Monday, December 29, 2008

You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear
You've got to be taught
From year to year
It's got to be drummed
in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught
To be afraid
Of people whose eyes
are oddly made
And people whose skin
Is a different shade
You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught
Before it's too late
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8
To hate all the people
your relatives hate
You've got to be carefully taught
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein created some spectacular Broadway musicals during their partnership. While I love the eminently hummable music Richard Rodgers composed (especially for The King and I, Oklahoma, South Pacific, and The Sound of Music, just to name four), the lyrics often surprise and delight me some forty or fifty years after their debut.

Now, the last time I wrote about lyrics from a Rodgers and Hammerstein production I annoyed quite a number of readers, so since insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and always getting the same result, but each time expecting a different result, here I go again!

"You have to be carefully taught" comes from South Pacific, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 (in addition to ten Tony Awards, including for Best Musical). It's sung by Lieutenant Cable -- who, of course, winds up dead by the end of the play. (Oops, I guess I've just spoiled the plot for you!) He's in love with Liat, a beautiful Vietnamese girl, but cannot bring himself to commit to her. Despite his having dumped her before he goes off on what is to be his last mission, Liat is inconsolable at the news of his death.

Anyway, rent the movie, especially if you've not seen it and/or not heard the soundtrack in a long time. Gorgeous.

I've been thinking about prejudices lately because I've been around such an ethnic and cultural melting pot since joining the Army. There are lots of people in the Army who were born in other countries. Everywhere I go there are DoD civilians and "third-country nationals" from all over the place.

One of my really good friends here Down Range, CPT J, is a lawyer who was born elsewhere and then came to the United States to go to the university and graduate school. He's been a US citizen for many years now.

I am constantly giving him a hard time about his "taking jobs away from *real* Americans." One of the other priests here is from another elsewhere, and he wound up baptizing my friend at the Easter Vigil this past year. They remain really good friends. Both have very pronounced, and very different accents when speaking English.

I can't remember what the context was right now, but not too long ago CPT J and I were talking and laughing about something, and he mentioned my fellow priest. I made some snide comment about the two of them, and he grinned from ear to ear and replied, "It must be because we're BOTH taking jobs away from *real* Americans!"

Because of his accent, CPT J has faced some pretty stiff opposition from dunderheads who can't see past the end of their noses. He's an American citizen, and probably knows a LOT more civics than *I* do. Yet because he sounds "different" from what certain people *think* an American should sound like, he's immediately suspect.

Good thing for him he's a lawyer!

One of the things I'm really liking about the Army is that it offers Soldiers from wherever they've come the opportunity to live and work with people from all over the place. It really is a great equalizer.

I can't help but believe if more people had the experience of having to interact with people they've been *taught* to fear, distrust, dislike, and despise -- in an atmosphere where 'conduct unbecoming' is not tolerated -- we'd have fewer people teaching their little ones "to hate all the people your relatives hate."

13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (NRSV: Mk 10:13-16)

You've got to be carefully taught.

Blessings and peace to one and all on this Fourth Day of Christmas,

Fr. Tim, SJ


Lally said...

I remember being knocked out by the honesty of that song when I heard it as a kid in the 1950s, someone actually saying what seemed so obvious to me at the time but not to any adults I knew. But I don't think "Liat" was "Vietnamese." It was South Pacific after all and WWII. In the play and film she was "Tonkanese" as I remember it, which sounds like a cover for "Vietnamese," but the island she came from was Bali Hai, which seemed more like Bali or Gauguin's Tahiti.

Unknown said...

"She said that when the war ended, she would go to Tonkin, the area that would later be known as North Vietnam, and I got the strong impression that when she got there she intended to oppose French colonialism. . . . I would often think of her in later years when American troops were fighting their fruitless battles in Vietnam and I wondered if our leaders realized that the enemy they were fighting consisted of millions of determined people like Bloody Mary." James Michener to the New York Times, 1991

Lally said...

Could'a fooled me. And obviously did.

Powered By Ringsurf