July 31, 2014
I had the pleasure of hosting 19 women from Shanghai Normal University for the last two weeks, part of a student exchange program sponsored by Bridgewater State and the Minnock Center for International Engagement. There is simply no better way to break down barriers between people than travel and face to face interaction.
During the two weeks that the women were on campus and in the region, I was able to make some observations about their impressions of life here in the United States. For example, on many of the field trips I noticed that the women were looking at the sky. I asked their group leader why? She remarked that in Shanghai the students do not often see blue sky and giant white clouds as they are filtered by the heavy pollution from cars and industry. We are indeed lucky.
I also noticed a great interest in our family structure. In China there has been in place for decades the one child policy that limits the size of families. The students were most inquisitive when they met our daughters and our three grandchildren to see a different family structure. Moreover, they were overwhelmed by the size of our house since with three girls there was a definite need for bedroom space and more than one bathroom. In Shanghai, unless one is wealthy or connected to the Communist Party, housing space is often a modest three or four room apartment.
Finally, when we traveled to the State House in Boston and toured the House and Senate chambers the students were full of questions about political parties, elections and citizen participation. They know that in their country involvement by the people and popular decision-making are almost non-existent. We may complain about our gridlocked system of government but it is far superior to the centralized control that the Chinese experience.
The women from Shanghai have returned home from their visit to Bridgewater State and Massachusetts but I believe they learned a great deal about our way of life and the benefits of living in an open society, free of conditions and restrictions that we take for granted.
July 25, 2014
It is heart-wrenching and deeply saddening to see video and photos of children, innocent children, perish in the most awful way as victims of war in Gaza and Syria or to hear story after story of children fearing for their lives from the violent gangs of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
This insane killing of civilians, especially children, has become so commonplace in today’s world that too many of us in this country just walk by the television and stare for a moment only to switch to a sports channel. The world has become immune to the killing, hoping it will end, but not seeing the death and destruction as events that touch people personally.
These killing fields around the world are certainly the result of harsh social and political conditions – Israel vs. Palestine, Syria vs. rebels, border children vs. gangs. Each side is blamed for the killing of innocents, but there is a distinction that must not be forgotten. Blame is everywhere, but it does reside in the tactics used by terrorists, dictators and gang members.
To fire deadly rockets into Israel from high density neighborhoods, schools or hospitals as Hamas is doing is deliberately placing civilians and children at risk. To drop barrel bombs with pieces of shrapnel in them without a real target as Syria’s Bashar al Assad has done is designed to send a horrific message. And to kill young boys and rape young girls just for refusing to join the M-13 street gang in Honduras is an act without conscience and a callous disregard for the sanctity of life.
Certainly there are official arguments for the use of deadly force in each of these terrible killing fields, but the politics and the power games mean little if terrorists, dictators and gang members think nothing about those who just want to live their lives in peace and not be used as pawns to win a war or make a statement or control turf.
July 6, 2014
The thousands of minors crossing our border is not only a security issue but is the sad result of events years ago in Central America
July 1, 2014
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees recently reported that the number of refugees in the world today is around 45 million, no precise figure is available because the number keeps increasing each and every day.
That number of refugees is about the same as during the disastrous period of World War II. During and after that war the word refugee was not used but instead the people who had lost everything, including their country, were called displaced persons. But whether displaced persons or refugees we live at time when wars, natural disasters, joblessness, crime, terrorism and climate change are forcing people into statelessness.
Currently, five countgries are creating the bulk of the refugee problem – Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. In these five countries the movement of people elsewhere is largely the result of religious and civil war, ethnic strife and violent competition for control of natural resources. Each of these five countries are failed states as they do not have the capacity or the will to provide a safe haven or the basic necessities of life for their citizens.
I visited a refugee camp a year ago in northern Iraq run by the UN with considerable support from the United States and the European Union. The camp held behind barbed wire nearly 100,000 Syrians in primitive conditions – families of ten sleeping in makeshift tents and using toilet and water facilities that were unsanitary. The camp was the saddest place that I have ever visited.
It can be expected that the number of refugees currently in camps will not quickly decline since the sources of their stateless status will only continue. Manay of these people have lived for years in the camps and in some cases there have been uprisings of the residents as they lash out against the hopelessness of their predicament. We often define the devastation of war in terms of deaths and destruction, but to those two evils must now be added the growing refugee problem, which can only be described as a human tragedy.