Daily Archives: January 14, 2009
And there was the photograph hanging beside a picture of President Suharto. We couldn’t ignore it. It wasn’t the first photo of him we had seen in South East Asia, in homes, in kitchens, above the hearth. A photo of the same man, prominently place, was still hanging in enough homes for us to surmises that the US president had been idolized in that part of the world. This could be no other than President John F. Kennedy. LBJ left a different impression than that and different from what he intended:
LBJ made the front page of the Bangkok newspaper…he whose long legs were crossed gained the press not so much for his mission but because he pointed his toe at the king.
It was a total stranger, in a small, out-of-the-way food shop, on Mindanao who assailed us; he was very distressed over an assassination we knew nothing about; was so loud and emotional that he attracted the attention of everyone in the place. He was out of control. This was an ordinary man, in any other age a peasant. And when all was said and done we learned Robert Kennedy had been shot: we wouldn’t learn for a day or two that he had died. A closed airport prevented the arrival of newspapers.
My hope is that a President Obama will gain the respect President Kennedy obviously had in South East Asia, and that we will recover what we have lost around the world. Part of the trouble is that it is extremely easy to misstep in a foreign culture, as evidently LBJ did in Thailand. But “emotions” are hard to contain, and forget. However, they are fluid, not fixed. They go up and down. The fact that a “stranger” in an isolated corner of a foreign land could be so physically out of control over the death of someone he couldn’t have known much about shows:
There are things (emotions perhaps) that link people around the world (east and west) in unexpected ways.
The absurd thing was that in a house isolated in Sumatra the photos of President Kennedy and President Suharto were hung side by side; in my mind they were hardly cousins. For having my national bias, I hope I’m forgiven. I am not Indonesian; with ideas that led me into the Peace Corps, inspired by Kennedy, I remain an American. Our ideals and our national creed ought to be the same. Ought to be? Have they been?
Make a better world as a volunteer. Become a…go overseas…share your spirit through your work and energy. And in return get more from the experience than you will ever give.