Every news story about Angelo de la Cruz, held captive several weeks in Iraq, carries the obligatory paragraph or two that President Arroyo’s decision to withdraw the 51 Filipino soldiers has “drawn criticism” from the “International community.” In these times, the international community consists of the United States and its English-speaking allies, England and Australia. The criticism consists of charges that in “giving in” to the terrorists, Arroyo is actually endangering the coalition’s mission in Iraq. One US spokesperson even spelled out in school-marmish fashion that the Phillipines, of all places, as a nation plagued with insurrection and “Islamic” terrorism, surely ought to know better. . .
To put it another way, the Phillipine government decision to not let de la Cruz be killed is a victory for terrorists. That he be allowed to live, then, through an exchange, constitutes a defeat. To Anglo-Saxon governments, human sacrifice is simply a given. What is the aim of such human sacrifice? The aim is not substantive, but symbolic: We manly governments of the civilized world must prove that we are strong. To be strong implies not changing any of our actions to save a human life. Such symbolic stands, which help result in these deaths, are called “sending a message.” In other words, had the Phillipines “stood their ground,” in the false macho-speak of President Bush and let de al Cruz be beheaded, this action (or inaction) would have “sent a message” to the evildoers that we righteous ones would rather sacrifice one of our own innocents than show a hint of weakness. The performance of strength takes precedence over human life. And yet in spite of these actual priorities and values, which rank shows of “strength” above human life (the very priorities of terrorist groups), we remain convinced of our righteousness. Why does this smack of seventeenth century Europe and its religious wars?
Of course, any claim by a politician to “stand our ground” has no real meaning for the person uttering the words. For Bush to “stand his ground” means in reality that those without the ability to choose – the soldiers, hostages, and civilians – are left to face their fates. Bush himself faces no danger. He vicariously lives off the bravery-by-necessity of others who are truly in danger. He claims their bravery for himself. His “standing strong” and “staying the course” is posturing, a pose feeding off the actions of subordinates locked in a battle over which they have no control. Bush hopes in November to win votes based on his expressions of vicarious bravery. If he does win, it signifies that a majority of voters accept his plagiarisms of bravery as true, and that they themselves participate, also in imagination, in brave deeds.
President Arroyo stood her ground in a different and more personally heroic way. She stood her ground against the sinister arguments of her Anglo-Saxon godfathers. She actually put the interests of her nation’s people above the wishes of the global rulers in Washington DC. She stayed the course against human sacrifice in the pursuit of masochistic image-making. She stood her ground against the imperative to show no mercy and no responsibility in Iraq. She did send a message, and the message’s content is this: We in the Phillipines care more for the life of an ordinary man than about the thuggish reputation of our masters in Washington. This is the message of a civilized government to the world.