Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
December 7, 2018
Mr. President: On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S.
entered the Second World War. A war of horrors, it normalized the intensive, barbaric
bombing of civilian populations. If the Spanish Civil War gave us Guernica and
Picasso's wrenching painting, WW2 offered up worse: London, Berlin, Dresden to
name a few, the latter eloquently described in Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughter House
Five." Against Japan, the firebombing of Tokyo, and above all the revulsion of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki radiated a foretaste of ending life on the planet.
Reparations demanded from Germany had led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and a thirst
for revenge. Thus Hitler demanded France's 1940 surrender in the same railway
carriage where the humiliating armistice was signed in 1918.
If the war to end all wars -- its centenary remembrance a month ago -- killed 20 million
plus, the successor tripled the score. Disrupted agriculture, severed supply chains,
fleeing civilians, starvation and misery; civilian deaths constituting an inordinate
majority in our supposedly civilized world.
One of the young men baling out of a burning bomber was George H. W. Bush. He
was rescued but his crew who also baled out were never found, a thought that is said
to have haunted him for the rest of his life. He went on to serve eight years as
vice-president under Ronald Reagan and then four more as president. This week he
passed away and was honored with a state funeral service in Washington National
His legacy includes the first Iraq war and the liberation of Kuwait. While he avoided
the hornet's nest of ethnic and religious divisions in Iraq itself, the war's repercussions
led to the Clinton sanctions and the deaths of half a million children. The UN
representative overseeing the limited oil-for-food program, Irishman Denis Halliday,
resigned in disgust. Not to forget the infamous answer by Clinton's Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright. Asked by Leslie Stahl if it was worth the lives of 500,000 children
... more than that died in Hiroshima, she answered: "I think this is a very hard choice,
but the price -- we think the price is worth it." (CBS 60 Minutes program, May 12,
Note the "we" in her answer. Who else does that include but our "I-feel-your-pain" Bill
Clinton. Hypocrisy, arm-twisted donations to the Clinton Foundation while wife Hillary
was Secretary of State in the Obama administration; her shunning of the official and
secure State Department email server in favor of a personal server installed at her
request and the subsequent selective release of emails. Well who cares about
verifiable history these days anyway as the following demonstrates.
Yes, there was another anniversary this week for a different kind of war. This time in
India. After securing freedom from the British, a secular tradition was proudly
espoused by the patrician Nehru and the epitome of nonviolence, Gandhi. It is now in
the process of being trampled in a war against minorities. The communal war
includes the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat for which Narendra Modi was barred from
the U.S., a ban lifted only when he became prime minister. He, his party and his allies
have been also responsible for the destruction of the Babri Mosque. An organized
Hindu mob tore it down on December 6, 1992; hence the shameful anniversary. Built
on the orders of the first Mughal emperor Babur, its purpose was to cement relations
with Hindu rajas by also sanctifying for Muslims a place holy to Hindus and held
traditionally to be the birthplace of Rama -- famous from Hindu epics for fighting evil
with the assistance of a monkey god's army ... although one is advised to avoid close
contact with temple monkeys when visiting.
As the first Mughal, Babur's hold on India was tenuous and he actively sought
alliances with Hindu rulers of small states against the pathans whose sultan he had
just defeated. That affinity continued during the entirety of Mughal rule and one
manifestation was frequent intermarriage with Rajputs. Several emperors had Hindu
mothers including Shah Jahan the builder of the Taj Mahal. In the end, Babur's fears
were warranted because Sher Shah Suri did marshal those pathan forces and throw
out his son Humayun, the second Mughal ruler. It was only Sher Shah's untimely
death during the capture of Kalinjar (a Hindu fort then held by Raja Kirat Singh) that
made Humayun's return possible.
The destruction of the mosque was a historical wrong if ever there was one, but then
Mr. Modi has never been bothered by history. He is also not bothered that his party's
fairy tale revision of school history books is a scandal. For similar reasons, Indian
history on Wikipedia is too frequently tarnished, requiring verification from other
sources to be properly informed.
The wrongs of communities, just as the wrongs of war, can lead to repercussions
unanticipated and cataclysmic. Yugoslavia is an example in living memory. Clearly,
any ruler of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country contemplating a path of communal
dominance must take note before he is hoist with his own petard.