We Lost the Battle


As this column is being written, another Memorial Day ends in the USA. This holiday evolved out of a day of remembrance for the men and women who fought and died in the American Civil War. That war, among other things, helped free thousands of slaves men and women descended from men and women forcibly taken from their homes and sold into bondage in a foreign land.  The legal ending of slavery did not end the blight of racism, but the Civil War did help move the cause of freedom inch forward.

Appropriately this weekend saw the opening of a new memorial in the US capital for veterans of World War II.  As a teacher, from time to time this writer has had reason to bring up the pyramid/system of motivation devised by Abraham Maslow.  Maslow had been studying dominance in primates.  Evidently he had a moment of epiphany while watching a parade of soldiers preparing to be sent "over there" to fight in WW II.  According to the story, Maslow recognized that psychology needed study of mental health not simply mental defects.  What motivated healthy people?  And this moment arose from watching these young men who were marching off to war and to die --  simply to help others.  Later commentators labeled the men and women who fought WW II as the "Greatest Generation." The war did not prevent the machine-like slaughter of millions in a program of genocide.  But the war did end fascistic forces responsible for that slaughter and helped move the cause of freedom inch forward.

In the past month the world has learned of the shameful abuse of prisoners held by Americans.  That someone who could have any voice in any official capacity could suggest that the humane treatment of human beings as "quaint" in any circumstances is depressing, shameful and disgusting.   The notorious pictures resulting from that abuse rightly enflamed the disgust of the world.

Forget American, non-American.  Forget Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu.  Forget Democrat, Republican, Independent.  Our chief task is to treat human beings like human beings. Every major religion and every thinker worth salt plainly propounds this simple idea.  When such a gross and systematic violation of that task happens, it shames us all.

What does this have to do with theatre?  Not much.  But I do have this thought.  As artists our job is to help humanize people make people more human.    

We lost this battle.

"We do pray for mercy./And that same prayer doth teach us all to render/The deeds of mercy."  -- William Shakespeare "The Merchant of Venice" IV.1.

©2004 Nathan Thomas

For more commentary and articles by Nathan Thomas, check the Archives.


Nathan Thomas has earned his
living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director
stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist
He has a Ph.D. in Theatre and is a member of
the theatre faculty of Alvernia College

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