It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees, goes the quote attributed to Emiliano Zapata. It came to mind considering the case of the 14-year-old Jehovah’s Witness who chose to die rather than accept blood transfusions against his principles. Without a judge stepping in and saying the kid was old enough to make up his own mind, we might be back in yet another pointless, diversionary Terri Shiavo tug-of-war. Somehow the fact it never got to that says something about public opinion on the right to die. As Midnight Oil, reprising the Zapata quote in “Power and the Passion,” put it, “Sometimes you’ve got to take the hardest line.” And to think lead singer Peter Garrett has just been named Australia’s minister of the environment in the wake of Down Under’s anti-Bush election overhaul.
The kid knew what he was doing. He just wanted to die with dignity, his beliefs intact. You can argue endlessly about whether he was acting against his own eventual interests, whether he might, had he taken transfusions and survived, look back as an adult and be glad. But I’m not so sure. At 14 I was protesting the war and fighting the draft and listening to Dylan and pretty much had the mindset I do today, even if in a lot of ways I was completely clueless about life. So yeah, let the kid decide.
As an aside, searching the Zapata quote today (a far different experience than when I first researched it back in the day) says something about an incipient and encouraging youth awareness. A few years ago a Google search yielded only a few hits, and they all tagged Zapata (rightly so). Today the same search barely turns up the Mexican revolutionary’s name. Instead a raft of MySpace and other personal references show up, many posted by youth who obviously think the quote has some relevance to life in America today. As a meme, the phrase may give hope to aging lefties that hey, the kids are alright.
Richard McIver isn’t exactly walking tall himself, but another judge was probably considering dignity more than legal principle in (Times here, P-I there, both worth reading for their differences) withholding a video of the councilman taken the night of his arrest. The judge mumbled something about privacy rights and McIver not being informed he was being taped (like a camera or camcorder pointed in his face escaped notice?), but let’s face it, McIver is a decent guy who doesn’t deserve to be bandied about on the airwaves in a drunken stupor. Or whatever (since we probably will never see the thing). As for Jane Hague, potentially getting off on a technicality will do hardly anything to restore her dignity, which is pretty much shot forever.
The truth is, it’s near impossible to maintain dignity in public life these days, the Bush administration having so soiled the landscape. Public service has been turned into lackeydom and lickspittlehood, the latest evidence being the fearsome crusader called in to “investigate” Karl Rove. Turns out he is under investigation himself for all kinds of crap, including firing whistleblowers and “using government agencies to help re-elect Republicans.” And we are shocked, shocked at this revelation. Can you imagine this guy even getting up off his knees, let alone dying on his feet? I mean, just look at him. Orwell’s observation about people eventually getting the face they deserve comes to mind.
To end on a positive note, as we always try to do even in this season of commercialized, ersatz cheer, Obama’s comin’ to town! Now there’s a guy not only with dignity, but a face he deserves…