To the Editor,
In January 1979, on completion of a two-week multi-national naval war exercise, my ship anchored at Karachi, Pakistan for a post-exercise debriefing and dinner. As the head of my ship’s communication division I was designated to attend the function. I was seated at a table with 2 British officers, 1 from France, and 1 from Iran (still an ally at the time). During the dinner, the Iranian officer and I had a great conversation. No politics or religion involved, just talk about our families at home, the similarities and differences about our Navy career, and plans for life after the military. Early the next morning, while preparing to sail for our next stop, the emirate of Bahrain, we learned that the Shah or Iran had been deposed, the Ayatollah Khomeini was returning to Iran, and that country was now an apparent adversary. I watched the Iranian destroyer carrying my counterpart sail past us headed for their port in Iran. No normal exchange of communication courtesies, no traditional dipping of flags to salute each other occurred. Standing on the bridge watching events unfold, I realized that this fellow human being I had rubbed elbows with, whose life and plans were so like mine, was now transformed from friend to adversary, all due to politics and/or religion. It saddened me then, and still does today.
Today politics and/or religion here in the U.S. continues to transform friend/neighbor to despicable “others”. Almost without exception various factions slap a label on everyone and segregate them into adversarial groups. Liberal elites, right-wing bigots, pro-lifers, anti-lifers? Browns, Blacks, Asians, Muslims, socialists, illegals, and the list continues ad infinitum. Intolerance of difference, usually the result of ignorance or fear of the unknown, is the rule of the day. Albeit nearly all the great achievements this Nation has realized are the result of different factions coming together and arriving at a compromise, the current definition of unity appears to be “if everyone would think, act, and believe exactly like me, that would be unity”. Compromise? Not to be considered. Contempt for anyone different is the default setting.
The point I am attempting to make is that we need, as a nation of diverse individuals, to acquire tolerance, respect and understanding of all humanity. A large portion (11 years) of my military career was spent living, working, and socializing with people of several different countries. The language, custom, mode of dress was all different, yet I was able to form friendships and learn more about our human similarities than our differences. All it took was a mutual respect for others, regardless of how they dressed, what language they spoke, or where or to whom they prayed.
What are your thoughts when you encounter someone of different pigmentation, difference in dress or language, or the “wrong” political party, or wrong religion? Do you just see skin color, clothes different from yours, someone speaking words you don’t understand, someone with different politics or beliefs? Or do you see another human being who has a family they are striving to care for, and hope for a brighter future? I hope the latter is true for you. If not, I would encourage you to find a way to meet, talk to, and break bread with one of those “others” I have spoken about.
J.D. Carpenter, Waxahachie