|EDINBURG, April 21 - One Sunday afternoon, as almost every Sunday, 60 to 70 children sat at cafeteria tables. Each child had a bowl of two big scoops of strawberry ice cream.
At the end of one table sat a boy about five years old. Next to him, and always close to him, was a girl about eight. Though not related, she was his “big sister,” constantly looking after and protecting him.
“Kim’s” ice cream sat untouched as she carefully fed “Duc,” who loved ice cream more than just about anything in the world. Once Duc’s bowl was empty, Kim fed him her ice cream too; although, Duc had no idea he was eating both his and Kim’s ice cream.
Duc was blind. The fact he was alive was something of a miracle. His family died when a U.S. 105mm artillery round landed in his village, blinding him, and blowing off both legs and an arm. Someone applied tourniquets to the stumps to prevent him from bleeding out before he could be evacuated to a hospital where doctors worked frantically to save his life.
Once he recovered, his family dead, Duc was placed in a Sai Gon orphanage; Kim “adopted” him almost immediately. Kim purportedly loved ice cream too, but forget getting her to eat any. Put more ice cream in Kim’s bowl, and she fed that to Duc too. Beg her, plead with her to eat just a little; take just one bite. She smiled sweetly, and gave it to Duc.
Kim was something of an aberration in the orphanage--not because she gave Duc all of her ice cream--but because she had not been physically wounded. So many of the children there had lost one or both arms, one or both legs (primarily from U.S. artillery or bombs) there was a room in the orphanage simply called the “limb room.”
It was about 25 feet long and 20 feet wide. Against the walls running the length of room stood cafeteria tables. Down the center of the room was a double row of cafeteria tables. Three of the four walls were covered with “peg board.” On the tables, and hanging on the walls, were artificial legs and arms for the children. As a child outgrew a leg or arm, the child was fitted with another; and the leg or arm was placed in the room for the next child needing a limb that size.
This was but one orphanage in Sai Gon. How many children were there throughout Viet Nam who had been blinded or lost one or more limbs by the ordnance of war? In a war in which six million people died, in which unprecedented levels of ordnance were expended - most of it weapons of indiscriminate destruction detonated by the U.S. - wounded children number in the tens of thousands.
Martin Richard, doubtlessly, loved his little sister; loved being her “big brother,” and saw his job as looking after her and protecting her - not appreciably differently from Kim looking after and protecting her “little Brother,” Duc.
Unlike Duc, Martin’s parents survived the Boston bombings; although his mother, Denise, suffered a serious head injury requiring surgery, and his seven year old sister, Jane, lost a leg. Were she to find herself in the same Sai Gon orphanage as Duc, they would have an artificial leg for her.
But Jane always will be missing a part of her - her big brother, who no longer will be there to look after and protect her.
When acts of terrorism hit the United States, it grabs everyone’s attention. There is non-stop coverage by TV news media. The nation mourns. Presidents give stirring speeches, vowing the perpetrators of such heinous, cowardly acts will be found and brought to justice.
The problem is, with the exception of extraordinary pictures, such as that of nine year old Kim Phuc running naked down a road, her clothes burned off, and much of her body burned by napalm, most Americans remain oblivious of the carnage the United States inflicts on the world.
Sadly, the United States has come to rely heavily on usage of weapons of indiscriminate destruction on cities, towns and villages.
The nations against which the U.S. has launched terrorist attacks is too long to name. A short list would include the brutal war to subjugate the Filipino people, fire bombing Dresden, fire bombing Tokyo and the atomic bombs on the non-military targets of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, massacres of Korean refugees, Viet Nam, U.S. instigated slaughters throughout Central America--Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras - Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Worst of all, certainly the most prolonged and systematic, is the genocide of Native Americans.
Ironically, although one of the most secure and safest nations on earth, the U.S. has been one of the largest purveyors of terrorism in the world. As a people, we should be doubly ashamed; first, for our astounding ignorance of our own history; and second, for placing such a low value on the lives of all other humans.
If one American is killed in a terrorist attack, it is a tragedy prompting national mourning and expectations of sympathy from the rest of the world. If six million Southeast Asians die, or two million Iraqis, well, in the words of then Secretary of State Madeline Albright when asked about the deaths of 500,000 children in Iraq due to the sanctions and continuous bombings of Iraq by President Clinton, "we believe it is worth it."
No, Ms Albright, it is not worth it; it is not worth the life of one eigth year old child, whether that child is Viet Namese, Filipino, Native American, Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani OR Martin Richard.
The bombing in Boston is inexcusable - as are all attacks on civilian populations. IF we genuinely want an end to terrorism, we should begin at home by forcing the U.S. government to stop its purveyance of terrorism throughout much of the world.
We grieve for Martin and his mother and sister, for Lu Lingzi, whose parent sent her to the U.S. from China to study mathematics and statistics, for Krystle Campbell, 29, a “lovable girl” with a beautiful smile, who “helped everybody”, and for all of the others wounded physically and/or mentally in Boston. But, we also should understand they ultimately are no different than millions of others traumatized, wounded, maimed or killed by violence, terrorism and war anywhere in the world.
By all accounts, Martin was a gentle soul, whose prophetic poster, made almost a year ago simply said, “No more hurting people. Peace.” We should take up that cause so Martin shall not have died in vain.
Samuel Freeman is a political science professor based in the Rio Grande Valley. His “Left is Right” columns appear regularly in the Guardian.