Tragedy

We’ve been seeing a lot of images of destruction in the wake of Hurricane Sandy that devastated the Caribbean and brought New York and Wall Street to its knees. The loss of everything you own, including the lives of loved ones, is hard to comprehend sitting in the safety of an armchair. The fact that technology can bring us those images into our livingrooms and keep us informed about world events is heartening, particularly when people risk their lives to do it, like in the Syrian and Egyptian uprisings. We see now events as they are unfolding, which brings us closer to those who are suffering, but it also emphasizes the distance there still exists between us.

I remember sitting glued to the tv screen watching a group of reporters in Rwanda in 1994 interviewing Tutsis in a small village when a cry went up that the Hutus were coming. The reporters scrambled for their truck and high-tailed it out of there, leaving the villagers to their fate. There was panic, screaming and chaos, but the image that stays forever with me is of a young mother clutching her baby, running alongside the truck, begging the only female reporter to take and save her baby. The truck sped away. But later the crew returned and filmed the carnage; the bodies of the young mother and her baby were there, hacked to death, the mother still trying to shield her child.

Media Moment Rwanda 1994

I saw you on tv for a moment

a moment that left me shredded

shredded as you ran for the truck

with a child in your arms

your arms held aloft as you offered her

offered and begged for the gift to be received

 

No one took it.

 

I cannot talk or write about that event without welling up and feeling a shearing inside, a despair of a human race impervious to the suffering of others and of the cruelty and racial madness that fuels such things. Grief and anguish for the victims, whether from natural disasters or confict, is just as deep, but for me, the devastation of lives through conflict and greed has to be worse; we have no control over volcanoes, storms or earthquakes but as human beings we do have choices.

October 27th 1962 is the 50th anniversary of an act of conscience that saved the world. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, second-in-command Vasilli Arkhipov of the Soviet submarine B-59 refused to agree with his Captain’s order to launch nuclear torpedos against US warships and setting off what might well have been a terminal superpower nuclear war. The US had been dropping depth charges near the submarine in an attempt to force it to surface, unaware it was carrying nuclear arms. The Soviet officers, who had lost radio contact with Moscow, concluded that World War 3 had begun, and 2 of the officers agreed to ‘blast the warships out of the water’. Arkhipov refused to agree – unanimous consent of 3 officers was required – and thanks to him and his choice to follow his conscience rather than orders, we are here to talk about it.

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