Among the US population, the calls for a troop withdrawal from Iraq grow steadily stronger. However, I rarely hear among those calls a strategy to address the devastation brought upon the people of Iraq by the US invasion. In a culture where responsibility and accountability are perpetual buzzwords, the failure of our society as a whole to address the needs of the people whose lives we’ve destroyed is worthy of comment. An ongoing conversation with a dear friend who supports the notion of an immediate withdrawal prompted the following analogy.
Across town from Mr. Jones there is a home that sits on a wealthy estate. The father of the home controls his family (his second wife and six kids) with an iron fist. Three of the kids are the wife’s from a previous marriage and they don’t get along very well with their half siblings. They grumble all the time about how the father treats them, but they eat well, their home is well cared for, and things could be much worse. Due to the father’s rule, things stay relatively calm at home and on the estate.
Mr. Jones doesn’t like the way the father across town raises his kids, because he doesn’t raise them like Mr. Jones raises his. Mr. Jones also resents the fact that the man across town has a wealthy estate that affects his own estate. Mr. Jones thinks something should be done about the way the dad runs his estate and treats his kids. Years ago, Mr. Jones’ dad, Mr. Jones Sr., had felt the same way about the wealthy man across town and started a fight with the man, and Mr. Jones Sr. claimed to have won the fight. However, that fight didn’t change the way the man across town ran his home or his estate.
Mr. Jones has never been happy that his father expended all that energy for nothing, and he decides to finish the job his father started. Mr. Jones is a big man who has beat up many smaller men in his time, and he figures he should have no trouble with this man. He decides to go to the man’s house and pick a fight, telling everyone that the man is really bad and that once he kicks this man’s butt, it will make the man’s wife and kids very happy since he will have rescued them from the evil tyrant. Although he doesn’t mention this, Mr. Jones also figures that once he puts the dad in his place, the man’s wife and kids will be compelled to share some of the estate’s riches with him due to their undying gratitude.
Although some of Mr. Jones’ neighbors and most of the other people across town decry Mr. Jones’ decision to attack the man across town, Mr. Jones’ friends and family buy his argument about needing to “rescue” the wife and kids, and support him in his effort to kick the man’s butt and straighten out his household and estate.
Mr. Jones goes across town to the man’s home, picks a fight, and beats up the man, while the man’s and Mr. Jones’ neighbors stand by and watch. Just as Mr. Jones is proclaiming, to any who would listen, that he has rescued the man’s wife and kids, the man’s kids begin to fight each other. They break all the furniture in the home, destroy the structure and foundation, neglect the property, and are in the process of destroying everything the man and his family built over the years.
Mr. Jones gets caught in the crossfire among the kids. His nose gets broken; he loses an arm, and he is not having a good time at all. Although his effort to “straighten out the household” (actually get some benefits from the estate) has failed, and he continues to reap nothing but heartache, Mr. Jones keeps trying to beat up the kids, like he did the dad, to get them to stop fighting. It doesn’t work.
Mr. Jones’ friends and neighbors gather around telling him that he should get out of the house and off the estate while the getting is good. They tell him that it doesn’t matter what he has done to the household, the kids, the wife, etc., that he needs to get out and save his own skin while he can. They tell him that it really doesn’t matter now, because he has already ruined things anyway, and his sticking around isn’t going to help anything.
Mr. Jones knows that if he leaves the house with nothing good to show for it, he will be admitting that he, like his dad, failed, and the Jones family will look like buffoons who really never knew what they were doing. Most of Mr. Jones’ friends and family never liked the man across town and his family anyway, and since it doesn’t look like there will be anything for Mr. Jones to gain, they can’t understand why he stays on the man’s estate.
“Responsibility is not at issue here Mr. Jones,” they say. “Whether you ruined that family and that estate or not is irrelevant. All that matters is that you save your own skin!” Their advice goes unheeded.
How long Mr. Jones will stay is anyone’s guess. He is getting too weak to continue taking the hits from the kids’ crossfire, and the pressure from his family and friends is becoming too much to withstand. Eventually, like most interfering bullies who bite off more than they can chew, Mr. Jones, or what’s left of him, will run back to his side of town, to his nice home and estate that are still intact, and the family across town will be left to figure out how to go about living again amidst the destruction Mr. Jones left behind.
As Mother’s Day fades into the next major commercialized event, I remember that my mom always taught me to clean up my messes, and she certainly wouldn’t approve of me going to someone else’s home and leaving a mess for them to clean up. At the very least, she would insist that I help them clean up the mess I made.