Opinion

Speech reflects U.S. double standard

Is it I, or did the State of the Union address look like an aerobics class for old white people? Think about it. For an hour the president said things we all know are either false or exaggerated, and every three words or so, the whole room stands, claps, and then sits down. Most of them probably haven’t had that much exercise since they blew out the candles on their eightieth birthday.
President Bush delivered a decent speech, and he pronounced most of the words correctly. To his credit, he created powerful moments, the most sincere of which was the story of a boy who at a memorial in New York put a football at his father’s grave, saying, “Dear Daddy, please take this to Heaven. I don’t want to play football until I can play with you again.” If that doesn’t make you cry, nothing will.
But there were moments when I was angered and offended. In his first sentence, Bush claimed the “civilized world faces unprecedented dangers,” a sentiment that prevailed throughout his speech. This implies that we are civilized and those we oppose are not, and I am insulted at such a pompous remark.
Did we forget that “civilization” has been used to justify our enslavement of Africans and our obliteration of Native Americans? Presently, it seems to justify keeping prisoners of war under inhumane conditions in Guantanamo Bay.
What does this say about America to the world? Not that we are compassionate. Not that we are dignified. It says that we will be more brutal, nasty, and underhanded than our enemies. USA Today rightly said that as it wages its war on terrorism, the United States “must match its values with its tactics. That means treating prisoners, no matter how loathsome, as individuals.”
Secondly, when Bush said, “We have no intention of imposing our culture, but America will always stand for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity,” I laughed. Isn’t everything we have done in this war an imposition of our culture? Granted, there have been positive steps for Afghani women, but let’s at least call it what it is. And I wonder what those prisoners living in their own filth might say about our firm stance on human dignity. Oh wait, but they are “uncivilized.”
Does this mean I sympathize with terrorists? Absolutely not. But I don’t sympathize with a government that arbitrarily calls and has called people uncivilized in order to appear morally and socially superior when in actuality it is committing similar atrocities. Anyone who disagrees with me can take an American history course.
You might wonder why I seem so angry. After all, America is a wonderful place. However, we can be blatant hypocrites and outright liars. The events of Sept. 11th were heinous, and we must prevent them from happening again. But how can we act like innocent bearers of peace and justice? The violence of our past is both brutal and appalling, and I get a bit peeved when we will not apologize to the billions we have massacred, but demand apologies with ruthless vengeance from those who threaten our “righteous nation.”
Bush concluded by saying, “Deep in the American character, there is honor, and it is stronger than cynicism.” There is tremendous honor in our people. But before it becomes stronger than my cynicism, America must get off its pedestal as the last bastion of justice in an uncivilized world. We make mistakes as bad as anyone else, no matter how “civilized” we think we are.
Travis Atria is a sophomore majoring in English literature.

February 5, 2002

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Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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