In Arizona, We Were All Defeated Together

In light of the horror of Arizona, I have myself indulged in bitter criticism, not so much of the right wing that uses poignant martial metaphors that could be so easily misinterpreted; but of guns laws that make me feel I live three centuries ago.

But I am particularly critical of the way we try to distance ourselves from the killer, as if he was just an anomaly, as if we had no part in his upbringings, as if our society was never responsible for anything that turns out awry, but can always take pride in everything that is successful.

We tend to say, “That’s un-American,” as if there was an essentially American quality of things that were good, so, everything that is not good doesn’t belong to us. We are never responsible for the bad; but we take full credit for the good. People from other countries who have often been in the receiving end of the not so good part of America tend to look at us with skepticism and wonder how come we don’t see it. We have been the most generous, indeed, as well. But many a time the generosity of our private citizens goes hand in hand with a very onerous foreign policy that oppresses the same people we try to help. When that happens, people in other countries have trouble separating the two. Because there is no “two.” When we say we are all Americans, and America, we have to own the whole of it.

Actually, sometimes, as the heroism of Daniel Hernández shows, there is greatness despite us, despite our society’s prejudices and bigotry.

This reminded me of the writings of Saint Exúpery in Flight to Arras.

Since I am one with the people of France, I shall never reject my people, whatever they may do.
I am part of France, and France is part of me. France brought forth men called Pascal, Renoir, Pasteur, Guillaumet, Hochedé. She brought forth also men who were inept, were politicasters, were cheats. But it would be too easy for a man to declare himself part of the first France and not of the other.
Defeat divides men. … All Frenchmen were defeated together.

And we all can triumph together. We have Hernández and Loughner, two young men of the same generation who surprised us for very different reasons. We are responsible for both. We raised both. That awful Saturday, we were all defeated together. But the 9 year-old girl who died trying to learn how to be a better citizen no doubt showed the best of and in us.


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