I have heard Brazilians comment that people in
other countries, US and Europe specifically, are
"cold" meaning that they do not welcome strangers
or give them attention. This is a
that can exist between different societies and people,
even within the same society.
Dear Editor, thank you for publishing several letters sent in by your readers in response to opinions expressed by
some Brazilians regarding the 9-11 attacks on the United States and their aftermath. Although a few of the letters contained
languages I do not approve of, the responses show the depth of the anger that Americans feel as a result of the 9-11
attacks. The expression goes that "a man’s home is his castle" and he can fight ferociously to defend it when attacked,
especially by someone he has welcomed into the castle. I consider the unsympathetic opinions expressed by some Brazilians to be
either very badly timed or simply the ranting of envious and sadistic individuals. The opinions are very un-Brazilian.
Americans generally have a very positive image of Brazilians, and I am convinced that the current exchange will
contribute to a better understanding and, perhaps, strengthen the long existing friendship and good relation between Brazilians
and Americans. Brazil and the United States have a lot in common, both in their histories and the ethnic makeup of their
populations. Indigenous Indians before the arrival of the Europeans inhabited the two countries. African people were later brought
into the countries to work in the plantations, and formed the third element in the creation of both societies. Today, Brazil and
the US are multi-ethnic societies with citizens that can trace their ancestry to all corners of the globe. This is what makes it
very easy for Americans and Brazilians to feel very much at home in either country barring the difference in language.
I was in Brazil when the terrorists attacked the United States, and most of the people I spoke to about the incident
simply commented that it was a terrible tragedy. When the "you asked for it" comments began to appear in the papers, I
wondered if all those people really wanted to say "terrific" instead of "terrible." Many Brazilians do not understand the basis of
United States foreign policy; those who considered themselves informed, think we are always telling other people what to do. I
don’t blame them because many ordinary Americans don’t understand our foreign policy which is why the government always
try very hard to win public opinion whenever the country is involved in any military action.
Misunderstanding exists between societies, for example, I have heard Brazilians comment that people in other
countries, US and Europe specifically, are
"cold" meaning that they do not welcome strangers or give them attention.
This is a common misunderstanding that can exist between different societies and people, even within the same society. For
example, such misunderstanding exists amongst the southern, northern, and the western parts of the United States, and between
the southern and northeastern parts of Brazil. While preconception and stereotyping cannot completely be eradicated, we
should be careful not to translate such erroneous generalization into hatred or wishing disaster upon one another.
A young Brazilian male returned home from the US shortly after the 9-11 with a broken arm, and the news reporters
were waiting for him at São Paulo’s airport. He stated that some young Americans who mistook him for an Arab attacked him
at a telephone booth, and he had to defend himself. What was odd to me was that one of the news reporters asked him if
the people that attacked him were brancos ou negros (whites or
blacks). My first thought was that, perhaps, the reporter
expected the answer "negros", which would give her one more unflattering behavior to be blamed on black people.
Otherwise, does the skin color of the angry Americans that attacked the young Brazilian really matter? I am sure that
the same reporter would not go about researching how many white and black Americans or citizens of other countries died
at the twin towers on 9-11. Brazilian press does not use the word "African-American" as black Americans chose to refer to
themselves in the US, my guess being that it does not fit into their skin color categorization scheme.
How would Americans react if Brazil lost thousands of her people in one single day as a result of terrorist
attacks? The US government would probably send some military hardware and intelligence help, if Brazil needed such help to
strike back at the perpetrators and the country that harbors them, to prevent a repetition of such attacks. The Brazilian
diplomatic missions would be inundated with e-mails and letters of sympathy and support from ordinary Americans, the same
ordinary Americans that were massacred at the WTC. Relief organizations would receive millions of dollars in donations and
thousands of tons of materials to help the people affected in Brazil. I doubt that a single American would choose a moment of such
an enormous catastrophe to pick up his or her pen and send a letter to a newspaper to advance an argument or even a
suggestion to the effect that Brazil "asked for what she got."
If the police, security or military forces of other countries trained in the United States during the Cold War, an era of
communist revolutions and military coups, ended up torturing and killing their own people, I would put the blame squarely on the
shoulders of those governments. The FBI, which is responsible for internal security in the US does not torture and kill hundreds of
Americans for their political views. Brazil sells arms to third world countries, for security purposes, but sometimes those countries
may become embroiled in civil strife or in conflict with neighboring countries. Brazil cannot be blamed for the direction the
armed forces of other countries decide to point the guns sold to them. Human beings are not perfect and, therefore, cannot
create a perfect society, but it appears that the rest of the world expects the US to always satisfy everyone’s interest.
This past October I attended a concert in Hollywood Hills to raise fund for orphanages in Brazil, for the second time
in two years. All the musicians that performed at the fund-raising were Americans; the only Brazilian connection being a
13-year old piano genius, Otto Ribeiro Ehling, whose mother is Brazilian-born. Brazilians made up only about 10 percent of
the attendees; the rest were Americans. So, you see,
temos compaixão (we have compassion) for others, and
não somos frios (we are not uncaring), and those of us that attended the fundraising event could also have been targets of terrorist
attacks because we are Americans or because we chose to live in
America. Many Americans are passionate about Brazil
because they see Brazilians as very open, free, and easy-going people like Americans. I am not a sports fan; however, I would
route for the US if its team plays against Brazil but would route for Brazil if its team plays against any other country.
Of course, we Americans "cry" and feel sad when some catastrophic event occurs in other places, whether it is a
natural disaster or caused by man. I have "cried" many times in my lifetime for other people. I "cried" when the first Prime
Minister of the newly independent Republic of Congo, Mr. Patrice Lumumba, a former trade unionist, was killed by the then
Commander of the Congolese Army, Joseph Mobutu, with the backing of the CIA.
I felt triste (sad) when the President of the Republic of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown in a military
coup, perhaps with encouragement from the CIA. I "cried" when the Chilean army under General Pinochet killed the
democratically elected President Salvador Allende, again with CIA backing. And I "cried" once more when I saw the late President
Allende’s wife in a documentary film making a remark that she believed that someday the people of South America would be free.
I was triste when the Hutu tribe in Rwanda massacred over 800,000 Tutsis, their own countrymen, women and
children. I still feel triste because a civil war has been going on in Angola, a former Portuguese colony, now for about 32 years
and the population is still suffering. I feel
triste whenever I see a terrorist stripe a bomb to his body and blow himself up in
the mist of innocent men, women and children in Israel. I feel
triste when the Israeli jetfighter or helicopter fires a rocket on
suspected terrorist hideout and end up killing innocent men, women, and children.
I "cried" when terrorists drove a truck loaded with explosives into a building housing American Marines in Beirut,
Lebanon, killing 269 and wounding many more American Marines. The Marines were there to stop the Lebanese Muslims
and Christians from killing each other, but it did not matter to the terrorists why the Marines were there, they simply hate Americans.
I felt triste when Somalis were starving to death because of the civil war in their country, and I "cried" when 18
American soldiers were killed while they were in Somalia to maintain some order, so that the starving Somalis could be fed by the
international relief agencies. The Somalis dragged the bodies of the dead peacekeeping American soldiers and soldiers from other
countries that they killed through the street. I "cried" when terrorists blew up two American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
killing 224 innocent people, out of that number, only 12 were Americans, the rest were Kenyans and Tanzanians.
I felt triste when terrorists blew up Pan Am airline in the air, over Scotland, killing all the passengers. I felt
triste when terrorists piloted a barge loaded with explosives into US navy ship SS Cole in Yemen killing 16 servicemen and
wounding several more, or when they blew up a building in Saudi Arabia housing American service men and women killing many soldiers.
I felt triste when Petrobras’ oil platform collapsed following an explosion and several workers lost their lives. I was
triste when the Brazilian car race champion, Ayrton Senna died in a racing accident, and I felt
triste when Brazil lost to France 3-0 in the last World Cup. And of all the racecar champions, Ayrton
Senna was the only one I ordered his T-shirt from an
auto-racing magazine. I felt triste whenever a confrontation between the members of the Brazilian
Movimento das Pessoas Sem Terra (Movement of Landless Persons) and the police resulted in deaths.
I feel triste when homeless children get killed by the police or vigilantes on the streets of São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro
for stealing or simply for constituting a public nuisance. I feel
triste when I see a young girl of school age working as
empregada (housemaid) instead of being in school and getting an education. But I am not so irrational as not to realize that the
economy of Brazil is not yet developed to the level where enough crumbs could fall to those at the lowest wrong of the society, so
that they would have enough to eat.
And I feel triste when black Zimbabweans encouraged by President Mugabe kill white Zimbabwean farmers and
burn down their farms. You can imagine my
tristeza (unhappiness) when terrorists who called themselves "Muslims"
attacked the United States and killed over 5,000 men, women, and children and caused damages to the tune of billions of dollars
in one single day.
Civilization is not a predetermined event, rather it is an on-going process in human history; we learn as we go. If you
consider how many thousands of years it has taken us to get to where we are, you would realize that we are all groping in the
dark, and once in a while we stumble on something that leads us so far and then stops, until a new door opens. Each phase
teaches us something about where we are going or whether we should abandon the particular activity in which we are involved
or change it.
Every human event in history should be examined in the context of the period and the circumstances under which it
occurred. Decisions made by the United States during the Cold War were based on perceptions of the era. Each phase in human
civilization may be abandoned when it dawns on us that the activity is immoral, oppressive, or unproductive. Hopefully, we
learn something that could help our process of civilization.
We cannot go back and change slavery, for example, because it occurred at the period when man’s perspective on
morality and civilized behavior was not properly developed. The races knew very little about one another at that time. If the
situation was switched and the Africans were more advanced than the Europeans, at that time, I have no doubt that slavery
would have occurred in the other direction. If any other country were in the position of the United States as an economic and
military power, it would probably not do anything differently than the United States. If we continue to use past events to cause
such unprecedented destruction of lives and properties as in 9-11, we will destroy humanity before we have the opportunity
to learn from our mistakes.
All human empires and civilizations are bound to decline; the United States is no exception. But such a decline
occurs gradually and almost naturally, and perhaps, from within the society, and hardly recognized as occurring. Considering
the weapons of war that man has presently acquired, any attempt to destroy a country like the United States by violence
would put the entire human race in a great peril.
The character of the American society will gradually change over many years, but not by violent attacks such as
9-11. The US is gradually turning into a big nation with smaller nations inside it, due to large immigrants coming into the
country. The immigrants no longer disperse themselves into the population and adopt American culture and way of life; instead
they try to recreate the societies they came from inside the United States. Upon becoming citizens, most of the immigrants
simply vote for politicians with the same national origin as themselves. Demographers have estimated that over 50 percent of
the population of the United States will be Hispanics by the year 2050.
To that estimate, add immigrants from other parts of the world, and it is my guess that the United States would
gradually take on new characteristics that could be somewhere between the First and Third World. The fact is that the natural
dynamics for this change can be described as an osmosis process. American businesses, big and small, need immigrants for cheap
labor and large number of consumers, making many Americans millionaires while the immigrants enjoy improved standard of
living from what they used to know.
The point of this is that the "Jihad Warriors" who want to destroy the United States, and everyone else who wishes
to see this country fall on its face, have no choice but to wait for the natural process of decline to take its course. They will
certainly have a long time to wait. Besides, if this country declines economically and militarily, there is no doubt that the less
developed countries of the world would decline even faster. Nobody is going to benefit from the decline of the United States as an
economic and military power, no matter what part of the world he or she lives.
The fact that some Arabs have resorted to suicide missions is nothing new. Japanese kamikaze pilots were crashing
their fighter planes loaded with explosives and fuel into US warships, and their soldiers would not surrender when
surrounded. This behavior resulted in the United States’ decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Japan surrendered following
the second atomic bomb in Nagasaki. Perhaps some Arabs feel a sense of frustration and humiliation for not being able to
win a war against Israel, and believe that they can redeem their honor by causing a great destruction somewhere in the
world. But there are other ways a people can redeem their honor other than by destruction.
If all Palestinians were to renounce all forms of violence against Israel or any other countries, I have no doubt that
the rest of the world would admire them and stand behind them in their quest for a Palestinian homeland, with lost borders
regained from the Israelis. Israel will not continue to hold on to those Palestinian territories under their control presently for a
minute longer. If the Israelis do not relinquish the occupied territories, the whole world, including the United States, would turn
against them. The former Soviet Union provided military and economic aids to many Arab countries in their war against Israel,
yet that has never led the Israelis to launch suicide attacks against Russia and its citizens.
It appears that some of the criticism leveled against the United States is rooted in envy arising from the economic
and military power of this country. It fits the old sour grape expression about human behavior. People sometimes condemn
those that are ahead of them because they cannot compete or do not wish to put in the efforts required to compete. Americans
are not warmongers, they send American soldiers to help in war torn areas of the world where other countries do not have
the means to take the lead.
In the process of helping to prevent one group of people from killing a weaker group, they end up getting involved
in war, people die, and the United States ends up getting blamed. If the United States decides not to get involved in those
crisis-ridden spots in the world, then there are those who would accuse her of not caring because of the "race" of the people
involved or the lack of economic importance of the countries involved. It has become a case of "damn if you do, damn if you
don’t" for the United States.
Paul Betterman, the author, lives in Los Angeles, California. You can contact him at