A True Patriot: Carlos Arredondo

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By Stephan Manning.

Like many others, I was shocked at the bombings during the Boston Marathon yesterday on Patriots’ Day. And like many others, I felt inspired by the heroic effort of Carlos Arredondo in helping victims and preventing more severe casualties. But Carlos Arredondo is not just a random helper in a hat, but a long-term peace activist. In 2004, his son Alexander was killed in the Iraq war. In 2011, his other son Brian committed suicide being unable to cope with the loss of his brother.

Since 2004, both Carlos and his wife Melida have been actively opposing the ongoing U.S. military engagement in Iraq. As part of their efforts, they became members of the organization Gold Star Families for Peace – a community of families of soldiers who died in the war – whose mission was “to be a positive force in our world to bring our country’s sons and daughters home from Iraq, [and] to minimize the human cost of this war” (see Wikipedia entry). Since 2011, both have dedicated themselves to supporting military families who have suffered from suicides and mental trauma (see related article by Colonel Ann Wright).

The reason why Carlos came to this year’s Boston marathon was because one of the runners was honoring his dead son Alexander. Carlos expected the runner to make it to the finish line between 2 and 3 pm. The explosion occurred around 2:50 pm. Carlos did not think twice about rushing to the horrible scene and doing everything he could – as an American Red Cross volunteer – to help people in need and to assist the relief effort.

To me, Carlos Arredondo is a true patriot. Not just because of his heroic deeds on Patriots’ Day. But because throughout his life, especially following the death of his son Alexander, he simply did what he felt was right at any moment. No matter if he put his own life in danger or not. No matter if his actions were appreciated or if he had to swim against the political mainstream.

In fact, Carlos Arredondo is a patriot because he does not believe in empty symbols. In 2007, he was attacked by members of the Gathering of Eagles, a right-wing group, during an anti-war march in Washington D.C., because he was allegedly holding the American flag upside down. I wonder how many of these attackers knew what it’s like to lose someone in a war. In particular a war that could hardly be justified. A war that had nothing to do with protecting America. A war that made many Americans feel ashamed of their home country. Sometimes, being patriotic means questioning the symbols that turn citizens into blind followers.

Boston marathon Carlos Arredondo Carlos Arredondo is also a patriot because, being born in Costa Rica, he and his wife have made enormous efforts to reach out to Spanish-speaking families in the U.S. who have suffered from the loss of relatives in a war initiated and promoted by the U.S. government. The same government that cared relatively little about fair immigration laws and related rights for Hispanic and other minorities in the U.S. Knowing that George W. Bush passed a law in 2004 to allow parents of those killed in action to become legal immigrants does not make it any better. In fact, how cynical is that? Only if you lose a child in a war you have demonstrated sufficient patriotism to deserve legal immigrant status? How about all the families with children wounded – physically or mentally? How about all the parents who allow their kids to go to war in the first place – for a country that does not even recognize them as legal residents? To me, supporting those families is not only a great human effort, but a true act of patriotism.

And Carlos Arredondo is a patriot because he does not give up. So many people with a similar personal experience have lost hope or have become cynical. I do not know what has kept Carlos Arredondo from joining the club of the resigned and indifferent. It amazes me how he has maintained his belief in the spirit of America, in the spirit of the Boston Marathon, in the spirit of peace and understanding – when the time of war and U.S. military engagements is not over yet (or never will be).

Maybe the United States needs more people like Carlos Arredondo. But the fact alone that there are people in the U.S. like him, who carry a human spirit of patriotism, makes me hopeful and feel good about living in America – as a foreigner, like so many others, like Carlos Arredondo.

Further references

Wikipedia entry on Carlos Arredondo

Democracy Now! Featuring Carlos Arredondo (April 16 2013)

Article by Colonel Ann Wright: “More Costs of War: Suicides and Mental Trauma of Military Family Members”

American Red Cross Volunteering

U.S. News: “The man in the hat at Boston Marathon finish line: Carlos Arredondo didn’t set out to be hero” (April 15 2013)

Original source of the picture:

The Guardian: “Carlos Arredondo hailed as hero for Boston Marathon rescue efforts” (April 16 2013)

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Bye bye Guttenberg, Koch-Mehrin, Schavan… Is this perhaps the most effective guerilla campaign against the conservative political class?

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By Stephan Manning

We just experienced the latest successful attempt of bringing about the downfall of a conservative politician in Germany: Annette Schavan. The former German minister of education joins the club of politicians who have been forced to give up their positions in government or party because of evidence of plagiarism in their PhD dissertations. Plagiarism means that other people’s work is used without proper citations, which is a violation of academic standards and which can be interpreted as cheating – a serious form of misbehavior in the eye of the public (at least in Germany) and a legitimate reason for putting an end to a politician’s career.

If somebody had told me ten years ago that this is going to happen, I would have disregarded this scenario as unrealistic. Some time ago, only a few hardcore believers in the value of ‘original academic work’ among German social scientists really cared about international standards when it comes to PhD dissertations. In all these cases – Guttenberg, Koch-Mehrin, Schavan etc. – not only the (former) Doctor degree holders, but also their academic advisors were taken by surprise when all of a sudden somebody raised the issue of plagiarism. (For those not familiar with the German academic system: For many years, German professors would support ‘practitioner’ PhDs, i.e. the pursuit of doctor degrees in business, law and political science as a means to boost professional careers. The academic value of dissertations leading to such degrees has always been questioned. But for a long time nobody really cared about it. Sloppy academic work was an acceptable flaw of a system producing ‘academically qualified’ managers and politicians. Not so different from MBA degrees in the U.S.)

So, what is really going on?  Who came up with this idea of analyzing the accuracy of dissertations of German politicians? I should say: dissertations that probably nobody has ever read or ever will read. I am inclined to think that there can be only one explanation for this. It’s all part of a systematic guerilla campaign against conservative politicians in Germany. Clearly, the tendency to copy & paste has nothing to do with political ideology. I bet there are as many Social democrats with a Doctor degree ‘guilty of plagiarism’ as there are Christian or Liberal democrats. But, to my knowledge, no single Social democrat or Socialist politician has ever been convicted of plagiarism yet.

Let’s think about it: What’s the point of spending endless time and energy on this rather tedious task of reading and analyzing somebody’s dissertation, identifying signs of misconduct, persuading former advisors and universities to start an official investigation, and informing journalists about the process?  Unless you are on a mission! The mission of demonstrating that the conservative political class is vulnerable. And honestly, I think it’s about time!

How easy has it always been to get rid of politicians in the left camp. From ‘Animal farm’ by George Orwell we all know how the formerly underprivileged get easily corrupted by power. Easy to imagine how excited some Green or Socialist politicians in power can get being able to fly first class for fun – even if travel budgets are not designed for that. Or having easy access to large amounts of money – even if receiving private funds or honorariums as a politician is considered inappropriate (in Germany). Some might remember that exactly that forced Cem Ozdemir to step down from his position as parliament speaker of the Green party in 2002. And it is not surprising that the new Chancellor candidate of the Social Democrats, Peer Steinbrueck, almost tripped over a similar issue (honorariums for presentations). Needless to say that these little incidents of power abuse for pleasure and financial gain are nothing compared to the elaborate systems of financial support established and maintained typically by the conservative political class. Helmut Kohl’s donation system is just one example. But unlike Kohl, who was able to stay in power for sixteen years, many politicians of the left camp never even get there because of their lack of smartness in dealing with power and privileges.

Another example: How easy has it been to accuse left-wing politicians of an unstable life style! How many times did Joschka Fischer and Gerhard Schroeder get married in their lives? Ten in total? Compare that to Stoiber and Kohl. And for some reason, right-wing politicians also seem to be able to control their sexual energy much better. Or they have less to begin with. How else could you explain the ease with which the promising career of French socialist Strauss-Kahn was put to an end after allegations of inappropriate sexual encounters with a hotel maid (whether or not particular allegations are actually true does not really matter). And how easy was it for Monica Lewinsky to get charming Bill Clinton to embark on a sexual adventure. Well, there might be something about (lacking) ‘conservative values’. At least they seem to keep many conservatives from falling into the same trap.

In fact, for a long time, a lot of things had to happen before a conservative politician was ready to give up. Let’s take a recent – albeit rare – example: the Christian democrat Christian Wulff, who many consider to be the most embarrassing federal president of Germany yet. Nobody in such a position has probably ever taken advantage of political power in so many different ways – real estate deals, flight ticket discounts, numerous bribes – than this man. And he was in good company. His business-smart ex-wife had the guts to exploit her husband’s misery by publishing and openly promoting a book about the cruel reality – loneliness, neglect etc. – of being a president’s wife. There was no left-wing conspiracy needed here. Wulff got unmasked by his conservative fellows and his own wife.

But think about it: How likely is it that other members of the conservative political class are as small-minded as Wulff was? How many examples, by comparison, do we know of conservative politicians who get away with almost anything? Can you imagine any Socialist politician with the mafia ethic of Helmut Kohl or the criminal energy of Silvio Berlusconi being able to stay in power as long as they did?

The plagiarism campaign might put an end to all this – at least in Germany – and create a better balance between right-wing and left-wing activism. While lefties keep struggling with having too much power, the conservative class now faces punishment for ignoring academic standards nobody (outside academia) actually cares about. Who would have thought that good old academia has such a practical impact after all! Cheers!