A Big Gesture Made Small
I listened to the BBC World News Report on Saturday and was shocked at a quote that was made regarding the apparent shooting of 17 unarmed Afghan civilians by Staff Sergeant Robert Bales on March 11th. At a gathering of family members of the victims, compensation was offered. The commentator said "They were told the money had come from President Obama"
"From Obama?" I shouted at my innocent radio.
I looked up an article on BBC and found a direct quote to be sure I heard correctly. I found it in "Afghan massacre: Kandahar families given compensation", 25 March 2012, BBC News Asia.
"'We were invited by the foreign and Afghan officials in Panjwai yesterday and they said this money is an assistance from [US President] Obama,' Haji Jan Agha, who said he lost his cousins, told Reuters on Sunday."
In commentary by Bilal Sarwary accompanying the article, it was noted that
"Compensation payments by foreign forces in Afghanistan are often made in cases of the deaths of civilians.
Compensation is traditionally offered in Afghanistan in a bid to soften anger among a victim's family and also as a gesture of good faith and healing."
I accept that payment is customary, and in this case a prudent act. My complaint is that payment of US taxpayer money is passed off as a personal gesture by the President. For a guy that is notoriously thin-skinned, this was egregiously insensitive. What is the message here? Is it that we brutish Americans are hard to control, but he, Mr. "Citizen of the World", is compassionate and generous?
It would have been more appropriate to juxtapose the sadness of Americans at the senseless loss of life vis-à-vis the isolated and inexcusable conduct of one of our own. It should have been an offering made in respect for their loss from a heavy-hearted American people. Instead, the contrast is between the President's personal goodness and a single soldier's badness.
The personalization of this compensation trivialized the incident and downplayed how out-of -character Sgt. Bales' conduct was for any American soldier. The well-intentioned compensation by the American people was reduced to just another case of "Don't blame me -- I'm the good guy" that we hear from President Obama on a daily basis.