The most important person on earth

There has been an ongoing story in the local news. It has nothing to do with September 11, anthrax, non-citizen rights, Islam, the Middle East, firefighters, Afghanistan, or our mayor. It doesn’t even have anything to do with New York, which is why you’re unlikely to have heard of it unless you avail yourself of our local news media. It is a teachers’ strike in Middletown, New Jersey.

More accurately, it WAS a teachers’ strike. The teachers went back to work yesterday after 228 of them were freed from jail. I haven’t been paying much attention to the story, but it seems the issue is a $600 health-insurance premium.

What struck me about the news is that several stories in several different media outlets have mentioned death threats. People in the United States are threatening murder over a $600 insurance premium, and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, founded by Lynne Cheney and Joseph Lieberman, has decided that “Stop the violence; stop the hate” is anti-American speech.

Perhaps “un-American” is more like it. We certainly have a long history of violence and hate in our country.

My wife and I have a tradition. Every day, one of us reads to the other — even when we’re separated by half a planet. We’re currently reading “1831, Year of Eclipse,” by Louis Masur, a professor of history at the City College of New York. In the United States of 170 years ago, there were also religious and racial bigotry, violence, Presidential power grabs, and many other portents of America today.

We just finished the part where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Georgia had no right to evict someone from Cherokee land if the Cherokee did not agree. Andrew Jackson, instead of enforcing the decision, said it “has fell still born,” because the Court lacked its own army. The events led to the “Trail of Tears,” the forced marches west in which more people died of exposure than were killed in the September 11 attacks.

Commemorating the third month since the attacks, George W. Bush today said, “Every one of the innocents who died on September the 11th was the most important person on earth to somebody. Every death extinguished a world.” The words are beautiful, but I wonder if he heard what he said.

Yesterday, at Bagh-i-Shirkat, the site of a refugee camp in northern Afghanistan, the first food shipment since our bombardment began finally made it through. There was not enough to go around. Since our military action cut off access to the camp, 175 people have died there — in just one of many such sites — and hundreds more are gravely ill.

Were none of them “the most important person on earth to somebody”? Did none of their deaths extinguish a world? We are still refusing British and French requests to allow them to establish the security needed to speed aid deliveries and stop looting and destruction of food warehouses by fighters on both sides of the conflict.

Then there are the prisoners of war. They are being moved in sealed shipping containers. Some of the prisoners say hundreds have suffocated enroute. The Northern Alliance commander in charge of one group of prisoners disputes the figures. He says that “only” 43 died in the sealed containers, from either injuries or asphyxiation.

At his Nobel Peace Prize lecture yesterday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said, “If today, after the horror of September 11, we see better and we see further, we will realize that humanity is indivisible.” But we are mortal.

TTFN, Mark

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