After World War II America was the undisputed
champion of the
world. For a while everyone loved us, even our former
enemies. But soon people began to resent us due to our
superior attitudes. We Americans thought that was
unjustified and ungrateful. In one particular country,
the unrest was beginning to have strategic implications
during that delicate time of detente. Dr. Humphrey's job
was to find out what the problem was and solve it.
The basic problem was that the Americans working in
that poor ally country thought that the local people were
smelly, ignorant, violent, dishonest and lazy and let
them know it. No matter what he did, Dr. Humphrey
couldn't stop the negative talk; partially because some
of it was true! As a result, though, the local people
wanted the Americans to go home.
One day, as a diversion, Humphrey decided to go
hunting for wild boar with some people from the American
embassy. They took a truck from the motor pool and headed
out to the boondocks, stopping at a village to hire some
local men to beat the brush and act as guides.
This village was very poor. The huts were made of mud
and there was no electricity or running water. The
streets were unpaved dirt and the whole village smelled.
Flies abounded. The men looked surly and wore dirty
clothes. The women covered their faces, and the children
had runny noses and were dressed in rags.
It wasn't long before one American in the truck said,
"This place stinks." Another said, "These
people live just like animals." A third said, "They just don't
value life the same as we do." Finally, a young air
force man said, "Yeah, they got nothin' to live for;
they may as well be dead."
What could you say? It seemed true enough.
But just then, an old sergeant in the truck spoke up.
He was the quiet type who never said much. In fact,
except for his uniform, he kind of reminded you of one of
the tough men in the village. He looked at the young
airman and said, "You think they got nothin' to live
for, do you? Well, if you are so sure, why don't you just
take my knife, jump down off the back of this truck, and
go try to kill one of them?"
There was dead silence in the truck.
amazed. It was the first time that anyone had said
anything that had actually silenced the negative talk
about these local people. The sergeant went on to say,
"I don't know either why they value their lives so
much. Maybe it's those snotty nosed kids, or the women in
the pantaloons. But whatever it is, they care about their
lives and the lives of their loved ones, same as we
Americans do. And if we don't stop talking bad about
them, they will kick us out of this country!"
Humphrey asked him what we Americans, with all our
wealth, could do to prove our belief in the peasants'
equality despite their destitution? The Tennessee
sergeant answered easily, "You got to be able to
look them in the face and let them know, just with your
eyes, that you know they are men who hurt like we do, and
hope like we do, and want for their kids just like we all
do. It is that way or we lose."
For A New Millennium"
by Robert L. Humphrey