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A Particular Kind of Death

The need for some kind of distraction blazes within me. A diversion to numb my senses.An absolution from bitter-sweet memories.To stop feeling. Thinking...

Television perhaps? The US Republican Convention is being aired on both BBC World and CNN. But I should have known that it would turn out to be a mix of brazen lies, patriotic zeal and meticulously staged histrionics. It is scary to witness such theatrics taken so earnestly by people who should know better. The crowd stands to cheer a number of war veterans in their midst. The sister of a young navy seal killed in Iraq stands to deafening applause. She is embraced by ex-President Bush. Her brother is an American hero. His was a particular kind of death, honored by an entire nation. I have no desire to diminish his personal sacrifice...

But here, too, we grieve. We too are deafened. Not by nationalistic fervor but by
a sense of agonizing futility. Unseen and unheard our pain is private, confined to
a tiny community in the far northeast of Thailand. Palpable.Unbearably tragic.Yet strangely unremarkable by comparison. For here the mourning is for a little boy who drowned. Known in his village by the most unlikely of names, Big was the first-born son of my wife’s older brother. He was four years old. And yesterday
he was taken from us.

The republican throng goes wild, totally seduced by gut-wrenching tales of extraordinary courage and service to the nation. US pride in democratic freedom is on show here in Hollywood proportions, calculated to appeal to those who are already convinced by the myth of American empire. But the subliminal meaning is just as clear: the US has a god-given right to inflict its particular brand of democracy on the rest of the world. Especially errant states.And terrorists of course. The land of the free must be seen to stand tall and strong against all it chooses to label ‘evil’.

Just as the water snuffed out the spirit of little Big, our lives are being choked by sorrow. My wife and I were overseas at the time of his death. And when he was being buried we had sat in the garden of a Japanese temple, contemplating the life of a little boy who brought so much joy to our lives. Tears that freely flowed were now staunched by a harsher reality. Buried not burned. The seconds ticked by. A world away, back in Thailand, doleful chants filled the air. A raging silence crashed in on us. Red eyes stared into a void that can never be filled. Big was gone.

In Minneapolis the delegates appear unified by their vision of global dominion. Assuring the security of the American people is paramount. John McCain is a battle-hardened veteran. The archetypal war hero in fact. McCain served the US with valour and with honor in Vietnam. Who better than this man to lead the nation in a time of crisis and global uncertainty? One speaker after another commends his virtues as a hero and a leader.

Big was no hero in the normal sense of that word. But, like the US navy seal, he died bravely. He was not alone you see. He had been playing with a little girl. A close friend. She too was four years old. When she slipped and fell into the torrent Big had tried to help her. But in vain. Trapped by their naivety and oblivious to the dangers, they perished - entangled in each others’ arms.

The air in the stadium is supercharged. Endorsing John McCain’s bid for the presidency the partisan audience extols courage, self-sacrifice and service to the nation. Values that, in their eyes at least, support McCain’s legitimacy to lead. Onward Christian soldiers, marching unto war!

Why did little Big and his friend have to die? They knew barely nothing of the world, its wonders or its madness. The death of these two children symbolize only tragic innocence and a joy in each other’s presence.

I have turned the television off. My heart still aches. It was no distraction at all. On the contrary I am left pondering why the courage of an innocent child should matter less than the death of a military hero. How can the death of a navy seal symbolize the kind of leadership we need today? Why do governments continue to glorify war and violence while using it for their own selfish ends? Why do we still believe that using brutality to silence those who choose paths different from our own will solve the world’s problems? Are we so immature as a species that love means less to us than velour? Do we really believe it is civilized to demand that young people fight for an idea that may well become obsolete in less than a generation?

If that is the case, perhaps it is just as well that Big and his friend are protected from reality - shielded from the pains of this life’s journey. They will stay forever young - immortalized in the minds of those they loved and who cherished them with such tender care.

On Monday they were buried, not burned, as is the practice with accident victims in the northeast of Thailand. A simple ceremony conducted by two inconsolable families. We are still reeling with disbelief. But Big was a hero of sorts and his story should be told. For when the end came, all too soon, his death too was of
a particular kind. Take care Big. Wherever you are,we love you.

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