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Wednesday 20 June 2018

Suffer the Children

It's rant time again.

I've been on hollibobs this last week, and have largely stayed away from the news for fear I'd fail to relax, and I really needed to after a heavy schedule for some weeks.

On my return, I turn to the public parts of Twitter, and find myself aghast at what's been happening. It seems that, whenever I take a few days, the Trump administration manages to find new and interesting ways to make me ashamed to be the same species, and this week has plumbed whole new depths.

Let's talk background, as I'm usually inclined to do.

I'm Irish. This comes up often enough that I almost feel like I shouldn't have to mention it, but I always do when it's relevant on the off-chance that somebody new will be reading who hasn't visited my little corner of the interwebs before. It might also seem that this isn't wholly relevant to what's about to come, but bear with me.

My mother was born in 1945 in Roscrae, a tiny town on the Northern edge of County Tipperary. She was born in a convent because her mother wasn't married. Under Irish law, this was deemed a child safety issue though, of course, when you dig beneath the surface it turns out to have been yet another of the church's many shell games, because the church was paid by the Irish government per child to raise them. Thus, my mother, who came from a sizeable family, grew up in church-run orphanages. The only small mercy is that she avoided the horrendous 'Magdalene Laundries', which were little more than the church engaging in blatant slavery for profit.

The abuses suffered in these orphanages were horrendous. I won't detail any of the stories mum related about her experiences growing up, but I've visited both Roscrae and Templemore, the convent where she spent her later youth, and it was all I could do to keep my fury under control.

At Roscrae, in particular, we were taken on a short tour by one of the sisters. Among other places, she took us to a small stand of trees a short distance from the main building in the extremely well-kept grounds, where we found something that still fills me with tears when I think of it. Only two years before our visit, a memorial stone had been erected to dedicate the ground, otherwise unmarked and unremarkable, to the numerous children and young mothers buried there. Some of these young mothers had died trying to escape with their children. The children had variously died in the nuns' 'pastoral care' or while trying to escape. As far as I'm aware, the actual number of people buried in this stand of trees is unknown. There are similar mass graves at convent-orphanages all over island, with news of a very large mass grave containing 796 babies' bodies in Tuam, just a stone's throw from my father's home in County Galway.

The litany of abuses that were inflicted, from basic slavery to sexual crimes of the most heinous order, have been the subject of very much discussion and enormous payouts of compensation in Ireland, with the only silver lining being provided by the increasing secularisation of the country, and the enforced loosening of the stranglehold of the church as purported moral arbiters of the nation, culminating in the referendum a few weeks ago to repeal the country's abortion laws*.

So, this is the point I start from when I consider the implications of separating children from their parents and essentially imprisoning them. 

"Well," you might say, "it was the law, so they got what was coming to them."

You might say that, but this view is horrendously wide of the mark. Here's the problem, and it's a biggie:

While you could reasonably say that the parents of these children were breaking the law, the children were not. IN the case of the children in Irish orphanages, not only were they not breaking the law, at the point of incarceration - because, make no mistake, that's what it was - they hadn't even been born yet, and were incapable of breaking any law.

This brings me to today and what is, to my mind, one of the greatest affronts to morality in the Western world in my lifetime. 

If you haven't yet heard this, you should:

There's nothing in the world more precious to us than our children. Indeed, as a species, we're generally so enamoured of the young that we even attach to the young of other species, hence the prevalence of kitten pictures on social media. Our children are our most valuable resource. I've spoken at length on this in previous outings, most notably in my collaborative piece on gun control. 

It's extremely troubling, then, to hear news of children being separated from their parents for nothing more than the parents seeking a better life for their families, an urge which is not only prevalent across our species but across the entire biosphere. It's our most fundamental urge to provide the best circumstances for our children's wellbeing, an imperative handed down to us through hundreds of millions of years of evolution, and the single driving force that brought us to where we are. That this urge can be treated as a crime is sufficiently bad to constitute a heinous abuse of human rights. That children are being torn from their parents and caged like criminals for the actions of their parents is unconscionable in the extreme. Whatever your view on the actions of the parents or its legality, there is quite literally no excuse for the abuse - because that's what it is - of innocent children.

The psychological damage inflicted upon these children for the purported crimes of their parents is something that should give any human with a conscience nightmares. Since hearing, the night before last, the recordings of children crying for their parents, I've struggled to sleep. It astounds me that anyone with an ounce of compassion or moral fibre can hear those recordings and not be utterly horrified by them. That's not the worst of it, however. Having suffered abuse myself as a child away from home, I fear for the abuses these children - the weakest, most vulnerable of them, at the very least - will suffer at the hands of their peers. I fear that the youngest of them will be horribly bullied, instilling in them emotional scars that may never be eradicated. I know mine haven't, even several decades later.

More importantly, though, I fear what I see as being almost inevitable, that one or more of these children will find their deaths in these internment camps - and make no mistake, that's what they are - and that the shame of a nation, already approaching levels not seen in a Western 'democracy' since the '30s, will cross the Rubicon into the shame of state-instigated child-murder.

I spend a lot of time talking to Americans, and I have very many American friends. It's telling to me how many of them are now looking elsewhere, as so many did in Germany during the rise of Hitler's regime, looking for safety and freedom for their families.

We are, at the time of this writing, exactly two weeks from the 242nd anniversary of the founding of the United States of America. 242 years since the Grand Experiment got under way. 242 years since John Hancock put his John Hancock to the following:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
What, I wonder, would the founding fathers, whose motivation in the penning of this document was to seek freedom, think of the incarceration of children in this manner? How would they see their Grand Experiment, when the very thing they sought is being denied the most vulnerable?

The words in the Declaration if Independence are not mere platitudes. They define what it means to be America. What America stands for, with all its faults and failures to live up to its blurb, is freedom. Freedom of conscience; freedom of movement; freedom from tyranny. What this despotic regime - administration is far too tame a term for Trump's America - has done is not merely forget these words, it's  thrown them aside for profit and political capital.

It has become necessary to throw off this government and provide new guards for the foundational ideals that the signatories to that auspicious document laid out. There is no excuse, no rhyme or reason, to incarcerate innocent children, no matter the consequences of lax borders. Between denying the freedom to protest peacefully by athletes, and the abject failure to protect the nation's most precious asset, and finally the internment of children in what are little better than concentration camps, I'm pretty certain that the great minds and revolutionaries would say that the Grand Experiment has returned the most spectacular null result in history.

Americans, if you still think today, with all of the above, that your nation is the greatest nation on Earth, I have a shocking truth for you: It isn't even the greatest nation in North America. Not by a colossal margin.

Please, get it the fuck together.

Wake: Part 2  

*It's an interesting aside to note that, despite the fact that, had these laws not been in place in 1944 during my grandmother's pregnancy, I quite possibly wouldn't be alive today, I consider this repeal a resounding victory for secular morality, and only hope it doesn't take nearly so long for the laws in Northern Ireland to be overturned and to finally hand control of reproductive health to those best placed to make use of it, freeing thousands of mothers from having to travel to Scotland and England to have safe abortions, and emancipating the society from draconian reproductive health restrictions.

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