Stop Hate 2000 Newsletter February 28, 2003
The drums of war are sounding again. It is an unanswered question as to whether they sound wisely.
We don't presume to answer that question. Since the group that keeps this
site up have a very wide range of political opinions, and since we don't
all come from one country, we'd be foolish to try. But we can agree that
it is much wiser to ask questions before a war starts than to leave them
aside until it's well under way. Usually, it's easier to start one than to
Somebody (we forget who) recently counted fifty-three wars presently going
on. One of them to which we paid some attention, in Afghanistan, is not
yet over. It can seem that war is a more normal state of things than
peace. At times, the not terribly lamented twentieth century seemed to be
one long war which was hot at times and cold at others. When we might have
thought it was ending, in 1990, we found another lot of issues, long
suppressed or ignored, exploded in full force. Some of them are centuries
It's easy to think that way, and it's easy to forget a lot of things. When
we can first find a record of human activity, death by warfare, and its
associated plagues of famine, plague and pestilence produced death rates
comparable to a medium-sized nuclear war today. Genocides used to be quite
normal events: that it was a self-evident evil only became apparent at the
end of the Second World War. In some parts of the world, it's not entirely
clear yet. The lamentations about war and the praises of peace ring down
from generation to generation, but it was only in the 1940s that there was
enough political will to try and act on them in a global way. The cold war
which carried on for forty-five years was a recognition of what hot wear
can now accomplish. The human race really does have the power to hate
itself out of existence.
On September 11, 2001, we were forcefully and unhappily reminded that anything which happens in this world does indeed affect every one. If the option of retreating to a corner of the world where one can avoid the evils of the worst; if that option ever existed, it certainly does not now. In itself, that poses many very difficult questions.
Perhaps we may be allowed to raise one or two of them. Is it legitimate for any state to wage war purely on the grounds of its national interest, or with liitle or no concern for other states? Or for professed ideals which serve to mask the age-old desire for power and wealth? The world had a straightforward answer to those questions in 1991 regarding the state of Iraq and its government. The answer may well apply to countries other than Iraq.
We would respectfully raise another question. If one wins a war, is there
any benefit if one does not also win the peace? that may be a harder question. We may think of Afghanistan. There have been some very hopeful beginnings, and we must not underestimate just how hopeful they are. But the peace there is still very far from being one.
Turning from these grand issues, in one weekend, four tragedies occurred.
We mean four which were noted by more than those directly affected. In
Afghanistan, a helicopter carrying four American servicemen crashed in an
accident. Six men from a small town in New Brunswick went ice-fishing and
five of them did not come back. An avalanche in British Columbia killed
seven very talented and promising high school students on a school field
trip. And the Columbia space shuttle did not return to earth safely.
Was any one of these events more tragic than the others? No doubt, the
question could be learnedly debated for years tocome, but the common sense
answer would be "clearly not".In some way, we have been diminished by each
and evry one of them. But did we feel one more strong than another? Equally clearly, the answer is "yes".
This is not altogether wrong. If we felt the loss of the space shuttle
more strongly, there were reasons for it. As we come closer together as
human beings in this world, we are more likely to have some knowledge of
others, especially our explorers. Or, we think we come to know them after
death. Because we begin to see people doing things we can personally
imagine ourselves taking part in, or wishing to take part in, or because
their lives speak to something universal in our human nature, we feel a
loss personally as opposed to an abstract regret. We really do feel,
somehow, that something that is part of us has also died.
Many came to know the crew of Columbia while they were in space. More to
the point, the fact that they did not retunrn safely and well touched
something central to us as people. It is central to being human to want to
know, to discover and to seek, whether we succeed in finding or not. That
has its costs, and the costs can be very high. Yet, we somehow want to pay
those costs. If we lost our need to explore and discover, we would not be
Those reflections in large part apply to the high school students. As the
world came to more of them after they died, we felt a loss of what might have been our future, which we can not now have or know. The same questions arise about exploration and its costs. That they were young makes itmore pronounced. Elders have not lost the desire to protect the young (even as they fear them at times!), but the young do have to spread their wings if they are to fly, and to learn how to make their own way in the world if they are to become adults. That involves their taking risks, and things don't always work out. We were again reminded that the balance of those two realities is a fine one, and one which will never be easy for us.
The six who went ice fishing were explorers in their own way. They were
older, which makes the loss of five less painful to bear, and the exploration was somewhat less exotic. It is easy to imagine how the loss would have devasteated the small village where they left, but less eay to fell it personally. Yet, precisely because we did hear of the other tragedies, we noticed it more. And, by the same toke, the accidental crash of the helicopter was perhaps more noticed because the others occurred.
When we have that capavity to feel these losses and mourn them, we display
that part of ourselves which may be our slavation, howver that salvation
might be defined.
It was an individual tragedy which led to the existence of this site. As we may remind you a little frequently, that was the murder of Matthew Shepard. There was another such tragedy which had at least as great an effect. We were reminded of it this past month. In both cases, the death of an individual who had a strange ability to touch hearts made people look at old problems with a new and much more intense interets in doing something about them, as opposed to expressing passing regret.
The other tragedy was the murder of Emmett Till in 1955. He was 14 years old, the only son of a widow. he was black. Growing up in Chicago, he had not grown up knowing the ways and habits of the southern states, although his mother did her level best to educate him about them before he went to visit his cousins in Mississippi. Emmett had a stammer, which he used to cover up by whistling. he did this while a white woman was around, and she thought he had whistled at her. Several nights later, two men came to the house where he was staying, dragged him out of bed, and made off with him. His very badly beaten body was founf two weeks later.
There had been many other such events, and a lot of them were worse than that. Any number of the victims may have been quite as good, or even better as persons as Emmett. But, for whatever reason, this time people noticed. They were not prepared to let it pass or be forgotten this time. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus a few months later, she did it in Emmett's memory, and that was true of the Civil Rights movememnt as a whole. Even many who did believe segregation to be a good thing, and who continued to believe in it, still would look at Emmett Till and agree that something very evil had been growing.
We were reminded of Emmett this last little while by the death of his
mother, Mamie Till Mobley, early in the new year. Mrs. Mobley was determined never to let the memory of her only child die, and by keeping his memory alive, keep him alive. She fought long and hard to create a world where such things would not happen again, with great courage and perisitence. Individuals matter: they can change things. Mrs. Mobley did a lot to ensure that they did change.
The month of January saw the death of another octogenarian, Morris Kight, who had been a leading gay rights activist for decades. Unlike other activists, he was not an "in-your-face" sort of man. His vision was simply to make the GLBT community accepted and fully active in a wider society, neither being ghettoized, or retreating into one in defiance. He was better known as one of the more successful leaders of the non-violent protests against the Viet Nam war. A great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, he was a confirmed pacifist, and of decidedly socialistic econimic opinions. These are points of view which are ecrtainly debatable, but many who could not agree with any of his views found him to be a man worthy of great respect and even affection.
Mr. Kight's passing was rather more noted by the gay community
than that of another pioneering figure, Herschel Hardin, who died in
November. Mr. Hardin was not a very attractive person even to many who did
agree with him. He was a straight-out, old-fashioned, no-holds-barred
Communist. The "in-your-face" form of gay political activism was very much his
creation, although most of his followers would not admit to it. In forming
the first form of gay support group of any kind in the 1950s, he still
deserves some mention, and, indeed, got more from the mainstream media.
As we said, individuals do matter!
The Stop Hate 2000 e-team
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