Saturday, April 26, 2008

I Procrastinate, Therefore I Post

We have this assignment for one of my classes to comb through our hometown paper for mentions of Iraqi and American deaths since the beginning of the war in March 2003. My true hometown paper, the Houston Chronicle, had already been tallied by another student, so I’m scouring my adopted hometown’s paper, the San Francisco Chronicle.

It’s been interesting reliving the war, or rather the media coverage of the war. I felt like I’d reached a point, probably like most Americans, where I just had to stop caring THAT MUCH about news from the war front because it was pointlessly upsetting. It was pointless to get upset that I was right from the beginning, that so many Americans so mindlessly and obtusely embraced all the meaningless words pouring out of Unpresident Idiot and Co’s bungholes – words about how we are being attacked by people who hate freedom, about how we are nobly bringing democracy to a country of helpless victims, UGHHH!! I can’t go on.

But reliving the news, day by day, starting from the first shock and awe campaign, tracing the evolution of anti-American sentiment and deliberate attacks on U.S. troops, the capture of Saddam…Well, at this point I’ve only gotten through the end of 2003. But the point is, I’m left with a lot of old emotions dredged up from a deep, formerly quiet place. Mostly what stands out for me, reading week after week of reports about people dying, is how profoundly yet incomprehensibly pointless all of the dying has been. I’m even more struck by this feeling when I read about Iraqi civilians dying, especially when it’s some kid or woman who is accidentally shot by some 19-year-old American soldier who thinks he’s in a video game.

"'We had a great day,' said Sgt. Eric Schrumpf of the U.S. Marines last Saturday [April 5]. 'We killed a lot of people.' He added, 'We dropped a few civilians, but what do you do?'"

…Schrumpf had said "there were women standing near an Iraqi soldier, and one of them fell when he and other Marines opened fire. 'I'm sorry,' said Schrumpf, 'but the chick was in the way.'"

Every other article talks about how Bush declared an end to the war on May 1, 2003. Five years later, that is beyond ironic and insulting.

The sad thing is that not only do extremists now feel more justified in hating anyone who falls into the category “American,” but people like me feel so much hatred and disappointment in human nature. Ideally no one should assume that Shrubbery is an accurate representation of human nature, but how can you not hold a world leader up to some reasonable standard of integrity? I wonder why, knowing how poorly most world leaders score on the human decency scale, I expect more from the monkey on our Hill? But I do.

I was talking to one of my professors yesterday, who served in the Peace Corps in Cameroon in the seventies. She says she still uses the lessons she learned in Peace Corps every single day. And I think she’s right. Combing through these articles about bumbling American soldiers and angry Iraqi insurgents, I impose judgments based on things I learned from living in an African village.

You can’t go into another country and another culture with no clue or intention of being culturally sensitive, and expect people not to resent you.

One article described an American soldier, armed with big scary G.I. Joe weapons, yelling at an Iraqi civilian. “Stop where you are!” the soldier said – in English.

It just amazes me that Americans are so dumbfounded that they are being targeted and killed by people in a country they stormed into without permission.

Our military regularly issues apologies to Iraqi families when they accidentally, or even intentionally, kill one of their members.

Hello? That is just not good enough. I feel the Iraqi who said, “What kind of compensation do we want? We want one of your people to die.”

Well, on a lighter note. ...Let’s return to my favorite pastime – ripping on New York.

What is the deal with people giving kisses on the cheek when they greet each other here? I just confirmed with two friends who are also from San Francisco: we don’t do that on the West Coast.

Why? Because the only people who are allowed to do that and still be taken seriously are people from other countries. Europeans can do it; they are European. Latin and South Americans can do it; they are not North American.

But we are not a touchy-feelie culture. We are the land of the sexual harassment lawsuit. And that means people are - or should be - careful not to lean in so they can make over-exaggerated sucking noises with the side of their face pasted to another person’s after having met them for three seconds. Ew.

About a third of the people in my program are international students. I don’t care if they greet me with a kiss on the cheek - or two, or three, depending on where they're from. It’s just another person's cultural practice, and I accept it.

But when an American greets me that way, I’m like, hey man, that’s not normal or sincere or flattering or comfortable. And I have to make that fake smackie-kissie sound so that it sounds like I’m returning the kiss.

What’s even worse is when people don’t actually make a fake kissing sound, they just fake the fake kissing sound, like this: “Mwah.”

What kind of unattainable level of sophistication are we trying to achieve? Americans are not particularly well-mannered or sophisticated compared to most of the world. We chew gum and talk too loud and smile too much when things aren’t funny or happy. Kissing people on the cheek isn’t going to change that. What’s wrong with a nice, asexual, dispassionate hug?

Actually, New York is the only place in the U.S. that I’ve lived where people greet with kisses. I never saw it in Texas, and I never saw it in Chicago, and I never saw it in San Francisco.

Anyone have a theory about this? I’m perplexed.