MAXWELL:  There’s no limit to man’s cruelty

7/15/2001 – Printed in the PERSPECIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Each morning, I read the newspapers, watch the news on television and listen to National Public Radio. And each morning, I am disturbed by the many examples of man’s cruelty to man I read and hear about.

On one day alone, the following stories were in a single newspaper:

In Northern Ireland, the centuries’ old bloodbath continues. There, the police and rioters fight pitched battles after a day of marches by Roman Catholics and Protestants. Firebombs are thrown and powerful water cannons are used. Dozens of people are injured as Protestant members of the Orange Order pass near a Catholic neighborhood. All around, black smoke rises, and broken glass and chunks of brick lie everywhere.

What are these madmen fighting about? The cause has something to do with a battle between William of Orange, a Protestant, and King James II, a Catholic. The idiocy of this mess is that the battle occurred way, way back in 1690. Think of it: People are dying in 2001 for something that took place more than 300 years ago.

In Israel, the West Bank and Gaza insanity rages. As matters have been since recorded history, the area’s inhabitants are trying to annihilate one another. Palestinian gunmen are taking aim at the head of Jewish settlers. Palestinian children are hurling rocks at Israeli soldiers.

Jewish settlers are torching Palestinian olive groves. Israeli tanks are shelling positions in the West Bank city of Hebron. Hamas suicide bombers are trying to cross into Israel. Israeli bulldozers are pushing down Palestinian homes outside of East Jerusalem.

What are these madmen fighting about?

As far as I can tell, they are fighting over two different versions of history outlined in their sacred texts. They are fighting over questions of who was in the region first, who owns this or that piece of land, who has rights to this or that monument or this icon, this mount or that mount, this road or that road, this river or that river.

Everything in the news suggests that fresh blood will flow for generations to come. Rational people, those with the long view of history, are being drowned out by short-sighted extremists on both sides.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban and the opposition militia are determined to kill one another. Matters will not improve anytime soon, because outside forces, such as Russia, Iran and Pakistan, are pouring arms and cash into the conflict.

And even as it battles the opposition militia, the Taliban finds ample time and uses cruel methods to mistreat the nation’s women, who have been turned into creatures of perpetual humiliation.

On most of the African continent, people are butchering other people. In Ivory Coast, for example, paramilitary policemen shot and killed dozens of young men and dumped their bodies in an Abidjan field. The source of the conflict? It has something to do with _ you guessed it _ differences between Muslims and Christians.

In South Africa, the poor are getting poorer, and their homes, mere shacks, are being pushed down by riot police and other government officials. Homeless women and children roam the land searching for food, firewood and shelter.

Macedonia dominates a page in the New York Times. Government soldiers and ethnic Albanian rebels prepare to battle to the end. If a NATO-mediated truce does not come soon, an all-out civil war is a certainty. Guns are everywhere, and generations of ethnic hatred threaten to spill over and affect the entire region.

India and Pakistan, nuclear rivals since 1999, may yet blow each other off the map if they cannot solve their squabbling over Kashmir. These two nations have fought three wars since 1947. Nothing indicates that they will make permanent peace anytime soon.

And I read in the New York Times that the United States and many of its closest allies, such as Saudi Ababia, Israel, Greece and South Korea, are trafficking in human flesh. Trafficking in Persons Report, a publication of the U.S. State Department, indicates that future slaves, mostly women and children, are kidnapped or tricked into going to another nation because they have been promised legitimate jobs.

Traffickers take their victims’ papers and make slaves of them in private homes, sweatshops, farm-labor camps and brothels. Releasing the report, Secretary of State Colin Powell said: “It is incomprehensible that trafficking in human beings is taking place in the 21st century _ incomprehensible but true, very true.”

In all of my naivete, I cannot comprehend the violence, racism, sexism, homophobia and other kinds of cruelty around the world. Such acts will continue and will increase until good people everywhere cultivate active outrage _ outrage that says “no more,” outrage that demands action.

Each time I witness our capacity to hurt one another, I am reminded of Gulliver’s assessment of humankind as he rebukes the king of Brobdingnag: “I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the face of the earth.”