Open Your Arms

Did anyone catch Ariel Wittenberg‘s article in the Hoot (the August 2008 issue). It’s called “God Bless You”: A personal story and it’s about what she did over the summer. Damn it’s good. Read it. It’ll make your day. It sure made mine.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

His mom had shown me his picture. In it he was all dressed up in his army fatigues with his helmet and riffle. Derek wanted to be a police officer when he got back from the war.

His face was young. He was my age, but being 19 and working behind a desk for the summer made 19 too young to dress like a GI-Joe and to be shipped off to a foreign desert to risk your life for your country.

I’m a patriot. And for me, that means speaking up against a war you disagree with.

But for this kid, who was a patriot too, it meant paying back a country that lets you speak out whenever you want with his body, maybe his life.

You can tell that Ariel wrote this from the heart, and not as a quick hack job to beat a deadline. This work was honest. A Brandeis Virtue.


6 thoughts on “Open Your Arms”

  1. Hi, I’m Ariel Wittenberg, the author of the piece which you all have been discussing.

    First and foremost, I would like to thank those of you who enjoyed my work.
    For those of you who find it offensive, I apologize, however I do think that the piece has been misunderstood.

    In the beginning of the piece I purposefully paint myself as the snobby liberal who thinks she knows better than her fellow New Englanders and thinks she is above party lines.
    By the end of the piece, however, I was brought down from my high horse and humbled by Derrick’s experience.
    The ultimate goal of the piece is to show that some things go beyond politics, religion and region–that even though we may be coming from different places, liberals and conservatives are capable of sympathy and empathy.

    So much of the media’s coverage of the ongoing Presidential election (especially since McCain added Palin to the ticket) has been about the polarization of American politics and the culture wars that are supposedly tearing the nation apart.

    The piece is a response to that coverage and to those stereo types. My intent was to say that even though those on the right and left of the spectrum have different views of what it means to be a patriot (in this case army service v. free speech), we are all united by the fact that we are American, and we all simply want the best for our country.

    Thanks for reading!


  2. While well-written, I found Ariel to come off as very snobby, equating Southern conservatism with some kind of “quaint religion” and casting herself as the aloof observer of some primitive people’s customs. This attitude is what gives atheists a bad name.

  3. I have to agree with Annabelle on this. The article was offensive even to me, who lives on Cape Cod and is a self-professed liberal atheist.

    Regionalizing this debate is absurd, as is somehow suggesting that the phrase “God Bless You” is somehow a product of evangelist beliefs, or worse, the product of conservatism. It is a phrase meant as a common courtesy, not to convert people to Christianity. Many diverse cultures around the world, including South America and Southern Europe, frequently use this phrase as a polite goodbye.

    It is foolish to read so much into this. Nitpicking in this manner only makes liberals seem petty and oversensitive, and it ignores the real issue of establishing all beliefs as legitimate in society. “God Bless You” is merely a response, a courtesy, a greeting in today’s society, and suggesting otherwise is a sign of over-thinking the situation.

  4. I have to disagree with all of you actually, as besides being less than well written, the article offended me in a number of ways. I don’t think of myself as a particularly over sensitive person, but as a Georgian, I can’t help but feel defensive of my region, especially when it is unfairly stereotyped. Ariel says, “I find small town life quaint. I’m infatuated with Evangelicals, obsessed with Confederates, and determined to prove to my mother that the South is not what it was before the Civil Rights Acts of 1964.” Does no one else see this as the nonsensical sequence of clauses here? She claims to be determined to prove that the South has made progress since the ’60s, but she loves small town life, Confederates, and Evangelicals? Didn’t she just stereotype the South as still being exactly what she is determined to prove it is not?

    I lived in the South for the entire 18 years of my life before Brandeis. I did not grow up in a small town, but in the small city of Athens, which happens to be about 70 miles from the big international city of Atlanta. Maybe you’ve heard of it? There is nothing quaint about Atlanta; it is as much a city as any of the bustling metropolises of the northeast. Except that, according to Ariel, it must be populated by Bible-beating Christians rude enough to attempt an exorcism each time one sneezes, and black-hating Confederates still calling the Civil War “The War of Northern Aggression” and whipping their slaves until they pick enough cotton.

    I don’t know a single Confederate or Evangelical. I know numerous faithful Christians and Catholics, having attended 8 years of Catholic school, but few if any are the type to try and save every soul they come in contact with. This is a stereotype perpetuated by, I don’t know, maybe people who have never been to the South, or televangelists like Joel Osteen. People like this are not representative of anyone intelligent or interesting in the South, of which there are many better examples, and I count many of my friends at home among them.

    However, anyone with decent manners, whether they are a fundamentalist preacher or an agnostic, would say “God bless you” upon hearing someone sneeze as it is just that, an act of courtesy, completely removed from any religious connotation. To say nothing afterwards is thus something of a rude response. Even outside the context of a sneeze, I would guess that most of time, the remark has little to do with any attempt to save your soul specifically, and is merely an expression of well-wishing in general.

    I don’t have the energy or time to go through the numerous inconsistencies, condescensions, and instances of pure ignorance. I just wanted to express that I am absolutely tired of people from the South being instantly taken as backwards, inbred, racist hicks. We don’t all worship George W Bush, we don’t all want to grow up to be “army men,” as Ariel so eloquently put it, we aren’t out lynching on Friday nights, we aren’t damning you to hell if you don’t worship the God of the New Testament, we aren’t all tacky and ignorant. We are culturally rich and diverse, we are intelligent and educated, we are artistic and expressive, we are as human as anyone else.

  5. Hands down, Ariel is the best journalist on campus. Please read the article!
    I found myself closely relating with her feelings about not only the war but also the commonly-used phrase “God Bless You.” For humanists, secularists, atheists, pastafarians, what have you… how does this phrase impact our daily lives? At the end of the article, Ariel makes a thought-provoking conclusion.

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