back into their vehicles and drove away. But wait – the camera man was still alive – I was watching his film. He must have been planted there ahead of time to make this record. They (whoever they were) wanted the world to see this! And the video was serving its purpose, making its rounds. It had landed on my laptop.

Then a few days ago I received a video (why do they pick me?) of a young girl in another unnamed, fundamentalist country being stoned to death by a bunch of bloodthirsty men. This clip included sound, and the fury of the mob was blood•curdling. I had to delete this file the moment I figured out what was going on, it was just too savage. But not before I saw this young man in the foreground taking pictures of the incident on his cell phone, very deliberately, finding the right angles for maximum coverage, going about his business in a routine fashion—another reality video in the making.

I tried to put these incidents out of my mind and prided myself that I now lived in a civilized country, with layers of moral conduct so thick that none of this shit oozed out here, that my escape from the Third World once upon a time had been a Great Escape indeed. And then I read about the gang rape of a 16•year old in BC, in my Civilized Canada, which was videotaped, You Tube’d and Facebooked, and my desolation was complete. I desperately tried to rationalize that maniacs worked in mobs in the lesser developed world and only as isolated freaks in our “civilized world”, and so from a numbers standpoint, we were still better off. But then I realized that beyond the act itself, there were millions of voyeurs watching these incidents (over and over again sometimes), continuing to assault and insult the victims, and that they lived in every part of the world, developed and underdeveloped alike. I quickly descended from my moral, civilized•world high•horse and realized that we are indeed in bad times—all of us.

Please – friend, fan, or stranger – if you are reading this – do not send me this stuff again! I get your message. If you intended me to blog my condemnation about these incidents, I am doing it right here, so don’t send me any more of this human detritus which only serves to remind me (and you) that deep down we are still a bunch savages, some of us coated only a smidgeon more with layers of civilized and socialized behaviour than others. William Golding, you were so damned right when you gave us The Lord of the Flies!