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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Of Reptiles and Men

Dear Source:
The title is, of course, a reworded version of John Steinbeck's novel entitled 'Of Mice and Men'. There is, I can assure you, no intent to either ignore that most certainly fairer gender of humanity, or associate it with any of these cold-blooded vertebrates. That said, I continue my discourse.
As a first generation American, I have never known the hardships my parents faced in Eastern Europe. My father and his family left East Prussia in 1926 and my mother and her family were arrested for being of Germanic ancestry in 1945 after the Russians entered Poland. Her family was separated and put into 'forced labor camps', a euphemism for slave labor. Both qualify as members of a Diaspora, and each witnessed and experienced injustices that are still being inflicted on people due to their ethnicity today. On the day the Germans began their air campaign to 'soften up' Poland, my grandparent's home was destroyed by a bomb as the first wave of bombers flew over. Later, during the German occupation, one of her brothers was arrested and severely beaten for purchasing train tickets for some of his friends, who happened to be ethnically Polish. He died a short time after his release. A cousin, who was clandestinely in the Polish underground, was mistakenly executed by some Poles that were not informed of the nature of his activities. It took over 50 years before the government recognized him for his heroism.
There are, to be sure, hundreds of other memories that my mother has mentioned to me over the years, but space does not permit a greater assemblage in this format. What I hope to express, is that all of us are a compilation of varying experiences, and though the only acceptable generalization may be that there is no truly fair way to generalize, yet the commonality we might attain through a shared experience can lead to a better understanding and a more perfect ideal of that elusive goal known as justice.
The loss of loved ones, land, valuables and national identity are unfortunately not at all uncommon, and millions engulfed in ethnic conflicts even today, experience such tragedies. How can these things come to pass? The question is of course rhetorical; one really only needs to make the effort to thoroughly study the historical record. The time and place may differ, but the circumstances are oft repeated. Cycles of expanding populations, political manipulations that solicit the required support of citizens to justify outward expansions of territorial boundaries, corruption in government with the consequently mounting costs that require ever-greater infusions of financial support to sustain it, all in varying degrees are factors. Another necessary component are the baser human instincts such as prejudice, fear and greed, attitudes which are either already generally held or are then fostered by those who skillfully instill them in others. Whatever the declared intentions at the outset, the ends that justified the means have nothing to do with a shared sense of justice.
Many of these elements are now being factored into the process by which the fifth constitutional convention is drafting their document. The methodology by which one group is chosen for favored treatment is not new. In the 1930's as the Nazi's slowly rose to power they employed very much the same logic. The narrow mindedness, the bias, the discriminatory treatment of others outside their ethnic enclave, are all becoming etched into the fundamental basis of the proposed structure of government. To allow language that would, in part or completely, exclude only ancestral native Virgin Islanders from paying their fair share of taxes is a Pandora's box of ills that will rip our society apart as the various factions struggle to utilize such a formula to their best advantage. Future elections will become carefully vetted exercises in determining what a person's ancestral lines are and what allegiances they might have formed through past associations, whether business or personal. This is the beginning of a tragedy that should not be allowed to further manifest itself. It is the road to perdition that others have already trod, and if there exists such a twisted mindset that believes the severest of pitfalls are something they now can somehow avoid, then our future, even without the open warfare of the past, will be a bleak one.
The compact by which all elected officials assume their responsibilities was broken when the delegates of the constitutional convention willfully broke the law in excluding the public from their meeting held on October 1, 2008. That a former Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Judge, various former Senators and attorneys in that group could decide to act in this manner, breaking laws as they went about the task of writing the supreme law of the Territory, shatters the trust that representative government requires, and makes a mockery of this group's intent. The question now arises, should this fiasco be allowed to continue at the public's further expense? To allow them to finish stitching together what can already be recognized as a 'Frankenstein' of constitutional documents serves no good purpose. To flout the existing laws of the land is not why we elected these delegates. As none spoke against the action taken that day, none can legitimately speak for us now.
Of Governor John de Jong, Jr., I respectfully request a stop to this now. Veto the Senate's legislation extending the convention's deadline. Let us begin again with public discussions that more closely examine the goals and aspirations of all Virgin Islanders. There remains an unfulfilled need here to define those common interests by which we can all share a future that is more equitable than the haunting failures of the past.
We are all related to that same common ancestor who walked this planet some 3 million years ago. As an evolved species we are capable of such noble altruistic behavior that, if carefully instilled in our children, will assure all a brighter and better future. The dangers of fostering those more primordial mindsets, which are more akin to a 'reptilian responsive mode', are a step back. More than anything, I hope enough of us can be convinced of this now.
Hugo A. Roller
St. John

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