This image comes from a Times of Israel article about Milan's use of a Holocaust memorial for African refugees. This seemed to be a brilliant idea and one that perhaps could be used in other countries supporting the enormous influx of fleeing immigrants.
I think this is a wonderful idea. Many of the Holocaust survivors I interviewed for my academic research asked that we please focus on the Syrian children and other innocent people victims of the kind of tyranny they survived.
Many of the survivors cared so deeply about the suffering that occurs today; they expressed must distress at feeling so helpless. Furthermore, what good did their suffering do, they wonder, if the world still hasn't learned?
I suspect many survivors would be thrilled to know that sites commemorating the suffering of themselves and their families could be used to support those in need now.
Of course, not everyone would agree -- no one ever agrees on everything. But based on my work with commemorative sites and survivors of genocide or tyrannical rule, this is a positive use of commemorative spaces.
Many of these sites seek to be sites of learning as well as memorials to the dead. Using them to support the woes of the living seems like the most magnificent use of the space.
Never Again means Never Again for Anyone...I love that Milan is starting now.
Since it's almost apple season, I thought today's "Language of Conflict" blog could work with the metaphor, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree....
If you're an American who has traveled abroad, ventured beyond the confines of your resort and built enough rapport with locals to talk politics you likely have heard some less than flattering things about the United States.
If you listened non-defensively you probably heard about how America has its fingers all over the planet and involves itself in everything.
If you talked to anyone in Pakistan, you may have heard about the on-going drone strikes that terrify people going to visit their grandmothers.
We don't want to hate Americans...
"We don't know when something is going to fall out of the sky," they explain.
"We don't want to hate America, it's just that we live in fear because of these attacks. It's hard not to be angry."
Yikes, I can only imagine walking outside afraid some robot is going to fall out of the sky and kill me or my grandmother.
I don't know all the details of our foreign policy -- no citizen does. Most of us have no idea what our country does abroad and often have to learn about it from the people at the end of the policies.
It rarely feels very good. I once got an earful from an Iraqi man. I was flying on Gulf Air from Bahrain to the UAE. The plane was practically empty, but somehow they sat be by the window with a very angry man in the aisle seat.
Not a pleasant flight, but an educational one.
Now, I'm not purporting an isolationist stance. I wish the United States had intervened in the Holocaust, in Rwanda, and Indonesia among others. I do believe there are mega thugs and mega bullies that America stops everyday. That said, perhaps we could be handling this a bit better.
If the Secretary of State is unsure....
While in office, both Secretary of State Kissinger and Secretary Albright said they believed that it was America's job to fight these bullies. Once out of office, however, both expressed the opposite or at least far more uncertainty.
Isn't that interesting?
I realized the disconnect with Albright after my father asked her this question at a talk she gave once out of office and then subsequently reading her autobiography. They said the opposite.
I did some research on Kissinger and found the same pattern.
Perhaps when you're in State Department, you see the world through the lens of "it's our job." Once on the outside with some time to reflect, things become blurry.
And as Newton told us, there's just something about that darn momentum, once it starts it likes to stay in motion. Intervention breeds intervention. And that momentum might be having an impact on our children.
Skimming the news, I feel like I've been flipping between articles about foreign policy and then ones about violent police and school bullying.
Eventually my mind just considered that maybe these topics are more connected than our news sources might suggest. Is the bullying in the police force and in our children trickling down from the government?
Examining our country is nationalism
Before I continue with this critique, I want to frame it a touch. In America, and in many other far more repressive countries, critiquing the government can be considered anti-nationalist.
This is ridiculous; you can love something and constantly check if you're doing a good job. Successful companies do this everyday; they don't say, "if you criticize the company, you're not one of us." Well, at least smart CEOs don't...they look deeper into the commentary. One of the most successful CEOs of all time would consistently ask himself, "What I am not seeing?"
Well, I think there's something we may not be seeing.
When I turn this lens on America, I do it with the intention of a great CEO -- to make this country better. That requires looking in the mirror and saying, "Is there something going on here?"
Who decides if war is just?
I am asking that we consider if our kids and police showing up as bullies reflects an aggressiveness and an unspoken violence that pervades our culture. Are we justifying violence at the top and then saying to those below "Do what I say not what I do?"
The problem of distinguishing legitimized violence from illegitimate violence is a very old debate. Even old than Italian Friar Thomas Aquinas born in 1225.
Aquinas wrote about "just war" at a time when people were trying to figure out whether one could have legitimized violence. I like Aquinas but his instructions are just far too open to interpretation. He announces three requirements for just war
1. prompted by a state (not an individual or business)
2. those attacked deserve it
3. those attacking should have a rightful intention.
The theory begs the question...the problem remains; regarding two and three, who decides?
Who decides that victim state deserves it?
Who decides that one has the rightful intention?
These police constantly justify their brutality; I bet school bullies can do the same. Finding a reason to hate takes only a moment.
Aquinas put us back where we started.
Opposing forces often believe they have God on their side or or at least on the side of the good. If the leader's don't they at least convince their people of this. The Indonesians were convinced communists caused all problems; Europe blamed the Jews; Hutu blamed the Tutsi.
If everyone believes he is on the side of the good, who becomes the ultimate arbitrator. America?
Does the United States decide who is a bully and who is Luke Skywalker?
In the end, history often decides, and re-decides, not those engaging in war. In the meantime, we can get a sense of how we are doing by looking around at our own culture.
Apples Still Fall Close to Trees
Technology has transformed much of our daily lives, but some things remain the same. Apples still fall rather closely to trees.
If we have aggressive kids bullying one another in school and police brutally attacking folks, we may want to look up the trunk.
This tree, that now resides at Washington D.C. National Arboretum, survived the bombing of Hiroshima. I wonder, if this is the kind of witness that D.C. prefers, a beautiful one that cannot speak.
This month we saw the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As we sign the deal with Iran, we talk little about how the United States detonated the only atomic bomb thus far -- oh, wait, it detonated TWO!
"Oh, it had to be done to end the war" is the national narrative. "It was terrible but it had to happen," people say.
Really? We unpack and analyze everything everyone else does, but we're not going any deeper on this issue?
Years ago, my mother brought Japanese college students to the Air and Space museum where they stood and cried at the sight of the Enola Gay..the famous plane that "ended the war."
It astonishes me how little we talk about the decision to use this bomb and its impact on the Japanese people...many, many civilians.
I asked my Japanese colleague how the Japanese people talk about the bombing he explained that Japan believed it was more important to align with America after the world and rebuild economically than to talk about the bomb.
I suspect the leaders made that deal, not the people burned to a crisp and the deformed babies born for years to come.
I'm not omniscient, all knowing or all seeing, I do not know whether the bomb was a "must." The Japanese bombed a military base and the United States bombed civilians.
For years, I have just felt unresolved about the dropping of that bomb and have found few places in which to think it through with others. Any conversation I have had on the subject are as short, trimmed, and controlled as this lovely 400 year old bonsai tree...
Last night Genocide Watch at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution hosted a screening of the film of the 2001 film, Conspiracy. This film provided an attempted reenactment of the 1942 Wannsee Conference during which senior Nazi officials, lawyers, and SS discussed killing centers as a way to rid Europe of Jews.
Haunting film puts words to what all Nazi documents obfuscated.
At the conference, the film claims, people talked about the actual murder of the Jews. Even though the meetings minutes never said the word death, murder, or execution.
What's so haunting about the Holocaust (and some other atrocities) is the strange vocabulary developed that allows people to pretend they do not know what their eyes tell them.
The father of Holocaust research, Raul Hilberg, noted that in his review of hundreds of thousands of Nazi documents, not one document actually said "we are going to kill the Jews."
They talk about the "Final Solution" and use words more like evacuation. The film highlights this aspect of the Nazi approach when some meeting attendees kept asking questions like "What do you mean exactly when you say 'purge Europe of Jews' or 'evacuate Jews.' What they meant was gas and then burn them.
Even now, writing those words gas and burn Jews at a rate of 20,000 a day (their original goal- according to the film) makes me feel sick.
Word are so powerful! Even writing "purging" feels different than writing "burn."
Language can bring us closer to life or give us a feeling of being stoned -- removed, floating and far away.
The next conflict you read about, observe or participate in, consider the language being used. Is it bringing the perpetrators or the problem into focus or is it pulling your eyes sideways? It happens subtly; by being vague, the Nazis could lure those less violent, but followers nonetheless, to support its efforts. They are not the only ones who have done this.
I think what left me feeling so horrible after the film was having to watch these movie stars say these horrible things. I know they were acting, but even so, watching Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci, Brendan Coyle and others spew hateful language about an entire people and in support of racial superiority hurt. Words hurt, but perhaps confusing and vague language can actually kill.
John Hopkins' school of international affairs has this piece of the Berlin Wall sitting outside its D.C. main entrance.
This stone marks the end of the iron curtain and the epic failure of communism. Stalin's 25 million victims, the 30 million who starved under Mao showed us exactly what Hayek feared-- communism is simply too dangerous because the worst get on top.
He says to organize society requires that someone organize it; the only people that would be drawn to that kind of power are the last people you want running your life.
I am no fan of communism; that said, I am also not a fan of killing communists, something that the United States and Indonesian government did with abandon in the 1960s.
Why bring this up, now? The past few weeks I have been talking with some Indonesia students about their 1965 genocide and witnessing our own national narratives about communists.
As a conflict resolution scholar with a focus on narrative, I wanted to share with you some of these powerful conversations and how our stories about communists led to more slaughter.
I had the delicious opportunity to work with these fabulous students and their classmates around how their nation talked about communists (and how that narrative was similar to how the Nazis talked about Jews).
Indonesian students today are taught that their country's government heroically saved the country from communists (by slaughtering over 1 million people). Communists, they are taught, are godless people who want to destroy society.
Josh Oppenheimer's films (The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence) as well as the work of many Indonesian activists and others have revealed the opposite. In fact, the military and the government were the ones slaughtering innocent people. The students struggled with much cognitive dissonance. "But we were taught communists were bad!" Firstly, many of the people killed were not communists and the majority of those communists killed may have wanted a different society, but should not have been killed for their views.
I tell them, though, that the United States also lives in all kinds of shadowy stories too. In fact, the United States supported the Indonesian slaughter of the communists by providing a list of 5,000 communists leaders. The United States was as freaked out about communism as the Indonesians. There was global hysteria and panic that led to the murder of so many innocent people; the reverberations are felt in Indonesia today.
The story has not really changed; teachers in school still justify the genocide. Oppenheimer's film The Look of Silence shows one of these classrooms. It's not just Indonesia that tells the old story.
U.S. Military History
U.S. Military history also tells a funky story. This last week I attended the spirited, beautiful and musically phenomenal "Twilight Tatoo." This free event that happens on Fort Myer in D.C. Wednesdays in the summer delights crowds with historic military bands, crowd pleasing songs, horses, canons and a rendition of military history.
Soldiers come out in war uniforms from the various battles. You can see the photo below of the different uniforms over time. The historic renditions were charming and heart wrenching. 600,000 dead in the Civil War. As the years advanced the story turned to the battles against communism in Korea and Vietnam.
The U.S. military version -- to honor the lives lost -- positions Vietnam and Korea as important battles that the soldiers were proud to fight. Many young men died; thousands of parents grieved.
Our military, they tell us, protected us from the dangerous communists. Many still live with the trauma from those wars.
As I told the students, my goal is not to figure out the "true story." I do not believe there is one "true" version. I agree communism fails; I do not agree with slaughtering an entire political group.
Genocide means the annihilation of another group -- including a political group.If an ideology justifies the murder of an entire group it is genocide -- even if the United States sanctions it.
Yes, the world has plenty of thugs who want power and will kill anyone to get it. The world has even more average people, however, who will kill if someone gives them a good story that justifies their killing.
Stories have power.
A colleague who just returned from the Ukraine where he met with senior officials said the country has banned people from even saying the word "communist" publicly. Again, I am not for communism as a system; I am, however, for the freedom of speech. Creating an environment where one cannot even say the word is clearly a tyrannical and repressive regime. Terrifying.
Indonesia still actively encourages people to distrust communists. Visit Jakarta's Communist Museum of Treachery to see how it teaches people to hate "communists" (they do not explain why communism is dangerous-- they just teach people to hate). If Jakarta is too far, visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and see how the Nazis used propaganda to make people (young and hold) believe Jews were evil and had horns.
Still many people are taught to hate these groups...I showed the Indonesian kids, some of whom said their religion teaches them to hate Jews, "Look, No Horns"... they giggled nervously and we got along just fine.
In the scheme of things, it may seem rather trivial that Target Stores will stop gendering its toy section.
They decided, apparently after their displays went viral, to stop providing gendered signs to divide the "girls" toys from "boys" toys.
Ok, much to say here.
Celebrating the Feminine v Feminism
Firstly, I do not consider myself a feminist, though I deeply appreciate all the tremendous work feminists have done to make room for the contributions of women like myself. I know I stand on their shoulders.
That said, I am also not for the neutralization of gender. In other words, I have been convinced through my own life experience, especially my few years in Paris, and through much reading that women need NOT become like men in order to flourish.
The goal isn't, in my opinion, to put women into suits or get us to play violent video games or to think like a man in order to have influence and freedom.
The ideal, is to be able to be totally feminine and free to prosper being so.
In spite of these views, I am still celebrating the de-gendering of Target toy aisles and here is why.
My Boy Toys
As a kid, I loved G.I. Joe! I loved those action figures, their jeeps, planes and bases. They were so much more fun - to me - than Barbie. They fought for justice, traveled the world and got dirty. I never knew what to do with Barbie's high heels. Beyond this I loved anything I could build with, soccer equipment, archery equipment, dirt bikes and anything that would help me move and experience the physical world.
Now, in order to acquire these awesome tools, toys, and gagets, I would always have to go to the boys section. I remember vividly one children's birthday party where the kids could pull a toy from the "Girl" bay or the "Boy" bag. I was deeply humiliated to say this, but I really wanted to pick from the boy bag. So, I asked.
They let me and I got this cool G.I. Joe with a silver head (forgot his name). While I did get the toy I wanted, I felt deeply ashamed to have to leave my "girls" to grab it.
So I suspect other kids, maybe boys who like dolls, also feel uncomfortable loving what they love.
My toys were practice; I like the justice-seeking action figures perhaps they served as practice for the conflict resolution PhD I just received, focusing on transitional justice.
I do not want to be a boy just because I love action-- I also love nail polish, high tea, shopping, and long hot baths with aroma candles.
Old divisions of gender do not serve -- even though masculine and feminine energies do! The polarity between them is delicious. The masculine energy that sweats and builds and the feminine that flows/ We can celebrate these different energies through -- tea party sets and lego castles in a way that doesn't make kids feel embarrassed about what they love.
You likely have used or heard the expression, "Now that you're done with school, time for the real world."
I have never understood that expression. Here's why...
When people say "the real world' they usually mean school (sometimes vacation or seminars). They believe these environments are some how fabricated and "unreal" as compared to the daily grind of their or others' working lives.
I have always wondered who gets to decide what is "the real world" to which they are referring.
The expression always occurs to me as a pejorative way to talk about people who are having a wonderful time. As if having a wonderful time -- in school, on vacation, or in a seminar -- is NOT the real world. Last time I check the laws of physics still applied in all those places-- the sun rises and sets every day.
The real question might be, why not figure out how to have a life that feels more like what we consider surreal.
I have just finished my doctorate-- and every day I was in the program, there was still work, breathing, upsets, accomplishments, group dynamics, opportunities, wins and losses.
So, I'm confused...what about school isn't the real world? Things still cost money, I still sprained my ankle. I loved school-- and really always have. Not everyone has this experience. Many people hate school and probably are relieved when others say, "now for the real world."
But it's really a silly expression that comes from - I think - from an unhappy middle class.
I would just like to ask us to consider this expression, which usually comes either from people jealous of your experience or a belief within ourselves that our "real lives" need to be horrible -- but life gives us a few breaks like graduate school and New Year's Eve.
Seems like a low bar to set.
If we're lucky life is long -- so we might as well make our "real world' friggin' awesome.