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ISSUE 116 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/8/2002

Students blind to world suffering

By Brian Lindsley
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 8, 2002

Chance, or choice, finds me leading a posh life in suburbia of the world’s superpower. It’s difficult not to be disgusted when we throw a war every time we want oil and a majority of citizens blindly fly red, white and blue when their patriotism is questioned.

Here I am in the middle of our manifest destiny reading about how the US wants to liberate other civilizations in the name of democracy and freedom. The president tells me that we’re fighting a war against terrorism, and I want to cry that we are actually fighting a bloody conflict against tens and thousands of innocent people. He says we’ve tried to negotiate with Iraq for the last ten years.

The truth is that over the last ten years, US-backed sanctions have killed over 1.5 million innocent people in Iraq. This is not diplomacy or democracy. It is war.

In fact, the US is only a democracy if we choose to make it so by contacting our representatives about issues that matter to us.

In a democracy we must question our political authorities. But who is asking questions and challenging authority at St. Olaf? Are classes and professors worthy of my time if they do not even mention an impending large-scale war that goes against the tide of international opinion?

Sure, I might know what is going on in the world, but that is not enough. There is a sense of detachment when I read and discuss the suffering of a world from which I am largely removed. Of course, there are a million different reasons for justifying life at St. Olaf and even more for pursuing an education at an institution of higher learning. But today, I don’t see them. I don’t recognize them because I am sick, truly tired, of every scholarly and parental plea of justification for my life.

I only have questions. Why do I feel guilty about asking Ani Difranco’s question: "Is there anything I can do about anything at all?" It strikes me that my feelings are not valid, that I have no reason to complain since all that I do is voluntary. I have the money, the education, the connections, the . . . luxury of apathy. I can do nothing and everything will be okay for me.

How many people are content with just that? Credit cards speak louder than ribbons pinned on backpacks. Perhaps it is reading the news that seems so saturated with violence and the supposed justice sought by the powerful that gets my cynicism flowing. Do people perceive death and destruction as anything beyond political (meaning financial) motives?

We cannot kill everyone with whom we disagree. The sniper killed ten people, so we must kill him to avenge their deaths. We are living in a barbaric culture where people are killed as if they were virtual characters in a video game.

Will we only stop when we have killed every terrorist in the whole world or when we have armed everyone with a gun, missile or bomb? People are not just numbers. Death is not something abstract.

The fact of the matter is that we, the privileged, decide the fate of others. Your life at St. Olaf has an effect on thousands of other people. The clothes you buy, the coffee you drink and the conversations you have are concrete assertions of how you choose to interact with the world.

Your actions do not mirror your beliefs. Your actions are your beliefs. Take a minute, take an hour, take a walk and ask yourself: how does my inaction shape the US politics and the world?

Is your life meaningful to anyone other than yourself?

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