The Vietnam memorial is a 75-metre long wall located in Washington DC where the names of the over 58,000 soldiers who lost their lives in Vietnam are inscribed. To some, it is a visceral reminder of the very human cost of war, to others it is a reminder to be on guard against politicians who would send our children to die needlessly.
Most countries remember their fallen heroes, those who have given their lives for their countries, regardless of the justness of the wars fought. Well, there is a war going on in Trinidad. Not the typical World War II or Iraq type war, but an internal war where our sons and daughters (mostly sons) are being slaughtered on a daily basis.
Like most wars, our war is being fought for our freedoms, our freedom; to walk the streets in safety, without fear, our freedom to pursue our own individual dreams and our freedom to raise our children in a place where their contributions will be appreciated and nurtured.
Most of the dying in our war is being done by young men who are growing up in gang-infested communities; young men who are killing each other for their own personal dignity and for the only way of life that they think is available to them. They are fighting a war that they cannot win, and that the rest of us are sharing in the losing.
What's killing our young men are not bullets from an uniformed enemy, not the police and army, but apathy and ignorance of the general population (including yours truly).
I think part of the reason much of T&T's criminality has become so vicious and inhumane is because over a period of decades, the rest of society (read you and me) has demonstrated that we don't care about those in disadvantaged communities.
Very few of us mentor, volunteer or otherwise give of our time to help youth at risk or any other disadvantaged community for that matter. We don't have a culture of volunteerism and we expect the government to take care of all our social ills.
It's somebody else's job to guide and nurture youth who are born into broken homes and who have no big brothers or good role models to guide them.
Over the years we've stood by and complained that this disaster is happening and that somebody (government, police) should do something about this apparently spontaneously occurring combustible criminality. And the solution is to lock up and execute the criminals.
Let's face it, when we talk about criminals in Trinidad, we don't talk about human beings, we talk about vermin to be eradicated. This I think is one reason why it's so easy to talk about hanging them high. For us they are no longer human. And by extension so are the entire communities that breed them. No one will say so of course, but see for yourself. Ah well, perhaps it's just me.
So here's a crazy idea, let's build something like a Vietnam memorial—not to honour murdered murderers—but to remind us of the huge social cost of our collective failure to these, our fallen countrymen. Why? Several reasons:
— It's a way to humanise the cost instead of talking and treating these people like they are invaders from outer space that we should fight and eradicate.
— None of these young men seem to have names. It's almost like the only trace of their having been here is their criminal statistic: #300 in the murders of 2010 or 2009.
— It's a way to think of the potential Boldons, Laras, Yorkes, Montanos, Minshalls, Naipauls, Lok Jacks etc. that are being lost. We don't think of the sheer human potential that is being wasted.
Perhaps if we erected a living monument, something that communicated the human beings that are being lost, perhaps the visibility of it, and it's creep would stir us all to act sustainably to make sure that the monument doesn't get any bigger.
Perhaps it would stir us to feel not hate and anger towards these lost souls, but instead feel pity and even …shame … enough to get involved.
Perhaps we could build several Vietnam type monuments in the areas primarily affected, perhaps with their name, age and a short description of each person, and how and why they died. We could link each name to a URL where we could learn more about who died, and where he went wrong.
The monument(s) would serve as a reminder that we're all connected, and that there is a cost to us all when we leave our gardens untended. Every one chooses from the options they see available to them. The options available to these dead young men were not the same as your children.
The monument doesn't have to be monumental in cost, and perhaps this should be put out to the artistic community to submit their ideas for what this memorial could be, and it could be funded by the private sector. The government could initiate it but the private sector and the artistic community, along with the community leaders would make it happen.
The biggest benefit is that it would show the local communities that we notice what is happening to them (and us) and that we care.
Perhaps the monument could help us to see rampant criminality not just as an existential threat, but as a cry for help. Perhaps this Vietnam type tribute would be a more effective deterrent to crime and save the state from having to stoop to the level of murdering its citizens.
I can imagine an auntie saying, "What wrong wit you boy? Like yuh want your name to end up on the wall or what?"
Ah well, more crazy talk from a crazy guy.
• (Peter Anthony Gales is a Cornell MBA with over two decades of international
business and marketing experience
encompassing North America, Europe, the Far East and the Caribbean.
He currently gives talks and workshops
about ambition and professionalism.
His blog is thepracticeofyourlife.com