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October 27, 2005

Who Says America's Self-Centered?

While dribbling my life away online, I discovered that Time magazine's big story on the My Lai massacre from its December 5, 1969 issue was titled:

An American Tragedy

How pleased we'd be if a big article on 9/11 in a popular Muslim magazine were titled:

An Afghani Tragedy

The Time article title also reminds me of something in a classified internal U.S. government memo about Guatemala, written—coincidentally enough—on March 29, 1968, less than two weeks after My Lai. It was from the State Department's Viron Vaky, who'd recently been stationed in Guatemala, to his boss the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs. By U.S. standards Vaky was very, very liberal, and in the memo spoke out against the gruesome crimes of the U.S., which were every bit as bad as what was going on in Vietnam. Then Vaky wrote:

U.S. Values

This leads to an aspect I personally find most disturbing of all--that we have not been honest with ourselves.

If I were one of the thousands of Guatemalans we massacred, I might look at that and say:

Huh. You know, the aspect of all this I personally found most disturbing is when you cut my balls off and shoved them in my mouth. I also was fairly disturbed when you raped my six year-old daughter and then blew off my wife's head with an assault rifle. But that's the funny thing about life: everybody has their own point of view.
Posted at October 27, 2005 08:37 PM | TrackBack

Vaky did not too bad for a guy who sat in the office most of the time...give him some credit there.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at October 28, 2005 01:52 AM

More aptly, 'an article on the September 11 attacks titled A Saudi Tragedy'.

Which, assuming that the hijackers didn't speak and act for all Saudis, it to some extent was...

But your basic point stands, that we Americans tend to claim victimhood no matter which end of a massacre we're on.

Posted by: Nell at October 28, 2005 10:05 AM

My congressman, Devin Nunes, pointed this out to me in a letter recently. He said that the degree to which American interrogation tactics in Iraq and Guantanamo appear harsh "depend on the individual". You see, it is all a matter of _whose_ testicles are being electrocuted.

Posted by: pulaski at October 28, 2005 10:13 AM

Of course (at least indirectly) the events of 9/11/01 perpetrated by Saudis did kill more Afghans than Americans so your "Afghani tragedy" headline would not really be that inappropriate.

Posted by: John at October 28, 2005 10:31 AM

Non-Blonde Rotarian,

The varying responses of different individuals to the same event is always worthy of large government grants. I myself am partial to experiments in which the test subjects are led to believe they're the ones administering the experiment.

En Ming Hee,

I don't think I'd be willing to give Mr. Vaky credit per se, but I would be happy to discuss bumping him up a few levels of hell.


You're probably right. I considered that as well as "An Arab Tragedy," which now that I think of it would also have been superior.


Have you ever posted that anywhere? I know I'd like to see it, and I can't imagine I'm the only one.


Yes, but the less inappropriate it is, the weaker my little joke is. Thus you are in trouble with me for pointing that out.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at October 28, 2005 10:49 AM

From what I recall, the mass butchery at Sabra & Shatila camps was titled an 'Israeli tragedy' on Time's cover page in September 1982.

Posted by: sk at October 28, 2005 11:00 PM


I'll find the letter in my files and scan it. The main point of his response letter was that we are fighting "barbarians", we need to use unconventional tactics, and how dare I malign the reputation of our troops and compare them to beheaders. Subsequent correspondence has been on the same themes (regardless of what I write about). In fact, my first letter wasn't even about torture, it was about mistreatment of our own soldiers for whistleblowing.

Posted by: pulaski at October 30, 2005 09:14 AM