The Significance of ——
From Beirut to Jerusalem
By Thomas Friedman
——- To Me
(Not a Book Report: just what it meant to me.)
This book was written some time ago: 1989. One might think it is an excellent report on turbulent matters in human history and then even expect them to be settled and forgotten. That is not exactly the case though.
Here in 2011 we as a global society have some bothersome questions to be attended to. Are we going to be able to have jobs for a work force which can live a life where at least most can repeat the quote I learned from a Dale Carnegie class – “Today is the best day of my life and tomorrow will be better?” Are we going to have an energy supply that will be available, affordable and secure?
Along with questions of this magnitude we still have to drag along the question as to when will there be peace in the Middle East. When will the Palestinians have their own state and with it will they use it for their own good or for continued friction with Israel? Will this disagreement over the allotment of a small area of earth really lead in the end to a massive disagreement over an allotment of all the earth among major religious factions?
In this book Mr. Friedman has certainly walked us through the paths of conflict which date back to the U.N. partitions of Palestine in 1947. While almost holding our hands he has made clear the difference between one’s rights and one’s interest as it applies to all the Jewish factions and Palestinian factions. He made it clear to me that when we cling to a right we mostly dwell and hang onto something from the past but when we look serious at ourselves in the present and the near future we in effect are concerning ourselves with our interest. He made these two words – “Rights and Interest” – stand out so clear for me that I am now even more baffled as to why the Middle East conflict continues. My bafflement is quickly removed when I think back to all the stories, all the incidences, all the hardships, all the careers and all the religious anchors which are explained in this book.
I want to divert away here for a moment though from the words – (Rights and Interest) – and go to three other words – (“Yes We Can”). Now in our recent political history here in the U.S. we remember those words from the Obama presidential campaign. He often concluded his speeches with a mantra composed of these words. Therefore, on page 499 of this book these words stood out for me when Mr. Friedman used them back in the late eighties as he wrote this book. On page 499 he was recalling the belief of an Israeli political theorist, Yaron Ezrahi. Mr. Ezrahi gives praise to the almost child like optimism that Americans bring to a cause:” Can Do”, optimism. It was in the paragraphs of this page that Friedman used in quotations the words:” Yes, you can.” I have to wonder if our president or one of his speech writers was influenced with the message of this page.
Going back to the terms of rights and interest though I have to pass on that within hours after my finishing this book I began to see correlations. Yesterday as I was setting up to write this blog I had the T.V. on in the background and I heard President Obama explain words used by Martin Luther King when Mr. King tried to make the point that in order to properly move toward the future we must move away from “the isness to the oughtness” of our troubles: in other words from what is to what ought to be. To me this is very close to the idea of letting ourselves to be bogged down with what is our right versus what is our present interest. On top of all this and with me still having these terms freshly in my mind I ran smack into another set of associated thinking as I was reading the St. Petersburg Times re-run of the David Brooks column –U.S. politics demystified.
Here Brooks is using the terms – “Symbolism and Reality.” He used them to explain how a Mr. Ward has been able to move the revitalization of ground zero from dead center to an on going successful rebuilding project and he has done it by avoiding the emotions of symbolism to the hard facts of realism. Now Mr. Brooks is a political commentator so he carried the methods of this Mr. Ward on into our stagnated political situation of today. He does it with the point, in my words, that our politicians on both sides need to move away from the symbolism of taxation to the reality that taxation is simply a reality thing that is needed to reduce and/or pay off debt. Again, in my mind: (Rights vs. Interest; Isness vs. Oughtness and Symbolism vs. Reality) are notes in the same song.
As I said in the beginning though the conflicts which Thomas Friedman explained in detail of his adventures as a young man in the Middle East did not and have not moved to become a recording of past incidences for they continue today.
Also, let me go on to explain a self interest I have with the book. As with all people raised in the Christian and Jewish religions I grew up with Jerusalem being a city I knew something about. I did not know anything about Beirut though until I was 18 years old. At this age I was one of several hundred U.S. Marines which were moved from ships to the shore of this city in 1958. This was a long time before Mr. Friedman came there as a U. P.I. Correspondent but many of his geographical and people descriptions were familiar to me.
My first hours in Beirut consisted of moving through the Beirut airport area after we had unloaded from an armored personnel carrier. There were people running away from us but I have no idea if they were friends or foes. They just were smart people getting out of the way. My first few nights were spent with all the rest of my company in a drainage ditch which surrounded the airport. One day we did move through the center of the city and it was truly like all of us have seen in the movies where troops are moving along a main street lined with happy smiling faces: young, old and many dark haired beauties. Most all the nights after this were spent up on a mountain that is on the East side of Beirut. Once in a while we left the mountain to return to the main city ports in order to unload massive amounts of supplies. On these nights we slept in the various port warehouses.
One last remembrance though which occurred to me often as I read this book. Sometimes when we unloaded food, typical military C-rations, we would store them in an open area which was surrounded by chain link fencing. It just so happened that surrounding most of this fenced in area was surrounded by a village or neighborhood of obviously very poor dwellers. The buildings were not much more than mud huts even though they were multi-storied. The people dressed in near rags and all of them seemed to be made from the same gray or brown cloth. Even though we could not speak their language it was easy to see the desire which their eyes had for our food supplies. They pressed against the fence with such a force that it is surprising that the fence did not fail. There was a night though as I worked at stacking the rations that an eruption of excitement did occur. Some of these people had tunneled their way beneath the fence but they were immediately apprehended by the local police which were constantly with us. They were hand and feet cuffed and carried out to the main frontage highway. Some of them tried to escape even though they were totally bound by rolling across the street. It was not an idle street. Many ordinary as well as military vehicles whizzed past going both ways. These would be escapees would roll back and forth trying to avoid the traffic and somehow they did. Eventually though the policemen would stop the traffic and drag the captors back to our side of the road. The policemen enjoyed these episodes for they laughed each time there was a near collision of the rollers with a vehicle. We, none of us, ever laughed.