Monday, July 28, 2008

Some Lessons Learnt

Since my early teens I can remember being moved by “injustice” or, what I perceived as unfair. I remember reading about the Vietnam war and being angry with the communists for denying freedom to the Vietnamese people. I remember reading about the freedom struggle and being angry about the fact the “we” were enslaved by the British. I remember feeling personally humiliated by the idea of British colonisation of India. I could go on and on about the things that “moved” me then but let me stop here, and examine the ramifications of these two emotions.

I was born in 1958, so I could not have been more than 10 years old (probably younger) when I read about the Vietnam war. I recall the bombing of Vietnam by American bombers in what I now know was called operation Rolling Thunder. I recall the Tet offensive of January 1968 as part of a continuity of impressions about the war. I recall feeling the warm glow of freedom fought for when I read about American military successes against the North Vietnamese regulars and irregulars during the course of this offensive. I recall feeling sad about the American reverses. However, by the time Nixon negotiated an American troop withdrawal from Vietnam, my perception had undergone a sea change. From saviours to villains, their downfall in my universe was swift.

My anguish at British colonisation of India, while understandable in itself, becomes intriguing when juxtaposed with my pride in American military adventurism. It is not possible to assume that I did not know of the British - European origins of the American state because I did. Christopher Columbus was a household name. Clearly, however, I differentiated between European colonialism and American intervention. Colonialism stood for oppression and enslavement, America stood for freedom, democracy and opportunity. I saw the subjugation of native Americans by the white settlers as an act of civilisational progress (In other words, just) rather than the genocidal savagery that it was. America was my pride and joy. I dreamed of going to America, living there, imbibing its airs, living its dreams.

I have spent the next 35 years unlearning these and other values of my childhood and early youth. Many might call this a terrible waste of time but I consider it time well spent. How can justice be savage? How can democracy enslave? How could I have been blind to so much of the truth about these notions for so long?

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