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Empathy and Politicians


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I am a member of another forum, Mary McKercher, made this very important posting today.

The sad toll of the Bay of Pigs fiasco was 114 Cuban invaders and many more defenders killed in the fighting; 1189 others from La Brigada were captured and held prisoner until they were ransomed from Cuba by Robert Kennedy for food and medical supplies. Four American fliers also died in the invasion.

The failure of the invasion troubled President Kennedy deeply. After one meeting that broke up at 3:00 a.m., Ken O'Donnell found Kennedy "as close to crying" as he had ever seen him. O'Donnell watched him go outside his office about 4 a.m., his shoulders slumped, his hands jammed into his pockets. He was out there almost an hour, walking alone.

Bobby Kennedy described the physical impact on his brother, how the President "kept shaking his head, rubbing his hands over his eyes...more upset this time than he was at any other time."

Jackie confessed to Arthur Schlesinger that the President "had cried when the news of the Bay of Pigs came in."

Rose Kennedy recorded in her diary: "Jackie walked upstairs with me and said he was upset all day. Had practically been in tears... she had never seen him so depressed except once at the time of his operation."

Why am I describing this? Because I'm juxtaposing President Kennedy's and President Bush's reactions to serious situations in which numerous human lives were lost. I'm sure most of you have seen the trailer that features a stern-faced Bush state his call to "other nations to stop these terrorist killings"-- then casually exhort reporters to watch him putt, seemingly without a care in the world. You tell me: is this a man who gives a damn? IMO his behavior, considering the terrible circumstances, can only be described as grotesque and beyond belief.

President Kennedy genuinely cared about people-- I don't think anyone here can deny that. And it's been said that he was the last President that had the American people's welfare in mind.

And look where we are today.

Mary is making an important point. It is no coincidence that warmongers have rarely experienced battle. Soldiers who experienced frontline warfare, like JFK, are constantly aware of the human consequences of war. This is one of the reasons why British and French politicians did all they could to avoid the Second World War (to the point they became appeasers and made war more likely).

The most important thing we need in a politician is empathy. It is the most important thing I am tried to develop in my children and the students that I taught. John and Robert Kennedy had that. George Bush and Tony Blair don’t and that is why today we have a war in Iraq. Do you really think they would instigate this war if their sons and daughters had to fight in them?

During a demonstration against the Vietnam War I saw a placard that said: “There will be no peace until they have faces.” On the placard was painted the head of a Vietnamese soldier. The man had no face. The media does its best to report the human consequences of war. Unfortunately, we do not have enough politicians (or citizens) with a fully developed sense of empathy.

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