Who is the Empathy For?
When I was in high school, the U.S. was fighting a war in Vietnam. One day, I heard on the radio a story about a young Vietnamese woman who was returning one evening from her work in the rice paddies when she saw American warplanes soaring overhead. She ran for her village as fast as she could, but when she arrived, she found the village strafed, the huts burning, and her family and neighbors decimated. I instantly identified with this Vietnamese peasant girl who, through no wrongdoing on her part, had seen life as she’d known it destroyed in one fell swoop.
From that time on, I became an adamant opponent of all wars of aggression. Do you remember the first Gulf War? When the U.S.-led coalition had won, and the Iraqi army, along with many civilians, was retreating from Kuwait, U.S. warplanes followed them and picked them off, one by one, despite the fact that firing on a retreating army is contrary to the rules of international warfare. The photos were all over CNN and the newspapers. It was called the Highway of Death. Like shooting fish in a barrel, CNN called it. I especially recall one photo of a bombed-out Chevrolet, the body of a young man half in, half out. Beside him was an open cat carrier. He had just been trying to get home with the family pet.
Most people in America thought that our actions were brave, heroic, splendid. I live near New York City, and I went down to see the big celebratory parade for our returning soldiers. People were clapping in transports of ecstasy and shouting “US is No. 1!” as though it had been a football game.
Yeah, that would have been the Pittsburgh Steelers playing a death-match against the local high school team.
Several months ago, President Obama told the U.N. — without a trace of irony in his voice — that “peace cannot be achieved through violence.” Now, I voted for Obama twice and may do so again; I only point him out as an example of typical thinking. It is only violence when they do it. Most people have plenty of empathy when 3,000 people like us were killed on 9/11, but none at all for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and others who were subsequently killed “in retaliation.” People from places like Iraq and Vietnam, people who are homeless, people who look or act strange — well, the empathy of most people is not for the likes of them. Most people have plenty of empathy, but only for people like themselves.
About the Author: Charlie Devnet lives in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, with her cats, Boots and Heather. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 54, although she had suspected it for a long time. Her whole life has been spent on the outside, looking in.
Who is the Empathy For? was written expressly for Autism and Empathy.