I have the happy privilege of leaving work at noon every Tuesday to attend Spanish class. There are about 12 students total, so when I arrive, three or four early birds settle in for the next two hours of verb conjugations and vocab exercises. This sometimes leads to light homework discussion or polite chitchat. Today however proved to be a bit more…interesting.
The conversation was in progress as I took my seat. A woman in her early thirties named Nicky was complaining about a one-credit course the school requires for graduation. Apparently there are many of these eat-your-money courses to choose from and they cover a single topic to be debated in class. Since I’m a transient student at the school, I was out of the loop and continued to unpack my collection (a sign of complete nerditude!) of useful dictionaries. That is, until I heard the topic of the class…
It gets kind of ugly from there.
Nicky said it was difficult to have a real debate because the “kids” didn’t know much about what’s going on in Iraq. Some of them, who identify as “pro-war”, tried to argue that the US went to Iraq to find Osama bin Laden. Blah, blah, blah. One classmate even thought Osama was a country…YIKES. She went on about the assignment, mentioning the controversy over giving security clearance to contractors and finally added the disclaimer, “but you know, I’m not against the war.”
I looked up from 501 Spanish Verbs.
“Controversy? Maybe the US government shouldn’t invade another country, murder and rape the people who live there, bomb their homes and cities, or lock people in cages and torture them - and maybe the greedy multinationals with their grossly bulging pockets and drooling fangs shouldn’t be allowed to suck the natural resources of that country so coveted, that Iraqi blood must be spilled in the process.”
As I came up for air, she replied with complete nonchalance…
“Well, you know, it’s been happening forever. That’s just the way it is.”
My heart pounded with anger under my breast. I felt myself reeling, possessed as the words tumbled from my mouth,
“No. You are wrong. Not all societies are imperialists. People do have the ability to make other choices. You can try to justify violent aggression by saying ‘well, that’s just the way it is’ but it still doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean ‘the way it is’ is the way it should be.”
Her face flushed red as she turned to the front of the quiet classroom. The discussion faded into mumbling and class began.
It's amazing how talking to someone can make you feel alone and crazy. I will never understand the immediate, uncritical, and reactionary willingness to justify murder for profit and the resulting subjugation of peoples and lands. Never.
My mind became trapped in that moment.
Later, Nicky complimented my shoes like we were longtime girlfriends. As the fog cleared from my brain, our eyes met. She smiled. I felt the need to vomit and repeated the words... el síntoma.
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