Posts Tagged ‘9/11’

DEMOCRACY’S NOT DEAD YET

Several nights ago, I heard a symphony of foghorns. I live two miles from the Pacific and half that distance from San Francisco’s Baker Beach and the Golden Gate. Yet extended periods of time often pass between my visits to the beach to admire the ocean’s size, energy and mystery.

So it is with much in life. Beauty and wonder often are much closer than we realize. Politics, war and disasters—natural and man-made—attract our attention. We close our eyes and minds to the good that also surrounds us.

Another matter relates. Tomorrow (Saturday) night, Jews will celebrate Simchat Torah (Joy of the Torah). Then or on Sunday, synagogues will unroll a Torah scroll and read the last verses of the year’s final portion, V’zot HaB’rachah(And This is the Blessing), which concludes with Moses’ death. Without a pause, reading will continue with the first verses of B’reishit(Genesis) with which the Torah starts, presenting creation and life.

Why read the same text year after year? The scholar Jeffrey Tigay explains that we find new insights on every page (as we might at the beach or in a forest), “not because the Torah has changed, but because we have changed since we read it a year ago.”

Looking past immediate concerns, Americans can gain new perspectives on our present situation and our past—hear the call of the Liberty Bell too often drowned out by shouting. We may discover that the nation’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.

I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses. As I write, I’m gazing at the cover of October’s The Atlantic. This special edition asks a disturbing question: “Is democracy dying?” Editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg titles his introduction “The Crisis in Democracy.” A toxic brew of populism, tribalism, Donald Trump and technology worries a number of The Atlantic’s writers and contributors. Nothing new here. A recent edition of Foreign Affairsconsidered the same matter. The non-Fox media continue to do so.

Sure, there’s plenty of worry to go around. Witness the hyper-partisanship surrounding yesterday’s Senate testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanagh. Yet America weathered previous storms.

White people enslaved black people. The Ku Kux Klan promoted racism and segregation not just in the South but all over the country. Universities and medical schools restricted Jewish matriculation. Women couldn’t vote until 1920. In the 1930s, upwards of thirty million Americans listened to Father Charles Coghlan’s anti-Semitic radio broadcasts. After Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans. Throughout our history, the nation also suffered a series of economic depressions and, of course, 9/11.

Un-democratic, prejudicial laws and customs have always had strong proponents. Hence the secession of the Southern states leading to the Civil War, considerable opposition to women’s suffrage in Congress and later political maneuvering like Richard Nixon’s southern strategy. All these battered and bruised American democracy. We moved forward.

I’ll give the last word to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, writing from Greece: “Democracy is stubborn. It raises our gaze. It is the system that best enshrines the unshakable human desire to be free. Athens reminds us of that. America reminds us of that. It fails. It falls short of John Winthrop’s ‘city upon a hill.’ It strives still to fail better.”

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FOOTNOTES TO HISTORY

Last week, I asked a question: “What if you looked in the mirror and couldn’t see yourself?” An event last Sunday reminded me that that question might be asked in a different way: “What if you walked down the street in broad daylight and everyone looked right through you?”

The event I referred to was a program at the San Francisco Public Library main branch explaining Filipino suffering defending Bataan in early 1942 and during the “death march” following Bataan’s surrender on April 9. Approximately 12,000 Americans became prisoners of the Japanese—but so did 63,000 Filipinos, died in far greater numbers due to disease, starvation and brutal murder on the 65-mile trek north and during imprisonment at Camp O’Donnell.

Cecilia Gaerlan, the Filipina-American creator of the Bataan Legacy Project, seeks increased recognition for Filipinos who fought alongside American troops. Those vets have had great difficulty getting benefits from Washington. Filipinos they may have been, but the United States ruled the Philippines after wresting the islands from Spain in 1898.

I mention this in light of the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon. The Boston bombing was horrific but not the only—or most chilling—act of violence experienced in recent years. Heinous acts beyond our borders often go unnoticed. Americans tend to think that what happens to us is tragic while what happens to others merely represents a footnote to history. Understandably, our deepest emotions respond when disaster strikes at home—Oklahoma City, September 11, Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and the recent explosion in West, Texas to name a few.

Yet we must acknowledge others’ suffering. Following catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 80,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war, many of them civilians. (About 1.4 million Syrians have fled the country, according to The New York Times.) Violence abounds in sub-Saharan Africa, too.

This past week’s news offered more tragedy. The death toll from a fire at a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh—allegedly caused by a lack of safety precautions—soared to 1,000. (One woman was just found alive.) Another factory fire in Bangladesh killed eight. In Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed 25 and wounded 65 at a rally organized by a religious political party. A gas tanker outside Mexico City exploded killing 20. Suicide bombers killed three people in Kirkuk, Iraq. Gunmen in Nigeria ambushed and killed as many as 46 police officers (death tolls vary).

My morning contemplation includes, “May this day bring us all a step closer to healing and peace, understanding that we’re all children of the same Creator and all deserving of the same respect.” I don’t kid myself. This thought won’t eliminate the hatred, greed and will to power too often attached to the human heart. This post won’t put an end to bad news.

Still, any and every step towards making the world better demands that we recognize the plight of others. We can’t dwell on these horrors all the time; we’d go mad. But we can transform footnotes to history into real people.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.