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The New Rules of Engagement

The New Rules of Engagement

My oldest uncle and I were born on the same date — 35 years apart. We had a joint birthday party once when I turned 8. He was my grandmother’s favorite child. (I used to think I could parlay the shared birthday into being her favorite grandchild, but with no success.)
He was a semi-God in the Panamanian town where he lived with his wife and two kids. He was Captain of the Bomberos (Panama’s fire department) and President of the oldest Lodge in the country. Four days before Christmas in 1990, he suddenly died of a heart attack. He was 44.
The funeral lasted 9 hours, everyone within 70 miles of Colon was there. The city shut down. Cars were lined up for miles to get to the gravesite — and people… well, it looked like old footage from the marches on Washington.
To this day, if I meet a native Panamanian and tell them I’m his niece, it’s always worth a boatload of cool points.
He was a widely respected and adored.
He was also a “terrorist.”
Well, to be fair, in those days they called them protestors, or at worst, rioters. But no doubt about it, he threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at U.S. Soldiers guarding the Canal Zone – a strip of land in the midst of Panama, that was occupied by Americans and declared a U.S. territory.
From what I know, through anecdotes and articles. Segregation was pretty fierce in Panama during the 1960s. Not just between blacks and whites, but between Panamanian and Americans.
In the Canal Zone, all the schools and municipal buildings flew the American flag, only American citizens could receive services at Zone hospitals (which were the best), the famous and fanciest hotels did not allow blacks and certainly not black Panamanians. Only American citizens could attend the Canal Zone schools.
In 1964, Panamanian high school students demanded that the Panamanian flag fly over all public high schools.
The Americans refused and instead decided that no flags would fly outside the Canal Zone schools.
For more than two weeks in the Winter of ’64 riots broke out after Panamanian kids tried to fly the Panamanian flag over Balboa High School.
More than two dozen kids were killed by Zone police and soldiers and a number soldiers were killed by student snipers.
My grandfather forbade all his children from getting involved, my grandmother even threatened them with her evil eye.
But like most teenagers, my uncle ignored them.
He and his friends, armed with sticks, and stones and whatever else they could pick up on the streets, headed to protest the U.S. occupation and demand the recognition of Panamanian sovereignty.
Sometimes, his kid sisters went along.
They were gassed, beaten, trampled.
But in the end, triumphant.
Today, I watch stories about the uprisings in Haiti, Chechnya, and the Gaza strip and I think about my uncle the “terrorist.”
For the most part they didn’t have guns or sophisticated explosives, they faced tanks barefeet in their school uniforms. Then bloodied and scratched would tell their parents lies about falling out of trees or rough housing in the school yard.
Today’s terrorists are just as young, just as reckless and — I like to imagine — equally defiant of disapproving parents, but now the geo-political world is much different.
They are the world’s enemies.
Instead of tear gas, they face poison gas. Instead of throwing rocks at tanks, they are crushed by them.
And we are all safer because of it.
Aren’t we?

24 Responses to “The New Rules of Engagement”

  1. Alceste Says:

    not to sound too much like those right-wing blogging types, but i do believe you have temporarily lost the plot ms summers – nothing you described about your uncle sounds like a terrorist – he protested against a foreign government by confronting the military forces of that government – nothing you’ve said suggested that he attacked (even with mere stones) any U.S. civilians in order to force the U.S. government to capitulate, he went after the government itself – to suggest that this is terrorism denigrates what he did and gives far too much sympathy to the actual terrorists who choose to target the citizens of a government rather than the government itself – yes, many terrorist groups have ends (much like your uncle’s) that are just, but unlike your uncle, they’ve chosen means to achieve those ends that are anything but just – to imply otherwise gives too much credence to those folks on the right who think all of us liberal types are just plain whacky – my .02 at least…

  2. Alceste Says:

    not to sound too much like those right-wing blogging types, but i do believe you have temporarily lost the plot ms summers – nothing you described about your uncle sounds like a terrorist – he protested against a foreign government by confronting the military forces of that government – nothing you’ve said suggested that he attacked (even with mere stones) any U.S. civilians in order to force the U.S. government to capitulate, he went after the government itself – to suggest that this is terrorism denigrates what he did and gives far too much sympathy to the actual terrorists who choose to target the citizens of a government rather than the government itself – yes, many terrorist groups have ends (much like your uncle’s) that are just, but unlike your uncle, they’ve chosen means to achieve those ends that are anything but just – to imply otherwise gives too much credence to those folks on the right who think all of us liberal types are just plain whacky – my .02 at least…

  3. Alceste Says:

    not to sound too much like those right-wing blogging types, but i do believe you have temporarily lost the plot ms summers – nothing you described about your uncle sounds like a terrorist – he protested against a foreign government by confronting the military forces of that government – nothing you’ve said suggested that he attacked (even with mere stones) any U.S. civilians in order to force the U.S. government to capitulate, he went after the government itself – to suggest that this is terrorism denigrates what he did and gives far too much sympathy to the actual terrorists who choose to target the citizens of a government rather than the government itself – yes, many terrorist groups have ends (much like your uncle’s) that are just, but unlike your uncle, they’ve chosen means to achieve those ends that are anything but just – to imply otherwise gives too much credence to those folks on the right who think all of us liberal types are just plain whacky – my .02 at least…

  4. Dawn Summers Says:

    Actually, I agree with you, but I do think that the label terrorist is being stretched to fit an increasing number of people who used be known as “terrorists.” remember Rachel Corrie?

  5. Dawn Summers Says:

    Actually, I agree with you, but I do think that the label terrorist is being stretched to fit an increasing number of people who used be known as “terrorists.” remember Rachel Corrie?

  6. Dawn Summers Says:

    Actually, I agree with you, but I do think that the label terrorist is being stretched to fit an increasing number of people who used be known as “terrorists.” remember Rachel Corrie?

  7. Dawn Summers Says:

    P.S. one of my favorite right-wing blogging types says “lost the plot” all the time… it always reminds me of her.

  8. Karol Says:

    WOW, I clicked the comment section with the definite purpose of writing ‘Dawn has lost the plot’ and would you look at that- it’s already been said!

    Did your uncle kill anybody or help other killers (ala Rachel Corrie- don’t know if she’s a ‘terrorist’ but she was definitely on one particular side in a war)? And for you to tie the kids at Tienamen Square to the terrorists in the Moscow Theatre is really ridiculous. There is good and there is evil. It’s a shame your side can completely not tell the difference.

  9. Dawn Summers Says:

    Interesting that you would think that the goals of the Chechen rebels are less laudable than those of the Tienamen Square kids… is Russia good or evil?
    Plus, if I recall correctly, the terrorists in the theater didn’t kill anyone — though hostage taking is reprehensible and I condemn it forcefully.

  10. Dawn Summers Says:

    Interesting that you would think that the goals of the Chechen rebels are less laudable than those of the Tienamen Square kids… is Russia good or evil?
    Plus, if I recall correctly, the terrorists in the theater didn’t kill anyone — though hostage taking is reprehensible and I condemn it forcefully.

  11. Dawn Summers Says:

    Interesting that you would think that the goals of the Chechen rebels are less laudable than those of the Tienamen Square kids… is Russia good or evil?
    Plus, if I recall correctly, the terrorists in the theater didn’t kill anyone — though hostage taking is reprehensible and I condemn it forcefully.

  12. beastofsound Says:

    What the word “terrorist” connotes has been completely transformed since it became widely used in the 1960′s. Generally speaking, the terrorists of that era were more interested in television exposure than body counts. And they were motivated by a political agenda, not a religious one. Nowadays the reverse of each is more true.

    The great failing in the US policy towards terrorists was the Iran-Contra scandal. When would-be terrorists learned that the US would in fact negotiate, albeit secretly, their scale of their efforts mulitplied. Now this country must resort to counter-terrorism adventures abroad to combat them.

    (cont.)

  13. beastofsound Says:

    (cont.)

    Although I agree with the comments that using the term “terrorist” to describe your uncle’s actions, at least as far as you’ve done here, is stretching the word’s meaning. But in doing so, you’ve bravely touched on a larger point which bears repeating. What the government calls “terrorists”, are the other side’s “freedom fighters”, or “jihadists”. While both sides have committed what they believe is justifiable violence, neither cannot or will not admit responsibility for the perpetuate of terrorism. Thus the struggle continues, and the innocent are their victims.

  14. beastofsound Says:

    (cont.)

    Although I agree with the comments that using the term “terrorist” to describe your uncle’s actions, at least as far as you’ve done here, is stretching the word’s meaning. But in doing so, you’ve bravely touched on a larger point which bears repeating. What the government calls “terrorists”, are the other side’s “freedom fighters”, or “jihadists”. While both sides have committed what they believe is justifiable violence, neither cannot or will not admit responsibility for the perpetuate of terrorism. Thus the struggle continues, and the innocent are their victims.

  15. beastofsound Says:

    (cont.)

    Although I agree with the comments that using the term “terrorist” to describe your uncle’s actions, at least as far as you’ve done here, is stretching the word’s meaning. But in doing so, you’ve bravely touched on a larger point which bears repeating. What the government calls “terrorists”, are the other side’s “freedom fighters”, or “jihadists”. While both sides have committed what they believe is justifiable violence, neither cannot or will not admit responsibility for the perpetuate of terrorism. Thus the struggle continues, and the innocent are their victims.

  16. beastofsound Says:

    Sorry about the cut/paste typos in the last paragraph.

  17. Karol Says:

    James Taranto calls Corrie a ‘terror advocate’ in today’s BOTW. That sounds about right.

  18. Karol Says:

    James Taranto calls Corrie a ‘terror advocate’ in today’s BOTW. That sounds about right.

  19. Karol Says:

    James Taranto calls Corrie a ‘terror advocate’ in today’s BOTW. That sounds about right.

  20. Dawn Summers Says:

    Really, I thought he would prefer ‘roadkill.’

  21. Karol Says:

    Well, that too.

  22. Rick Blaine Says:

    “There is good and there is evil. It’s a shame your side can completely not tell the difference.”

    Remarkable.

  23. Rick Blaine Says:

    “There is good and there is evil. It’s a shame your side can completely not tell the difference.”

    Remarkable.

  24. Rick Blaine Says:

    “There is good and there is evil. It’s a shame your side can completely not tell the difference.”

    Remarkable.

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