When I was little, I heard about the horrors of Pearl Harbor. I watched movies about the “bad guys” from World War II.
Of course I did.
My father and some of his brothers fought in that war. I read “The Diary of Anna Frank”. I read Elie Weisel. I learned all that I could learn about the Nazi’s.
I grew up thinking of the Germans, and to a lesser extent, the Japanese, as “our enemies.” They were the “bad guys”. Pure and simple. We were good, they were bad. I was the biggest supporter of the Jewish homeland that you could imagine. I thought at one point that I’d like to move to Israel, to experience this wonderful righting of such terrible wrong.
Then I graduated from High School, and went on an exchange program to Tunisia, where I learned that Moslems are sweet, gentle, funny, kind, loving and so so much like my Italian family that it was hilarious. At that time in my life, at the tender age of 17, I began to wonder about my country’s unshakable support for Israel. I began to wonder about those Palestinians who were unceremoniously booted off of their land so that Europe could make amends for its crimes. I started to wonder about “good guys and bad guys” at that point.
When I got to college, it was the middle of the Cold War. The Germans were now our Allies, but we still thought of them with a good deal of caution. The Soviets were the “real” enemy now. Israel was our ally, the Palestinians were suspect. I was confused and frustrated when I recognized that my beloved Tunisian family were seen by my countrymen as “the opposition.” The bad guys.
This didn’t make a whole lot of sense, knowing what I knew about Tunisia, but I was intrigued by international relations in 1974.
I decided to major in both Political Science and Soviet Studies. I wanted to become an expert on “the enemy”. I learned to speak Russian, I read all about the Russian Revolution, I learned a LOT about the workings of the Soviet Union.
It was easy to identify the “Soviets” as the bad guys, but most of my college professors were from the Soviet Union. They were sweet, gentle, funny, kind, loving and smart. They were Russians and Serbs, and Ukranians and Czechs. They were my friends.They didn’t really feel like “the enemy”.
And so here I am, in the winter of 2015. I am watching the news, and seeing that “Muslims” are the new Germans. They are our new “bad guy”. I hear my President trying to explain why he needs War Powers to fight this “existential and ideological threat.”
I’ve heard little children in my classroom talking about “Muslim terrorists”, and I remember when we used to play “Nazi’s” in the backyard.
I am sitting in my living room, waiting for my German student, my German “son”, to come home for dinner. I think about him for a minute. He is sweet, gentle, funny, kind, loving and smart. He is everything you would want your child to be.
I look up at the German flag that is hanging in my living room.
It was a lovely gift from Lucas’ mother, my new friend from “across the water”. She is wonderful! She is absolutely everything I’d ever want from a friend. I am so excited that I’ll get to meet her and her husband next fall, when they come to Boston for a visit. I’m even more excited that they have invited us to visit them in Berlin! I can’t wait to go!
And this all makes me wonder: why do we feel such a need to identify and label an “enemy”? Why can’t we just step back and realize that there are wonderful, phenomenal Germans/Russians/Poles/Serbs/Japanese/Chinese/Islamic/Israeli/African humans?
And that there are horrible, despicable, violent, bitter, crazy Germans/Russians/Poles/Serbs/Japanese/Chinese/Islamic/Israeli/African humans?
I am happy to have my German flag, my Russian dolls, my Italian food, and my Islamic jewelry in my home. I am happy to have my Jewish friends and relatives, my Muslim family and friends, and my wonderful, sweet German “son”, all a big part of what makes my life meaningful.
The enemy keeps changing, the enemy keeps moving, the enemy keeps giving the US Government a reason to spend money on more war.
I have met the enemy. And he is us.