Many years ago I remember squeezing onto a dining chair with my best friend Caron and watching both our mothers and our maternal Nana’s playing cards with my aunty Cath, who, as was the way of such things back then, was actually my mother’s aunty. Fascinated as we were by the game I was equally intrigued by some of the words they were using and in particular the way they playfully used the word “bitch” as in you “sneaky bitch” or you “lucky bitch” whenever one of them usually aunty Cath, who was a bit of a card sharp, won a trick or a game.
Although mild by today’s standards, swearing and cursing was quite unknown territory for Caron and I as our parents had done their best to shield us from bad language, and even now, all these years later we still avoid using serious swear words in front of each other. Anyway, as the time went by Caron whispered into my ear a dare, which I at first refused point blank, because Caron’s dares and pranks had usually gotten me and pointedly rarely her, into trouble over the 4 or 5 years since we had learned to speak together. However, as was her way, she eventually bribed me with a share of her already half eaten bag of sweets. So I kneeled up on the chair and waited for the hand to reach its conclusion. As expected aunty Cath was again victorious, and at the point she leaned forward to sweep her winnings onto her ever growing mountain of pennies, I looked her straight in the eye and said ‘you lucky bitch.’
The slap across my face was so unexpected, I don’t think I cried for a good few seconds, particularly as I believe it was aunty Pat (Caron’s mother) who delivered it, because I think my own mother was so shocked the cigarette may have actually fallen from her mouth. “What did you say?” demanded my Nana.
Initially Caron’s Nana, Heather, had burst out laughing so I believe that was what emboldened her to say “Bitch, Anthony said Bitch.”
“Get out, both of you,” my mother eventually demanded, gathering her composure after rescuing our best table from a cigarette burn.
“But, but You all say Bitch,” I unwisely protested, although just quick enough to jump out of range of another one of aunty Pat’s slaps.
“Anthony…” my Nana said deploying her well developed way of using your name, as an implied final warning,” you will Do as we say, Not as we do!”
“But that’s not fair, I snivelled from the safety of the door to the stairs.
“You’ll learn soon enough young man, that life isn’t fair and that unless you do as you are told, there are usually consequences.”
Earlier this week I was reminded of this episode from my boyhood and was surprised at the way I could still recall that real sense of injustice, which I felt back then after learning one of life’s lessons. I expect that it is a similar sense of injustice that has just been felt by many leaders of the Free World since finding out that the USA had been negotiating with terrorists for some time before swapping five high ranking Taliban / Al Qaida prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for a deserter called Bowe Bergdahl.
While we can of course empathise with Bergdahl’s family, the furious debate within the US has mainly been about constitutional and military protocol and the Presidents dubious right to override a 30 day minimum Congress consultation period surrounding anything so contentious. Indeed, Obama’s people have left so few stones unturned in their efforts to spin a justification for the paying of ransoms and similar prisoner swaps, that those sanctioned and carried out by the USA on the Barbary Coast of North Africa in the early 1800’s actually trended on Twitter just a few days ago.
As usual with the USA, when similar things have happened before, it is a case of do what we say not what we do. So that’s one rule for the self styled policeman of the free world but a different one for the rest of us. I have personally lost count of the times some US Secretary of State, or Ambassador to the UN or any other highly placed White House mandarin or spokesman has told us of their displeasure at learning that France (quite often) or some other country has done a deal or paid a ransom for the return of some hostages, military advisors or other. Their speeches often spiced with predictions of how this country or that is all but creating a trade in kidnap and hostage taking because the terrorists now know that the state will pay. Then more often than not their oratory works its way towards a mantra like: “we never negotiate with terrorists.” Although clearly now they do and have been doing for some time.
On Tuesday, with the stink of their double standard still up our nostrils, Barrack Obama did his level best to remind us that although they very occasionally have to be the bad cop, who reserves the right not to do what they tell us we should do, they are mostly still the good cops. He was in Poland announcing a $1bn package of military measures to bolster Europe’s defences in anticipation for the next time Vladimir Putin decides to help himself to a slice of a neighbours territory. As ever Obama’s speech was polished and packed a punch, unless you looked closely at what the USA is actually offering. A smudge of redeployment of personnel here and there in Europe, which would have almost certainly happened anyway and some limited help with munitions that are close to their sell-by date, some of which have all but been superseded within the US Army, and we can quickly see that it was just a good old fashioned shuffle of paper and numbers, which hasn’t fooled many people, and certainly won’t worry Putin too much, next time he decides to howl at the moon.
So remember this – next time you want to bend the rules to suit yourselves: Yes we do appreciate that the USA is mostly a force for good, but never take for granted the respect of your friends and allies, who still look to you for strong moral leadership in a rapidly changing world. Always remember that hard earned respect is easy to lose, even among old friends, especially if you continue to play the double game of insisting that we do as you say for the common good, while still expecting us to overlook what you actually did instead.