Learn From History And Take Action

By Ingrid Newkirk

With our troops a long way from home and new hotspots from the Ivory Coast to
Venezuela and South Korea bubbling up around the globe, there has seldom been
a more apt time to wish for peace on earth.

This month, however, there was progress. Much emotion could be heard in the
voices of the elder statesmen who welcomed 15 more member countries to the
European Union, most once bitter enemies who had fought and killed each other
in wars gone by.
Piecemeal peace, peace stitched together like a quilt–that's more realistic,
although hope will not make it happen. As the flower children used to say, if
you want peace, you have to work for it.

This is perhaps the most important lesson we could learn-or more properly,
re-learn-from current events and from history as we begin the New Year: The
end of violence and evil begins with taking action.

On the home front, the sight of Cardinal Law reminds us that all that evil
needs to triumph is for enough good people to do nothing. For 18 years, the
cardinal who now asks forgiveness for his "shortcomings and mistakes" did
something worse than nothing. He now steps down from his lofty post after
much pressure and after almost two decades of abusing the trust of the
faithful. As the Daily Show's John Stewart asked, "Step down some more. And
some more. Can you feel the pitchforks yet?" Was it that our history had not
taught us that child abuse was wrong?

Trent Lott is asking for our forgiveness too. The expressions on the faces of
African-Americans watching Senator Lott's appearance on Black Entertainment
Television said it all. "We don't care if you would vote for a Martin Luther
King Day now," they said. "What counts is that you did not do so years ago
when it was an issue." Mr. Lott's original apology included the words, "The
fact is that we supported things then that we now know were wrong."

Congressional commentator Cokie Roberts hit the nail on the head, remarking
that the problem is that there were people who knew they were wrong then and
who courageously stuck their necks out to say so. Hadn't history had already
taught us that racism was wrong?

Of course it's not just human beings who are threatened by, and who suffer
from the violence, indifference and disrespect in the world. In Paraguay,
video footage shows soldiers tying struggling dogs to a clothesline and using
them for bayonet practice. Films from laboratories in a handful of countries
demonstrate that Osama bin Laden was not the only one to test poison gas on
dogs. Who can forget the birds dying in agony in the blown-up Kuwaiti oil
fields or the sight of the stray dog fleeing the tumbling rubble as Yassar
Arafat's compound fell to Israeli bulldozers. Animals claim no nationality,
yet they, too, are shot, gassed, bombed and blown up by landmines.

When students at an Iowa high school decided to decorate their classroom tree
this year with the severed tails of the cats they had cut up in dissection
exercises, was it a right or a reprehensible way to celebrate Christ's birth?
Should their teacher be praised or admonished for joining in the fun, rather
than sitting down with them and reflecting on their disrespect for the lives
they had taken? Abraham Lincoln seemed to be heading in the right direction
when he wrote, "I care not for a man's religion whose dog or cat are not the
better for it."

All over the world, from our hometowns to desert kingdoms, real human beings
are making choices. To cover up what is wrong or to stick up for what is
right. To stand up against violence or to stand silently in the face of
violence. Worse, to join in with it.
It is always hard to look at what we, each of us, is doing today and wonder
how our behavior will stand the test of time. Will our grandchildren and
great grandchildren ask us why we countenanced the dog on his chain in the
winter freeze, the pig wheezing from black lung on the floor of the filthy
factory farm and the misery of the fox gone mad,
turning in circles on a fur ranch? Will we say, "Back then, we felt it
acceptable to define ourselves so narrowly that animals' pain and suffering,
even for the most frivolous reasons, did not count."?

Will we endorse violence and evil, in whatever form it takes, by doing
nothing? Or will we do our part to stitch together the quilt?

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