Somebody had to flip the switch, pull the trigger, throw the canister, aim and fire, probably several somebodies. And it wasn’t on a computer screen that they did the pointing and clicking, there was nothing antiseptic about it. People employed by the American government fired tear gas at refugees seeking asylum in the United States including women and children, small children, children in diapers.
So who are these somebodies who have worked it out in their heads that tear-gassing refugees is personally morally acceptable because that ultimately is what we’re talking about – what is personally morally acceptable. They probably had time to consider it ahead of time. It is unlikely that the decision was a spur of the moment one, the tear gas had been ordered a while ago and, I’m betting, there had been plenty of tear gas drills to make sure everything went smoothly, without a hitch, except for the part where ace photographers were able to catch refugees’ trauma in real time.
The trap is thinking that the people who did the tear-gassing are freaks. This is what I used to think about the Nazis who ran the concentration camps, dropped the Zyklon-B in the gas chambers, rousted people from their homes, made them dig their own graves, and shot them one by one. I figured that Hitler’s crew had figured out how to find all the country’s screwed-up sadistic characters, put special outfits on them, and let them loose to torture and murder.
But it wasn’t like that. Each of those Nazis was somebody’s baby, each grew up to be somebody who looked like everybody else, and then became somebody who could bayonet a baby in his mother’s arms. They weren’t freaks, they were just everyday Joes that grew up and took root in a hothouse of hatred and white supremacy.
They were just following orders.
The Americans at the border who tear-gassed refugees were just following orders. We don’t know if there were one or two or twenty who said “no, I’m not doing this.” There might have been. We do know that there were enough willing to do it that it got done. And those Americans went home to their families, helped their kids with their homework, and went to sleep in their beds while families at the border were still struggling to breathe.
It’s really unfathomable until you think about it.
Vicious, horrible things are the meat of America along with its beauty, its freedom, and its dream. We indulge our pride and patriotism while pushing institutionalized cruelty – historical and current – to the back of our very big American closet. We have the potential is what I’m saying, we’ve proven that. We are not so very far from the bayoneting Nazi because, remember, they weren’t freaks. Each was somebody’s baby.
What would have happened at the border if every single person had said no to using tear gas? What if the designated tear-gas shooters saw the desperate people coming toward them and just said, “Nope. Not doing it.” Did they think it but not have the courage to act? Or did they not think it? Neither bodes well for us as a country.
Maybe what is needed is more visible moral courage. Like the 27 Methodists singing Amazing Grace who surrounded an ICE van to protect an immigrant from deportation. The pastor said to police, “We understand this is your job, but we need you to understand that as a matter of conviction we cannot move, and you will have to arrest us.” (The Hill, 11/26/18)
Let’s lift up the Methodists and be like them. Let’s stand and sing Amazing Grace instead of lobbing tear gas at babies. Let’s beat back our bad selves and our lazy, scared, silent selves and start singing as loud as we can. Nobody will do this for us. We have to do it, even if we don’t know the words. All together and really loud.
99 New refers to a writing challenge; this is 72/99 consecutive blog posts.