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A Potent Senior Moment

Here is one of the most obnoxious emails I’ve seen; apart from just being generally designed to divide people, it’s also clearly false.

Awesome Senior

Here’s a quote from a government employee who witnessed a recent interaction between an elderly woman and an antiwar protester in a D.C. airport. There were protesters on the train platform handing out pamphlets on the evils of America.  I politely declined to take one.

The elderly woman was behind me getting off the escalator and a young (20-ish) female protester offered her a pamphlet, which she politely declined. The young protester put her hand on the old woman’s shoulder as a gesture of friendship and in a very soft voice the  young lady said, “Lady, don’t you care about the children of Iraq?”

The old woman looked up at her and said, “Honey, my father died in France during World War II, I lost my husband in Korea , and a son in Vietnam . All three died so a bitch like you could have the right to stand here and badmouth our country. If you touch me again, I’ll stick this umbrella up your ass and open it.”

This is an email I received back in July, and in this case I replied to the sender.

It sets up a situation with two characters: the naive, stupid 20 year old female protester, and the feisty old lady who knows all about life. It puts an insipid statement in the mouth of one (the “evils of america”? unlikely. sure there are extremists, but by painting all of those against the war in Iraq as being anti-American, it does a nice job of invalidating the message, because they are not in the majority), and gives the other a rude comeback meant to show how much better she is. It’s disrespectful to both of them.

First off, there’s the assumption that the 20 year old protesters are just dumb kids. It doesn’t take into account the many college students (because, let’s be honest– that’s what this is attacking; those college kids who think they’re educated but just don’t know about life. it’s another piece that appeals to the lovely trend of anti-intellectualism in this country) who may have lost fathers, mothers, siblings, etc. in the military. It ignores the fact that there are plenty of veterans in schools. That 20 year old student could be a refugee from a war-torn country, or the child of refugees. Maybe the 20 year old has given their time to something like the volunteer fire department, where she risks her life on a regular basis to help others . Maybe that 20 year old actually does know something.

Meanwhile the elderly lady: apparently while “my family has given a lot to this country” is insufficient to explain why she supports the war (indeed, I’ll agree it’s insufficient– that’s not a reason, just a statement), accusing the protester of “badmouthing the country” and threatening her is a great way to share her views. The elderly lady is apparently not capable of eloquently and politely explaining why she supports the decision to fight in Iraq, or to my firmly say “I do not want to talk to you”. Add to this that the most commonly seen anti-war protesters, in my experience, have been elderly ladies, dressed in black, holding candles, and an extremely warped idea of reality is presented. These women know very well what they are talking about, and can politely explain their views. They have a firm and sophisticated
grasp of politics, as I would actually expect from someone who has been a citizen of this country for longer than I have been alive. Furthermore, I would guess that most of them would never threaten to shove anything up someone else’s ass, not because of their age, but just because most people understand that being ugly and rude is immaturity that shouldn’t be tolerated from a 3 year old, much less someone in her 70s.

Beyond the tone, there’s the problem that this email is clearly made up: it refers to a protester on the platform at the metro station at Reagan National Airport. Soliciting is not allowed on any DC Metro platforms, and you can bet that the metro station at the airport is one of the most carefully guarded.

But my biggest problem with these forwards is that they are designed to be decisive– the entire aim is to push two sides of the debate further apart, to ridicule each other and devalue the other’s message. I hate these coming from either side of any debate, because neither ever represents my views. Our aim should always be to push *towards* agreement and compromise, never away from it. By sending on messages like this, it does nothing but to further strain the already badly stressed sense of American unity. It’s not un-American; you can write and say and forward whatever you like, at least within the limits recognized by Supreme Court precedent, but it certainly doesn’t advance the politics of our nation or improve the quality of life for a soldier who is in Iraq right now.

Personally, I think it was a terrible idea to go into Iraq, not for the sake of the “children of Iraq” (who doubtless would be better off under a non-Ba’athist government, provided there is some form of working government at all), but because there was no legitimate reason, and it could only result in more violence and our neglect of a country which we did have a good reason to invade. The invasion of Iraq was a terrible idea because it resulted in the neglect of the
Afghan invasion, and the timing of it has dragged both wars on and damaged the aim of each. It has resulted in more deaths because insufficient numbers of soldiers were sent in (even a very shallow student of defense policy, such as myself, recognized this at the start of the invasion. Rumsfeld knew it too, because he’s not an idiot, he just didn’t care). This is the most common antiwar stance– so if you’re going to send on stories that abuse the anti-war camp, at least have the 20 year old protester explain the legitimate arguments against it.

I should note that I’m writing this at the moment while a group of young Afghan students are visiting our lab– students who have been brought to the US to receive medical treatment which they could not have received in Afghanistan, for injuries received in what has been a botched war on the side of the US and its allies who were not able to commit enough troops to keep the Taliban out, because of the ill-advised war in Iraq. So, in fact, the argument I made above probably could be summarized as “don’t you care about the children”, but not those of Iraq, but those of Afghanistan, who we have let down terribly. We have also let down our own, who have not been made any safer by allowing the Taliban and Al Qaeda to regain a foothold in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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