We wondered how many of these basketball fans actually knew about the history of Armistice Day and how it became Veteran’s Day in the mid 1950’s. Did they know that it was originally a day to celebrate and promote peace as World War I ended? Did they know why it had been renamed Veteran’s Day? The stated purpose of this change was to emphasize the sacrifice of all veterans of all wars in our nation’s history. The actual effect was to shift the focus from peace to war and to equate war with patriotism while implying that opposing war and/or being for peace is somehow unpatriotic.
We noticed how few of those making their way into the XL Center would even look at us let alone react to us as we called for an immediate ceasefire and as we attempted to bear witness to the death and destruction occurring in Gaza. A few people did nod and smile at us. A few thanked us for promoting peace. A few grumbled cynically about the idea of a ceasefire but the vast majority just walked on by as if we weren’t there. It was both interesting and disheartening to experience this apparent indifference.
I wondered why it was so difficult for them to even look at us. I wondered if this avoidance of eye contact was related to an intuitive desire to not feel something too uncomfortable to feel. I wondered.
Many have described what is going on in Gaza as a genocide in progress. Genocide is not a word to be used casually. In 1951 the United Nations held a convention to established a definition of genocide. It put forth a definition which states that “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”:
It then lists the acts as follows:
Killings members of the group.
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about
its physical destruction in whole or in part.
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
You may decide for yourself to what extent these criteria are being met currently in Gaza.
I thought about the Holocaust and the question so many have asked themselves: How would I act in a society under fascist rule? Would I lash out at my oppressors or would I simply try to survive at all costs? Would I actively resist or would I make myself invisible? Would I have hidden and protected Anne Frank’s family or would I have turned them in to the Nazis to save my own skin?
Like most, I tell myself that I would do the right thing. I would resist the coercion and intimidation with every fibre of my being. I wouldn’t cave in to the pressure to cooperate with the oppressors. Or would I? I don’t actually know. I’ve never lived under such conditions.
The question of how we might act while a genocide is under way is no longer a merely theoretical one. It is happening in Gaza now. As of early December, 2023 there have been over 15,000 deaths of people who once lived in Gaza. Many of those were children. How many more uncounted deaths there are remains to be seen. Still more will die as life-sustaining resources have been cut off from the people of Gaza. Many will die of disease and starvation.
Many Americans are looking at their government’s extensive support for what the Israeli government is doing to the people of Gaza. Undoubtably, some Americans believe that the United States’ support of Israel is appropriate and justified. Even so, many others are wondering if the American government’s support is wrong and immoral. Certainly some Americans have painfully concluded that their government is complicit in a genocide being perpetrated against the Palestinians living in Gaza. How bizarrely ironic it is to see one nation that emerged from the tyranny and oppression of the British monarchy in the 18th Century and a nation that emerged out of the Holocaust of the 20th Century teaming up in the 21st Century to try to annihilate an impoverished group of human beings living in Gaza under an apartheid system that the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu once described as being comparable to South Africa’s.
It’s easy to understand why many of us feel powerless and disconnected from what our government does. Coincidentally or not, most Americans have become passive observers and perhaps even disinterested non-observers. We have our 21st century version of “bread and circuses” to keep us distracted and mollified. Many complain about being “taxed to death” yet how many of us realize how most of our tax dollars go straight into the Pentagon and then quickly into the coffers of corporations that provide the U.S. military with its weapons and related technology? American corporations provide a large percentage of all weapons of war manufactured worldwide. Death and Destruction: Made in the U.S.A.
How many of us are completely unaware of how obscenely profitable these corporations are and how they grow ever more wealthy and powerful as a result of the death and devastation they deliver? These corporations thrive on war. They incentivize war. War is good for their investors. To put it simply, war is very good for their business.
What language do such corporations understand? What convinces a corporation to stop doing what it’s doing? How do we reconcile the legalized fiction that declares that corporations are “people” while at the same time these “people” are absolved of any moral responsibility regarding their behavior? Are corporations subordinate to government or is government subordinate to them? If it is the latter, are we right to be cynical about the role of government to represent the will of the people and to act in support their well-being? If Big Government is actually the handmaid of Big Business it means that the high ideals of “liberty and justice for all” have been reduced to a marketing strategy to frame whatever government does at the behest of corporate power as something patriotic and justified.
These are some of the things I wonder about. I wish I had all the clear and correct answers to my questions. Maybe my questions aren’t even the right questions.
Our time of bearing witness comes to an end. It’s game time and there are just a few late arrivals hastily entering the XL Center. Our little group gathers and prepares to have lunch together.
It’s fair for you to ask if a small group of peace-mongers attempting to disturb the complacency of the general population is enough to make a difference. In one sense it is obviously not enough. I can easily imagine many of those basketball fans feeling briefly perplexed at why we even bothered to show up and protest the devastation of Gaza. They may think: “No one is listening to you.” They might be right about that. And yet there is something inside that says: “Do it anyway! This is what you need to do.” It says: “Don’t stop! Do more!”
And that “something inside” won’t take “no” for an answer.