FINNERTY: American exceptionalism blinds dialogue on Castro
Opinions Column: Waxing Philosophical
Louis Ruziecki made clear in his column, “Defenders of Fidel Castro are in denial about his tyranny,” that he is no fan of the now-deceased Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro. Rightfully so, as Castro has demonstrated in his years that suppression of art and political thought were crimes against the state. It is certain that Castro imprisoned and executed many dissidents, although the numbers range from 200 to 20,000 people. To label Fidel Castro a tyrant is a reasonable action. However, should one follow this criterion for identifying tyranny, it ought to be applied to the whole, rather than a portion of the world.
If we, as American citizens, are to label others tyrannical, we must first look to our own offenses to even ask ourselves if we are capable of being in a morally superior position to bear judgment. If we take the estimate of, say, 10,000 people — executed during the Castro regime and used this figure to give reason for tyranny — then what of the countless deaths of Native Americans during just the 19th century? David Stannard’s book, “American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World,” estimates that due to Indian Removal Act, enacted by the Andrew Jackson administration, at least 8,000 Cherokee perished from relocation, execution and disease. The Trail of Tears saw the demise of more than half of the Cherokee population. The Sand Creek Massacre involved a military force murdering women and children. Examples of brutality and unbridled violence are numerous and often dismissed. Is this not tyrannical behavior?
What of the indigenous peoples known as the “Moros” living in the Philippines, who in 1906 were massacred — 994 men, women and children, were executed as they hid in an inactive volcanic crater. And to clarify, who committed this atrocity? The U.S., in the 20th century no less. Consistently throughout American history, genocide, war crimes and state-sponsored terrorism have been proven to be the modus operandi of our elected leaders.
In fact, many dictators and terrorist organizations have found support in American covert operations. The most famous example perhaps is the Contra rebels, a right-wing military collective active in Nicaragua in the 1970s and 1980s. Then there is our involvement in Afghanistan, as we supported a war against Russian aggression. The latter not being entirely ignoble, that is until we left and a new brand of religious extremism formed around the stinger missiles we so haphazardly provided.
Vietnam, a name that needs no introduction, is perhaps the best example of genocide and war crimes. It is my belief that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is just as much a war criminal and tyrant as Fidel Castro. An illegal war in Cambodia, followed by massive carpet bombings and assassinations? This is not tyranny? It was often said that Castro was not under the law, but rather above it. Kissinger’s actions seem to follow the precedent. Thousands, if not tens of thousands have died at the hands of his terrible diplomacy and insistence on covert, and usually illegal actions. And yet, there is never justice for the victims of American tyrants such as Jackson, Bush, Kissinger and the people at large. After all, it is our tax money and elected leaders who provided such atrocities, therefore making us complicit in the least.
Surely, one can tout the many good things about America, our freedoms and opportunities. How in previous years we have helped immigrants escape the rule of totalitarian regimes, or civil wars — unless one is a Muslim from Syria, per our new regime’s party line. Think of all the Jewish refugees who escaped to the United States from the perils of Nazi Germany. Does this not count as some sort of noble purpose? One would think that America has been consistently on the side of righteous justice throughout our years, yet how do we account for the many atrocities and block them from our conscious?
Therefore, to those like Louis Ruziecki, who deplore tyrants and those who support them, I hope that you view history in an objective lens and use your criterion for judgment on all parties. There is no doubt in my mind that Castro killed many people, but in retrospect, so have we. This is not an issue of the Left or the Right, but rather of Americans. If we are to be the moral titans of this epoch, we must first come to grips with our own crimes before condemning others.
Jonathan Finnerty is a School of Arts Sciences senior majoring in classics and philosophy. His column, "Waxing Philosophical," runs on alternate Thursdays.
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