Its one thing to read about the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib, the sadism, the meanness, the degradation. Its another to learn what we knew about the people behind the acts - and how the military signed them up anyway.
Before going to Iraq, one reservist (a former Marine, roused by 911 to reenlist) was arrested for harassing his ex-wife, who he admitted dragging around by her hair, a woman who had to issue three protective orders against him.
Then there was his military/reservist girlfriend. While in Iraq, they made videos of themselves having sex, a violation of military rules. They took photographs of one another holding a leash tied around the neck of naked and crawling detainees, most of whom have never been charged with any crimes. They were frequently admonished for loud and bawdy behavior.
But before another soldier blew the whistle, there were no reprimands. Nothing was done to them.
All this, in the military that wont allow gay men and women to enlist or serve. Since the 1993 Dont ask, dont tell ruling - surely one of the most blockheaded decisions ever to come out of government - over 11,000 gay men and women have left the service, including at least 25 highly trained linguists from the militarys Defense Language Institute.
This in a military that cant meet recruiting goals, that except for Turkeys is the only one in the world to exclude gays.
Very disturbing, the presumptions we make about some people (and, conversely, the breaks we give others, like ex-Marines). Very scary, the judgments we issue toward people who dont look the same as we do. Very pervasive, the prejudices we carry.
From a friend who works at a local hospital I heard about two nurses and a doctor who could not figure out what to do with a man - a poor man who smelled a bit, who wasnt particularly articulate or forthcoming. He had been treated. He had his prescriptions. And yet he sat there in the outpatient office.
They called me in and asked, What should we do with him? she said.
In 20 seconds, my friend learned the man had a Medicaid card - which would pay for his prescriptions - and a phone number for a sister - who was waiting to pick him up.
The difference? I talked to him, she said. They didnt.
Racism, elitism, assumptions are very dangerous things. Check out the
new movie Crash if you have any doubt. Its a fascinating, tense, sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat movie that takes place in Los Angeles. We see the characters - Latinos, Koreans, blacks, whites, cops, Iranians - and because were smart we think we know who they are. We think we know what theyre about, what theyre thinking, what theyll do. But we dont.
Theres the locksmith who is mistaken by the movies rich, white bitch (Sandra Bullock) for a gang member; an Iranian businessman thought to be an Arab, not a Persian; a black cop who cant get it straight which Latin American country his girlfriend is from; a black TV director who is told by a coworker that one of his characters doesnt talk black enough, and a racist white cop who takes care of his aging, ailing father.
When I was telling someone about the film, she told me something that happened to her when she was out walking her dog late one night.
It was dark, she said. These two guys in big, white T-shirts and lots of gold jewelry were coming toward me and I got a little scared. Then, as we passed, one said, Happy Mothers Day.
Paper Clips is another movie about intolerance and ignorance. The Jewish Educational Alliance showed the film to students at St. Vincents. Its about a middle school in Whitwell, Tenn., that was studying the Holocaust and the systematic destruction of 6 million Jews.
Whitwell is a town of 1,500 with no Jews, no Catholics, five African-Americans, one Hispanic - and the intelligence to know they could not picture 6 million of anything. So they decided to collect 6 million paper clips, which the Norwegians wore during World War II as a gesture of solidarity. They collected 29 million - and decided to save 12 million, to symbolize the slain Gypsies and homosexuals. In the process, they received thousands of letters and artifacts and met a handful of aging, articulate Holocaust survivors.
To see the good people of Whitwell respond with such heart to the testimonies of the survivors was moving and hopeful. Which makes the notion of who we are, what we look like and how possible it is to get beyond our prejudices very relevant. Would that we could start this process in the Armed Forces.
If I left, how far inland would I have to drive to be safe? How hard would it be to find a motel that would take in my cat and I? How would my cat act all that time in the car? She gets very unhappy in just the five-mile drive to the vet.
The ordinance was written by and for the entrenched interests of downtown property owners, seeking to preserve their dominance in the short-term rental market, and hoteliers seeking to limit the growth of new, competing supply in a market where they are already concerned with over-building.