I have to admit that I was not paying much attention to the bombardment of the city of Homs, Syria—now in its 20th day—before the deaths of two Western journalists there this week.
That is completely typical of me as a Western observer sitting comfortably at my desk, far from the tumult and terror of war.
I sat complacently at my desk during the bombardments of Sarajevo in the 1990s, and Baghdad in 2003-4. I was hardly aware of what was going on in Rwanda during the genocide there in 1994. Glimmers of awareness come and go about the current violence in the Congo, or in Burma.
For the most part, I go about my business like any animal would, focusing on what’s in front of me. As long as my belly is full and my personal security is not threatened, I can give a big yawn at the evening news, and go peacefully to sleep.
The attitude of the Western public—especially among Americans—rides the border between ignorance and indifference. We’d rather not know—so we focus our attention elsewhere, on news that either appears to concern us more directly, or has a more soporific effect.
Death of Whitney Houston—OMG what a tragedy!
And let’s check in with the Republican horse race, shall we? Will it be Santorum or Romney this week? Ho-hum….
Meanwhile, innocent civilians, many of them women, children and elders, are dying every day in Syria, just as they did in Sarajevo, Baghdad, Sudan, Libya…the list goes on and on.
This list concerns us Americans for one very good reason: our country is the biggest arms supplier in the world.
That means we enable all these bloody wars. We build up dictators by selling them arms. Then when they misbehave and start killing civilians, we wring our hands and act as if we had nothing to do with their rise to power, hence no responsibility for their misdeeds.
If Americans were serious about wanting a peaceful world, we would start by converting our weapons manufacturing plants to peaceful purposes.
Instead of machine guns, let’s make solar panels and sell them to world leaders. Instead of tanks and jets, let’s export educational software and lightening-fast hardware.
Instead of sending military personnel to deal with civilians in other countries (as they did so ably this week, burning Korans in Afghanistan), let’s send teachers and doctors and enthusiastic, open-minded young people in every profession.
Americans need to understand that we bear a responsibility for the death of every child who dies as a result of a US-made weapon, no matter who wields it.
Giving up violence has to start with giving up the weapons that enable it.
Let’s dare to think outside the box, and put our hearts, minds and bodies in the service of peace.