A Lesson In Emotional Anti-Terrorism
ZERO PLUS 1199 DAYS,--New York, NY, Friday, December
year on Christmas Eve I am reminded of my Christmas with the
Christmas, 1965. I was on the island of Okinawa waiting to mount
out with the 1st Marine Division to Chu Lai, Vietnam. As a U.S.
Marine Corps Combat Correspondent, my job was to record various
events of interest about the activities the Marine Corps was
involved in, both in combat and non-combat situations.
I was invited
to spend Christmas Day at a leper colony in Okinawa
asked if anyone was interested in spending Christmas Day with
a colony of lepers. No one jumped up and grabbed the assignment.
I thought it sounded fascinating and elected to record and report
was hosted by the local provost marshall, whose civilian counterpart
would be the local police chief. Each year it was the tradition
of the local military police to send a detachment to a remote
Leper Colony and distribute gifts that had been collected throughout
the year to the people and children who lived there.
In an ironic
sense of holiday amnesty, the provost marshall offered any prisoners
in the brig a "free day" if they wanted to volunteer
to visit the Leper Colony. The Marine Corps brig was full of
convicted Marines whose crimes ranged from rape and murder to
refusing orders or going Absent Without Leave (AWOL).
choice of spending Christmas in a 10x10 cell or riding on a
bus to a Leper Colony, the Leper Colony seemed a top choice
for a number of inmates.
along to report the event.
Day we loaded the prisoners into the bus and the guards and
I, plus the provost marshall, climbed aboard. The belly of the
bus was stuffed with pounds and pounds of gifts wrapped and
sparkling with red and green ribbons.
is one of the most egregious of all social diseases, dating
back thousands of years in history. A mycobacteria eats away
at the flesh, disfiguring the victim.
cultures have cast lepers into colonies and banned them from
participating in "normal" society. In 1980 a series
of multi-drug inoculations were introduced to cure the disease,
however, the World Health Organization still records more than
800,000 cases, mostly in underdeveloped countries.
in Okinawa some four decades ago subscribed to ancient beliefs
of segregation and isolation.
infected with leprosy was placed in the colony and could never
leave it. If that person ended up married and had children,
and even if they children were born without the disease and
were considered "normal," even the children could
words, the colony was a prison for not only those afflicted
with the disease, but their non-afflicted offspring.
It is hard
to describe the feeling of trying to prepare one's self to not
show emotional fear or trepidation about meeting lepers. On
the trip up, even though the conversations ranged on a multitude
of subjects, the foremost thought in everyone's mind was how
we would react to the people.
marshall gave the prisoners a good background, dispelling many
fears about the disease,
including the myth of its transmission. Only through prolonged
bodily contact with a sore could the chance of its transmission
up to the location. It was well fenced and heavily posted, warning
anyone approaching that the area was a Leper Colony. One could
have easily placed land mines around the colony, for the signs
were ominous. In any movie one sees about lepers there's that
horrid vision of the beggar wrapped in rags with giant sores
festering and a cane helping the victim hobble about as people
run and shield their eyes, hoping the pestilence of the disease
will not hop off the afflicted and onto them.
to brush such thoughts from my mind, but the harder I tried
to be nonplussed, the more vivid the images blazed.
of Okinawa was one of the most fierce in WWII
During World War II, the
battle of Okinawa was one of the fiercest of all. More people
were killed during it than the atomic bombings of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. Casualties totaled more than 38,000 Americans
wounded and 12,000 killed or missing, more than 107,000 Japanese
and Okinawan conscripts killed, and perhaps 100,000 Okinawan
civilians who perished in the battle.
I wondered if any of the lepers in the
colony had been involved in that battle, but knew I wouldn't
ask the question. We were there to spread joy and good will,
not burrow sores into the past.
The lepers met us at the gate. They
were smiling. Some didn't have noses. Others were armless or
legless. Some had parts of their bodies removed--a foot, a hand,
There was the initial shock of seeing
the people, who, understanding our concerns, bowed and avoided
We toured the facility. It was primitive
in many ways, especially in the medical area. Beds rested on
concrete with a trough down the middle so it would be easy to
disinfect the floors by swabbing and then hosing the area down.
The colony, however, was like Eden.
It sat on an idyllic cove with azure water lapping upon a white
beach, braced by lush green palm trees and jutting rocks spired
out just offshore to create a magnificent mural that seemed
in such contrast to what some might consider the "deformation"
of those who called the beach their home.
Young children hugged their parents'
legs and looked up at us with big brown eyes. They were "normal"
and it was hard to imagine they were forced to spend the rest
of their lives inside the parameters of the compound, legally,
socially and culturally ostracized from ever stepping a foot
As we began to speak and interact, the
"horrid" nature of the disease evaporated. The humanity
of he people, their warmth and kindness, their love and appreciation
of our presence, soon overshadowed the fears that they were
going to "infect" us. Even the prisoners--our social
outcasts--our legal lepers--seemed to shed their affinities
They weren't "prisoners" but "people" like
the rest of us.
We entered into a circle and began to
sing Christmas Carols organized by the colony. The children,
originally shy, began to sidle up to us. Soon, they were sitting
next to us cross legged on tatami mats. We drank and ate, forgetting
we were lepers and non-lepers. We became just people.
Christmas Carols at the leper colony was very different
from any other caroling I had experienced
Then, we gathered up the presents and
passed them out. There was a wonderful period of appreciation
by all for the thoughts, the gifts and the joys they brought.
The children beamed and bowed, respecting everything given to
As we wrapped up the day, we found ourselves
shaking hands and hugging the lepers, ignoring the illusion
that they were covered with sores or had no noses, or their
ears were missing, or that stumps replaced hands.
I wrote a story of great importance
to me, for it was about the loss of a false belief...the loss
of a prejuidice...the loss of a bigotry toward people who on
the outside appeared to be the most "ugly" of all
forms of human degeneration but who, on the inside, were the
In a way, the lepers carried a form
of visual Terrorism on their outsides that blinded the beauty
of their Vigilance to those fearful of the truth of human nature.
It is not unlike looking at someone
today from the Middle East and despite any evidence to confirm
a belief, to suggest, imply or infer that just because they
have the skin color, the accent, or believe in Islam, that they
are now, or will become, Terrorists.
Similarly, it is the same when a die-hard
Republican looks upon a die-hard Democrat, or a "red"
stater looks upon a "blue" stater.
In our own
country there are those who consider our government to
In our own country there are those who
consider our government to be full of lepers, nasty, evil people
who want to infect the world with a disease of capitalism, lust
and greed at the expense of human life.
Conversely, there are those who think
that people who protest or stand against certain policies are
communists or subversives seeking to undermine and weaken America's
Terrorism is only skin deep.
Even our own.
When we look at ourselves and hate what
we see, we see a leper.
look in the mirror and be a "high class" leper
Many of us can look in the mirror and
see a "loser" or a "failure" or a "victim"
or a "nobody" or someone who is "uglier than,"
or "not as smart as," or not as "fortunate as,"
and as we dwell on such infirmities of the mind, we begin to
see our flesh decay and feel as outcast as a leper in a world
where we have become the doormat and everyone else is the sole
of the feet stomping on us.
We can also reverse this and think of
ourselves as "better than" others, more "intelligent"
than, or more "privileged" than, or "prettier,"
or more "handsome" than the less "fortunate"
and become a leper by over valuing ourselves and our importance
so that we become an ugly self-serving beast who considers ourselves
a hammer and everyone else a nail.
We can be "high class" lepers
when our egos soar.
Vigilance, on the other hand, asks us
to balance ourselves out and become right size.
If we seek to look through our false
fronts--either those that degrade our natures or those that
isolate and elevate us above others--we find that there is little
difference between ourselves and all others.
The color of one's skin, the amount
of money in the bank, the level of education, the cultural beliefs,
the pedigree--all mean nothing when we reduce ourselves to human
beings who have one goal in mind--the safety and security of
One thing I am constantly reminded about
from my Christmas with the Lepers, is the faces of the children.
They were pure innocence.
The children were free from the disease
of their parents. They were the next evolution of life, unencumbered
Yet, society placed upon these children
a burden of great onus.
Sadly, we who suffer our own varying
degrees of Emotional Leprosy also infect our children.
our children and loved ones from the dangers of Emotional
That's why we must seek the antibiotics
of Vigilance to cure ourselves and inoculate our children from
the dangers of Emotional Leprosy.
If we think on this Christmas Eve and
throughout the Holiday that our goal in the coming year is to
remove from our selves and our loved ones the dangers of Emotional
Leprosy, we will be urged to join the ranks of the Sentinels
If we can muster the Courage, Conviction
and take the Right Actions necessary to protect the children
from harm, then we dispel the Fear, Intimidation and Complacency
of Emotional Terrorism.
We will become free from Emotional Leprosy.
Inoculate yourself and loved ones today....take
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