Thurman P. Woodfork


IWVPA Double Tap Award for War Poetry: February 3, 2007
Awarded: February 3, 2007
What causes people to indiscriminately hate one another? Some flaunt their irrational animosity like a badge of honor. Well, I’ll tell you what I think. Nobody, anywhere in this world, has ever done anything to me that would cause me to harbor such deep-rooted hostility toward any group of people. I could never regard every member of a race, a religion, a nation, a neighborhood, or a family with blind hostility because of some group members’ transgressions against me.

I’ve been many places and met many, many people. Some of them wished me ill. Not only did they wish me the worse, they sometimes took the opportunity, when offered, to act on their antipathy with something approaching gleeful enthusiasm. As often as not, I had done nothing more to earn such enmity than simply exist and burn oxygen without being a member of their particular tribe.

Sometimes, it was something as trivial as the way I spoke. It did not matter that, in some cases, a casual observer couldn’t have distinguished me from the people I was speaking with. Yes, there are people like that. Quite a few of them, as a matter of fact

I don’t like those kinds of people, to put it mildly, and I certainly won’t associate with them unless necessity demands it. People who, almost reflexively, despise others who are not like them are to be pitied, in my opinion. I believe they can never learn to enjoy life fully because they’re unable to look at all of its aspects without fear or prejudice. They see the world through a glass tinted and distorted by irrational, preconceived judgments. And, sadly, they’re content in their ignorance.

It’s against the natural order of things not to assimilate and grow. Wildflowers can thrive almost anywhere; hothouse plants find survival difficult outside their protected, isolated environment. People who interact solely with those who think as they do have similar problems; intellectual growth is forever stunted by such self-imposed restrictions. “My way or the highway” can lead to a cultural dead end.

All of this is not to say that I’m some sort of Pollyanna. Anybody can see that there’s some measure of contempt mixed in with the pity and distaste with which I regard bigots of all stripes. Clearly, I’m capable of disliking people; I do it all the time. I just don’t make a fetish of it. I am, after all, human and not free of prejudices of my own, and I do have my own opinions on how the world should be. I am, however, more likely to offer you a hand than a fist.

You can piss me off today and still be my friend tomorrow, unless you insist upon continually doing things that I consider harmful to me or to people I care about. I am motivated by what I consider to be enlightened self-preservation. For instance, I will not allow you to abuse me because you don’t fancy the way I look, or what or how I worship. That makes perfect sense to me, whether or not I’m a liberal.

In Vietnam, I learned that it was possible to fight and kill an enemy without condemning every member of the nation to which that enemy belonged. I came to understand that the majority of the Vietnamese people simply wanted to be left in peace to pursue their lives. It was the leaders – theirs and mine – who were fomenting the war and the death and destruction in which I found myself embroiled. I did not and do not bear any malice toward Vietnamese people. Obviously that didn’t stop me from fighting them when I thought it was necessary.

Well, I think I’ve gone on long enough, so I’ll end with this: I managed to spend over three years in Southeast Asia without referring to its inhabitants, casually or contemptuously, as ‘Dinks’, ‘Slopes’, ‘Gooks’, or whatever. And I would never use a pejorative term such as ‘Raghead’ to denote an entire group of people, whatever I might think of some of them.

Hate… hatred… acrid words evoking bitter feelings steeped in pain, evil, and ancient animosity. We first dehumanize those we seek to destroy. That way lays Armageddon.