Around 1970, when I was at Berkeley, a young woman from the Middle East was resting alongside a campus swimming pool. She was a picture of beauty, intelligence and open friendliness that inspired people to wonder where she was from. A young woman from Germany lying near her at the pool struck up a conversation with her and asked where she was from. She said Israel. This was before there was significant hostility toward Israel among Europeans because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The German snatched her towel, jumped to her feet and left without saying a word. The young woman saw me a few minutes later, complained and asked why the German would do that. She said she had nothing against the woman because she was German.
At Berkeley, a Korean woman I knew was similar in attitude regarding Japanese students – despite all she had heard from her parents about Japan's colonization and occupation of her country. She and a fellow student from Japan talked and laughed together as happy women friends do. She was bright enough to see absurdity in animosity from a past that had little to do with her Japanese friend.
Today, we have more wars behind us. The Korean War ended more than fifty years ago and the Vietnam War 30 years ago. I was in Korea opposite the Chinese. They wanted to kill me, but animosity toward the Chinese because of the Korean War appears to me absurd. And there are Vietnam veterans who feel no animosity toward those trying to kill them during that war.
We can know about gruesome instances in the past and remain specific in our animosities. Collective animosities are primitive. Collective guilt – ages old - is one of humanity's dumber ideas. A recent use of collective guilt was Osama bin Laden's rationale for killing people in New York. Let us leave guilt with the fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers and not collectively. We need not forgive everybody. Let us be specific.
I sympathize with the old leader Shimon Peres of Israel saying he is not interested in history. He has been consistent not only in supporting Israel defending itself but also in seeking peace. He must be sick of hearing people reach back to the past and finding fault with each other. He is interested in solutions today.
Copyright © 2005-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.