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“As I write, highly civilized human beings
are flying overhead, trying to kill me.”
-George Orwell, “England Your England”
Several years ago my Father-in-law, who lived in the Alsace region of France, died of cancer. I won’t bore you with the details of his passing. For those of you who have ever lost a loved one to cancer, you know what we went through. For those of you who haven’t, I pray that you remain ignorant. He was diagnosed in January. By July he would be dead and buried.
He became bed ridden fairly quickly, and while the hospital and his family did their best to see that he was comfortable, he always complained of being either too hot or too cold. Unhelpfully, in the general confusion that is most hospitals, and due to his deteriorating condition, his pyjama top was constantly being misplaced.
A relative, who also happened to be a former nurse, came up with the somewhat ingenious idea of attaching the pyjama top to the pyjama bottom by sewing the two together, but only half way round the waist. That way my Father-in-law could put the top on or take it off without losing it (it would always be attached to the bottom of his pyjamas at the front).
The relative visited a nondescript shoe repair shop run by an Arab immigrant. It was one of those little places that can do almost anything (all French towns seem to have one). She asked him if he could sew the pyjama top and bottom together, but again, only half way round the waste. The shop owner, rightfully, thought that it was a strange request. But once it was explained to him why it was needed, he dutifully got to work.
When the relative tried to pay him, he adamantly refused to take her money. He said that he could not accept payment for doing something that would help a man who was dying of cancer.
As I write this, the US is making preparations to engage in more acts of war against another Middle Eastern country. President Obama says that he has a “moral obligation” to rain cruise missiles down on innocent men, women and children in order to show the world that America takes human rights violations seriously. This argument is so ludicrous that it is beyond contempt. When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein killed an estimated 50,000 people between 1980 and 1988, the US, oddly, felt no such “moral obligation.” Even more disgusting is the fact that a Nobel Peace Prize winning President who is personally responsible for the deaths of scores of innocent people through indiscriminate drone attacks (i.e. terrorism) would have the audacity to even use the words “moral obligation.”
If this attack comes to pass, the US will have chosen, once again – freely and of her own accord – to engage in war crimes as clearly defined by the Nüremberg Principles and the founding charter of the United Nations.
As I watch and read the news coming out of the Middle East, I can’ help but find my thoughts wandering. For some reason, I keep thinking back to a small shoe repair shop in a quiet little village in the west of France. And to a simple Muslim shop keeper who refused to accept the money of a Christian family whose Father was dying of cancer.
Tom McNamara is an Assistant Professor at the ESC Rennes School of Business, France, and a former Visiting Lecturer at the French National Military Academy at Saint-Cyr, Coëtquidan, France.
“Covert Drone War: The complete datasets” by Alice K. Ross, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, September 6, 2012. Accessed at:
“England Your England” by George Orwell, First published: The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius. GB, London, February 19, 1941.
“Obama Says We Have A ‘Moral Obligation’ In Syria” Agence France Press, through Business Insider, May 8th, 2013. Accessed at:
“Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nüremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal, 1950” Report of the International Law Commission covering its Second Session, 5 June – 29 July 1950, Document A/1316. Accessed at:
“The Charter of the United Nations” June 26, 1945. Accessed at:
“The shadow of Ypres” The Economist, August 31st, 2013. Accessed at: