Again. And Again. And Again.

This is a very depressing post. It is, in basically every way, inadequate to the task it undertakes. It is not an exhaustive treatise either on my thoughts and knowledge or the subject area at large. It is a plaintive cry into the internet, where such cries are about as useful as they are satisfying. Nevertheless, I can only hope and pray that speaking is better than silence. And hope and pray for a better world

In the season following Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to say a few words. Not directly about that holiday–the misrepresentations and illegitimacy of which is discussed here, among a number of other places. While the spirit of the holiday seems innocuous enough to me, a white American, and I think the concept of thanks-giving is worth celebrating, the day is plagued by a kind of rose-colored and deliberate ignorance. It’s not exactly what I’m here to talk about but it’s relevant and I encourage you to educate yourself.

The summer after my senior year of high school, I spent two weeks on a mission trip in Kigali, Rwanda. My senior capstone course for undergrad was called “Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing.” For graduate school, I completed a program in Race, Ethnicity, and Conflict. All this to say that the definition of genocide is one of those things that I have memorized because of course.

…intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such…

Sometimes people are like, “That’s genocide” and I’m like, probably not, actually. Other times, people are like, “That’s a bad thing” and I’m like it’s genocide. You get into things like “acts of genocide” and ethnic cleansing. There’s a lot to unpack and this is not really the place. All the same, I just want to say something about it because it has been weighing on me.

Something you hear a lot, usually in reference to the Holocaust, is “never again.” Something you see a lot if you spend any amount of time looking at the world around you is again. And again. And again. Historically, whether you look at native peoples in the Americas, the Herero in German Southwest Africa, Armenia around the First World War, or the Nazis and Japanese in the Second. Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Myanmar right now. Certainly acts of the Islamic State. Possibly the Uighur detentions in China and the war in Yemen. So many places, so many people.

I don’t know, exactly, what can be done. Would I support committing money and lives to a military intervention? I don’t know, possibly. Do I feel powerless? Yes. Do I think that anything I might do would have negligible effect, if any? Probably. Should something be done even so? Yes.

And so here we are. This may not be a particularly Christmasy topic but I’ve felt for a while that I ought to say something. These words probably don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. My readers, I don’t imagine, walk international halls of power with authority to respond to anything I say. I don’t know that I really expect you to do anything about it, other than perhaps read world news a little more often.

I guess in all my learning in the subject area, I have two general knowledge take-aways for you. First, do not think that the Holocaust is somehow unique in the story of human history. While it has many unique aspects, it follows naturally from a long chain of events. Second, do not think that it could not happen again. Do not think that it could not happen here. Do not think that ‘never again’ was a promise the world ever expected to keep.

And, because I firmly believe in hope: let us all work toward a world in which such crimes never happen again.

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Cessation of Hostilities is Not Peace

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, one hundred years ago, something ended and something began.

The peace after the first World War was hard-won but it was also half-hearted. Fighting stopped but many issues remained either unresolved or resolved poorly. It could have been a time of great hope and instead proved to be the intermezzo between two conflagrations.

In my studies of international relations, the term negative peace is generally used to refer to the absence of war, while positive peace indicates the presence of just, peaceful, and equitable systems. Clearly, the latter is as elusive as unicorns in Sunday bonnets because I’m going to go out on a limb and say that positive peace has never been a reality on this good earth.

I don’t really know what else to say about this upcoming anniversary. In my experience, the topic of the war and ensuing events tends to get short shrift in the US. During my time at Exeter, I took a class on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and the first-hand readings for that class repeatedly made me weep. The first day of the Somme– 1 July, 1916–was and remains the bloodiest day in British military history.

And, in my current context, that makes me think of the US. The day when the most Americans died in war was the Battle of Antietam in 1862. Americans fighting Americans.

I will tell you, I am not happy with the results of the US election this week. My fears were not realized but my hopes were disappointed. It could have been worse but it could have been so much better. In Washington, they supported some gun and public safety measures but rejected the carbon fee. In Michigan, I supported all three initiatives and all three passed, but my district’s Republican Congressional representative was reelected. Political mixed bags are rather par for the course but still.

Lots of exciting ground was broken nationally–for LGBTQ+ candidates, women, people of color. Lots of things happening and there are good things among them, so there’s that, at least.

I was going to write this whole post about the anniversary of the armistice, but here we are. In many ways, though, it’s a similar kind of feeling. No war ended, of course. But there was an opportunity for some structural change and I feel like most of that opportunity was squandered.

This is all just kind of processing. These are just my initial thoughts and feelings. I don’t really consider myself a huge politico or policy wonk (or whatever bizarre term you prefer) but over the past few years I’ve gotten a great deal more into it. Simply put, I’ve recognized that all of these things effect me. They impact me.

On Facebook, I’ve seen a little saying going around. “You can’t say you love someone and then vote for people who will hurt them.” And I don’t have much else to say at this juncture.

Quiet

Surprise, I have not been up to much of anything this week. We had our first solid rain yesterday and I was pleased. It felt good, even if it didn’t really seem to influence the city-ness of the air. And my walk to work is only like five minutes, so I wasn’t even that wet. Back in Dublin, it was tough when it started raining part way through my forty minute walk and there were no buses on their way. Anyway.

On Wednesday, I had a small addition to my routine. Normally, I go into work to putz around, plan, and grade or whatever miscellaneous work needs to be done before phone sessions. This week, I was in charge of a review session for the first part of the day. Basically, we looked at answers the kids all had already, chatted about topics they only vaguely remembered, and played games. But it wasn’t so bad.

I don’t really have anything else to report. Sometimes I appall myself with how truly and utterly I fill my time with nothing. I don’t even watch that much Netflix. I have no idea what happens to the time, though I know even if I had more I lack the willpower to do anything much with it. I have a few theories about this particular iteration of nothingness here in Seoul, maybe I’ll share them at a later date.

For now, I’d like to give you a bit of insight at how my BA in international studies continues to actually mean something in my life, even if it’s not directly related to my job.

I recently subscribed to the blog Political Violence at a Glance, which issues both a weekly compilation of important news articles and longer topic pieces on relevant issues. This is the latest of three similar updates I follow to keep track of international events. I claim this neither as many nor few, but I encourage everyone to take some time regularly to look at what’s going on from sources that don’t only care about things in other countries when our country is involved or there’s a horrendous disaster.

This week’s discussion was on the fighting, both militarily and socially, the violent extremist groups in the Sahel and Maghreb (if you’re interested, you can read it here). Importantly, as the piece notes, counterinsurgency is not just about wresting control of territory from violent groups, it is also about the classic winning of hearts and minds. This has long been the dilemma of people involved in counterinsurgency efforts. The author drew a comparison between contemporary states’ attempts in the region and colonial French policies and I think it’s an important one.

The writer talks about the ways in which groups are defined by the state as constitutively violent change depending on who’s in power (because generally religion doesn’t advocate a whole lot of violence). The problem they describe, therefore, is not one of message but of identity. The solution, it follows, is then not about amending your ways but of amending yourself. It’s “be a member of this sect” instead of simply “don’t preach violence.” This isn’t entirely unhelpful but it will not bring a durable peace.

In my studies, I have encountered a wide variety of ways to talk about peace but this brief article provided a new one for me, and one which I immediately took to heart in times like these. Defining the problem in the terms outlined above does not actually distinguish between violent and peaceful groups. They certainly are violent but the response to them comes from a redefinition by the group in power. The line drawn is between revisionist and politically quietist.

I may have run across the term “politically quietist” before but it didn’t seem to make much of an impact. Here though, and now, I find it resonating deeply. And the term is easily transferable. Protesters: Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Women’s March ect. Viewpoints: political correctness, legal discrimination, minimum wage ect.

Is it peace or is it status quo? Do you want what’s right or what’s easy? What’s true or what’s convenient? Political quietism is just a fancy way of saying the people with the power want to protect and (pre)serve power. Keeping things the same is a heavy and powerful idea.

And do we see people as essentialized, petrified bastions of oversimplified beliefs or human beings who can make mistakes and learn from them? Who are deserving of mercy and grace? Who can be forgiven even if they do not seek forgiveness?

Using another term, I want to seek positive peace–not the absence of war but the presence of justice. I want unity in diversity. If that makes me a troublemaker, so be it.

I reject quiet. I pursue peace.

Hoquiam, Uzbekistan, and Doing

So you’ll recall that I recently went to Ocean Shores. If you’ve ever driven there from the area I live in, you’ll have driven through the booming metropolis of Hoquiam, Washington. If you’re reading this and you currently or have ever lived in Hoquiam, firstly I’m so, so sorry. Secondly, I apologize for the caricature I’m about to make of it.

Driving through Hoquiam with a car full of high schoolers, the characterization that immediately sprang to mind was in the form of a catchy moniker: Hoquiam, graveyard of dreams. And that pretty much sums it up. Most of the region, really. Generally depressed (and depressing), much rainier than our Harbor, the kind of place that seems hard to leave and even harder to stay in. Hoquiam epitomizes this, as it can’t even summon up enough spirit to be quite as nice (in relative terms) as neighboring Aberdeen.

Hoquiam. Oh Hoquiam.

That part of Washington has held onto its logging identity longer than the more urbanized Puget Sound and it looks it. It can be a gorgeous area crisscrossed by scars of clear-cuts and muddy makeshift roads. I’m torn between thinking that it’d be an interesting and cool place to live (for a little while) and thinking that it’s a miracle people still do at all. Anyway, I don’t write this to be offensive but to give my honest, if superficial, assessment of the place. Less than ideal at the very least. Graveyard of dreams, perhaps.

Anyway. This week has had me a bit down in the dumps, to be real with you, and it’s no secret why. This country scares me. I give my fear three categories of reasons: I feel personally victimized, I empathize with others who are being targeted, and I worry about the implications for our country and world as a whole. I don’t want the world to be like Hoquiam and, if I’m being my best self, I don’t want Hoquiam to be like Hoquiam either. As an aside, Grays Harbor County voted for Trump by approximately the same margin as my home Pierce County went for Clinton.

What kind of system are we supporting? Those of you who know me well know that I have never been a fan of capitalism and every day I continue to exist in world only reaffirms this for me. And this week, I just seem to be surrounded by the worst. Political, economic, social…

Last night, I was really trying hard to think of something to write this post about and not having much luck. All I really wanted to do was complain about the eight million things that have happened that left me open-mouthed and shocked. The things that made me angry and humiliated and disgusted. Then, miracle of miracles, Facebook presented me with an article of real, active news that actually lifted my spirits. It’s just a simple human interest story, but I’d like to share it with you because it was so much what I needed.

This article from NPR (possibly facing defunding) gave me a bit of a pat on the heart and got me turned around in just the right way.

If you don’t feel like clicking the link and reading for yourself, it’s just a quick tale of the recently-recalled Golden Door beside which a certain lady in green lifts her lamp of hope. A family from Uzbekistan (a Hoquiam of countries if ever there was one) finally receives American citizenship. Acquainted with the tyranny of governments dictating where people may live, the family seems hopeful that the America they now participate in (they immediately registered to vote) is worth loving. That’s a belief that I share in my good moments and scarcely can imagine in my bad.

Also yesterday, I called one of my US Senators. I feel very strongly about pretty much everything in this administration thus far but I could not stand by the nomination for Education. Hearing that this senator of mine was perhaps uncertain of how to vote, I called and registered my opposition to her confirmation. It took, in grand total, one minute and forty-one seconds. For a second contact with the government in this way (after the letters I wrote about a couple months ago), not too shabby, I thought. And though it took kind of a lot for me to actually call, once I did I realized that this is real. I’m not a hypocrite on this issue, I want change and I do something. I may not do much, but liking things on Facebook has informed real action. I am politically active, even if in the barest sense, and I will not be looking back thank you very much. Too much is at stake.

So here’s my thing. There are so many real and metaphorical Hoquiams and Uzbekistans all around and within us. But that is not the way it was meant to be.

I believe that everyone has something or someone they care enough about to act on. So may we all overcome our fears and do. Go to a march, sign a petition, call an important somebody. Talk passionately to everyone who will listen– listen to them, too, and keep pursuing the facts and the right wherever they may lead you.

Like I’ve heard it said, compassion is to care enough to do something to help. If we’re not doing, we’re not loving. Not really.

Goons and How Not to Be Them

I listen to Christmas music any time and every time, but in my book it becomes socially acceptable on Thanksgiving while cooking, though Black Friday is I guess the first real day of the season. So I hope yours is off to a lovely start. We’ve gotten and decorated trees at both houses and I’m ever so glad because yay Christmas trees. Also just yay Christmas in general.

Last year around this time, in the midst of my eight million Christmas song quotations (which I will not apologize for), I mentioned that great line from Muppet Christmas Carol that says, “It is the season of the spirit; the message, if we hear it, is make it last all year.” Aside from Muppet Christmas Carol being fabulous in a general way, this line is a key one. Allow me to take a moment to expound.

With everything that has gone on in the past few weeks (and eighteen months or whatever, you know of whom I speak), it seems a little trickier than usual to feel Christmasy. Everything that Christmas stands for (which is to say, everything that Jesus stands for) has been challenged. Not by a ‘war on Christmas,’ an silly idea with which I choose not engage at this present time, but by a war on common decency and human kindness that apparently has millions of ostensibly very religious supporters. Let’s not get started on that statement because  yes, other things and stuff and reasons; I get it, let’s just take it at face value for a second and move on.

So. Goons. I looked it up, because I try to be accurate when I write on here, and goon has two meanings, basically: a silly person and a thug. I would suggest a third meaning to apply in Bunny Foofoo’s case, referring to a squidgy monster of no consequence or something of that sort. But that’s beside the point. The point is this: don’t scoop up field mice and bop them on the head. If you’ve been systemically ignored and suppressed by the Good Fairy, that’s a shame. If the Good Fairy has lied to, offended, and ridiculed you, I’m sorry. But nothing about that justifies inflicting pain on the least of these. Indeed, imagine being one of the field mice whose entire existence seems to consist of being bopped on the head.

Wow, okay. Looking back at what I’ve written, it’s just really not what I wanted to write this week. It’s not a great December opener and, frankly, the Bunny Foofoo stuff is pretty out there even for me. I clearly don’t have myself together enough to say quite the right things yet. But at the same time, I don’t want to not say them because it’s difficult. I’m confident that at least one person will get what I mean (over what I say) and that’s enough for me. In fact, I know what I mean over what I say so I don’t really care if you do (though I do very much hope you do). Anyway. I’ll leave you with a final thought which is much more coherent and generally just better in every way. Plus, it has a call to action so my AP Lang teacher would be pleased. Okay. Here you go.

The other day, I did something I had never done before–at least not that I could call to mind. I hand-wrote letters to my three congresspeople (and was reminded that both of Washington’s senators are women, yay Washington). 10/10 can recommend writing, respectfully, to your representatives at any and all levels–plus you know how much I like telling you to write letters.

Now, I have a generally positive opinion of my three Congresspeople and their records so the letters were mostly thanking them and highlighting some issues that are important to me (environmental protection/renewable energy, education, and marriage equality/LGBT non-discrimination). The gist was basically aiming to encourage them in what will almost certainly be a very difficult four years to be in Congress. I concluded each letter with a particular sentence and I would like to conclude this post with it too, not because we’re perfect but because we can aspire to form a more perfect union, whether in government or otherwise.

Please continue to be tireless in your defense of the defenseless, neither relinquishing your values nor fearing compromise.