Earth Notes: The more I learn…

“The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.” — Mark Twain

By Alice Darlington

“The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.” Every day I agree more with Mark Twain. Every day I read about some new atrocity and retreat into the soft fur of my dog. A few weeks ago I read about the sufferings of the Rohingya Muslims, forced to submit to the majority Buddhists of Myanmar or be forced to leave as refugees to Bangladesh as their villages are pillaged and burned. I read of a man with golden eyes, Nazir Ahmed, whose 12-year-old daughter, Noor, was put in a small madrassa to continue the learning she loved when she was bullied relentlessly at regular school. She was so clever that she soon was the best in her class and her proud father bought her gold earrings to reward her, telling her never to take them off lest soldiers steal them. But as their village was being swarmed, as retaliation for a Rohingya militant attack, Noor packed her books into a pink bag and urged her father to leave the village with the family. They swam across the river through corpses but Noor wasn’t with them. Later Mr. Ahmed learned that Noor, along with his daughter-in-law, was herded into a hut where they had been raped. After the rape, the soldier demanded that Noor give him her gold earrings but when she wasn’t quick enough, he simply cut off her ears, stabbed her in the chest, and set the hut on fire. I do not understand.

At the time I had been reading the book, A Question of Honor, by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud about the Polish pilots (as well as soldiers and sailors) who had escaped to England when Poland fell to the Nazis in October 1939, at the start of World War II, and joined the British air force, playing a large part in the Battle of Britain and subsequent defeat of Germany. Their fight was always focused on eventually regaining their homeland with the Allies' help as they were promised, only to be betrayed by Roosevelt and Churchill. F.D.R. was especially responsible for this, as he didn’t seem to understand Stalin and trusted that he wouldn’t take and keep most of Poland as part of the USSR. In the terrible battle of Warsaw, Russian troops remained just outside the city, ignoring pleas for help while the city was being demolished and its inhabitants slaughtered with horrible cruelty. Hard to understand. I understand wars such as WWII. I understand killing in self-defense or defense of loved ones, but I do not understand torture, the killing of babies and children, and unnecessary cruelty.

Of course, I don’t need to go back to WWII to be aware of humans slaughtering humans as in Rwanda, less than 30 years ago. Again, I do not understand, and yet it appears that humans are among the most bloodthirsty creatures, especially primates. Why? Apparently because we are social and territorial. Still, it is hard to come to grips with torture and mutilation as in the case of the Rohingya girl or the large-scale killings of Jews in the holocaust — tribal in a way and more obviously so with respect to the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. But…are people I know capable of this? Not in defense of family but just on orders or as part of blood madness? Am I?

So I take refuge in my dog’s company and in watching the snow fall, birds at the feeder, squirrels and turkeys, and the fox that lurks about the house. I know their squabbles and occasional killings are about survival and instinct. But we are Homo sapiens and does that large brain lead to horrendous cruelty? I used to joke that I considered myself an honorary man but then, after thinking about it, I decided to consider myself an honorary dog.

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