Condoning the Present to Condemn the Past

I belong to a few veteran's forums that focus on different parts of my years in the military; e.g. one of the forums is for soldiers stationed in Germany during the 1980s, another forum is for soldiers who served in the 11th Armored Calvary Regiment, etc. Since I spent eight years as an Army linguist, another of the forums to which I belong is reserved for former military linguists, where the topics of discussion focus on general interest subjects that are centered around learning languages and using languages.

It is with that general spirit in mind that someone posted the following article, which describes how the People's Republic of China has been trying to destroy the native Tibetan language since it conquered Tibet in the 1950s:

Killing a language: China won't let Tibetans study in their own language

This behavior is nothing new for Communists. Lest we forget, the Soviet Union launched these same sorts of language purging campaigns in all of their republics during the USSR's reign of terror. When I was in language school, I knew several teachers from Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, etc., all of whom were forced to learn Russian in school as their primary language. Some were given the option to learn a second language, with their options being English or their native language. (And all of them opted for English, because the "West was cool.") The goal behind suppressing native languages is to remake the culture of conquered territories resemble the culture of the conquering nation. With that in mind, China is simply following the decades-old Communist playbook by killing the local language of Tibet in order to force its citizens to sound more like they're Chinese. As the article that was posted suggests, this is a horrible human rights violation.

However, any topic with possible political ramifications in this day and age will attract any number of Internet trolls, and the forum thread in this particular situation was not immune to infiltration. The thread hijacker in this instance attempted to steer the conversation away from a discussion on China's present-day transgressions to accuse the United States of having suppressed the native languages of conquered indigenous peoples from a century ago. While English has undoubtedly been a required language in schools across the nation in the centuries since its inception, (to include schools on Native American reservations), the United States has also taken bold steps in its efforts to preserve indigenous languages through legislation like the Native American Languages Act of 1990.

However, as with most misguided social justice warriors in today's "react first / research later" generation, none of that mattered. Nor did China's transgressions. All that mattered was that the United States should be ashamed of itself, because: America = Bad. Bad. Bad.

Needless to say, I took exception to this troll's ill-informed and self-righteous attitude. I wholeheartedly believe that there is nothing wrong with saying "This or that bad thing happened in the past," just as there is nothing wrong with saying "This or that bad thing is happening right now." However, I also steadfastly believe that there is something wrong when someone tries to prevent people from discussing something bad that's happening right now by shutting down conversations and accusing people's ancestors of wrongdoing.

For the record, my Irish American ancestors had nothing to do with the moral crimes of the past that this knee-jerk troll seemed hell bent on pushing as the prominent issue. My ancestors arrived far too recently and settled nowhere near the affected areas, so I feel no personal responsibility to apologize for the sins and stupidity of unrelated strangers. However, I seriously resent the accusation that I am guilty of some sort of moral failure or hypocritical behavior when I look at an atrocity that is taking place in the present and correctly label that behavior as "atrocity" without simultaneously calling out every other similar atrocity across the history of humanity.

Let me be clear, the United States has done many, many things wrong during in its sordid past. I have not forgotten the faults of our nation's founding fathers, but even if I had, that should not prevent my ability to call out evil when I see it. When someone's myopic gaze is so laser focused on the past sins of others that they cannot or will not see what is happening today, then they are just as guilty of subjective hypocrisy as those who would forget or ignore the past.

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