A sign from heaven, or a tragedy misused?
by Dean Jorge Bocobo

Phil Daily Inquirer, "Commentary"
09 February 2003

I WATCHED Columbia fall. I wept as Columbia fell.

How long it seemed to take, for that burning fireball, caught in gravity's well, to reach the earth, and merciful God, be extinguished, within in its dark embrace. Those seven died in spectacle, so we might look again at Nature, with old humility and new respect.

Space shuttle Columbia's smoldering remains were still being sought by heavy-hearted searchers in Bush's home state of Texas, but in superstitious Philippines, the tragedy was already being pressed into the service of international politics. One writer agreed with Vice President Teofisto Guingona after they watched it on TV-Columbia's fall is a "bad omen for America," and "a way for the heavens to warn US President George W. Bush against starting a war" on Saddam Hussein. The text chatter that day was similarly ghoulish, reflective of insensitive and flippant natures.

Terrestrial cameras spotted her first at 220,000 feet above the earth, plunging at 20 times the speed of sound, descending like Tennyson's eagle, but with the left wing, broken. She was a meteoric fireball in supersonic free fall, plummeting so fast, she outran the very sound waves of her fiery disintegration.

So in life, Columbia's voyagers were just little-known scientists, doctors, teachers and members of families, but in death, they are famous antiwar props, bad omens to show how "American technological might" has been laid low by a vengeful God, because of America's hubris and warmongering. What a cosmic crab mentality we have.

Those who say that Columbia's tragedy was a sign from God, describe a God I do not recognize. Theirs, is a terroristic God, (maybe Beelzebub on Angel's Dust), one who incinerates innocent human beings, in billion-dollar catastrophes, broadcast live on CNN, just to send a message or a war ning to the political leaders they do not like. Couldn't their God be more direct with Bush and less homicidal with innocent astronauts?

Hammer blows of burning air, like the claws of invisible velociraptors, unzipped her ceramic skin, until, untiled and bare, they broke her titanium bones, tore her limb from aluminum limb, scattering her pulverized precious cargo into the trembling atmosphere. The astronauts in her exploded womb all fell asleep in Columbia's dream.

How disappointing that superstition, with a great flapping of wings and feelings, should so easily excuse a voluntary strangling of reason in some of our best people. It seems there are no limits to the propaganda that may be employed out of a love for peace. As if peace were ever unmated from the truth! Even an admission to being giddily irrational, or temporarily insane, because of the magnitude of this tragedy, or the coming tragedy of war, cannot justify passing off superstitious musings as public discourse.

Accidents discover the continents of our ignorance. But we cannot conquer them unless we uphold truthfulness and intellectual honesty. Evil men will only exploit the fertile ground of ignorance that we prepare for them with the hoe of superstition, the unserious, the inane, the flippantly untrue. These apocryphal habits of mind in Filipinos, have never built a flying machine, or a nation.

Near the end, Columbia was a ghostly, streaking hare, chased by the wolves of her own debris. Her melting hull was skywriting her epitaph in the blue expanse of air. Racing to terminal velocity, to the finish line on earth, she was overtaken there, by the Tortoise, which followed slowly, but surely, close behind, bearing Columbia's disembodied voice, the very last parts of her to land, those dirge-like sonic booms, that will echo long, in humanity's memory and esteem. But man will resume the ancient ascent where Columbia has fallen.

The state of impending war in the world, does not justify a state of war on reason and logic in our conversations about it, no matter how much disagreement or passion is in them. Superstition and the willingness to wallow in stupidity have never served the causes of nationalism or social justice or international peace, only those of hatred and violence.

Well-respected and well-loved, Vice President Guingona, nonetheless deepens the black hole of blind historical resentment, over our truly unjust and cruel past, that many Filipinos fall into, but never come out of. Some Filipinos find validation for a permanent culture of protest and anti-Americanism in Guingona's valiant, gallant, old-fashioned rage-against-the-dying-of-the-light kind of nationalism. I respect and admire that. But I disagree with his continuing filibuster against his own President, using an evangelizing victimhood, steadfastly opposing her policies of engagement with America on the basis of old grievances and new suspicions.

Maybe it is time to reimagine the possibilities. Throughout the 20th century, we see an America that fought horrible wars against heavyweight contenders for the right to define the next century: Germany, Italy, Japan, China, Russia. Yet these enemies of hers, despite a century of "American aggression, imperialism and hegemony" are hardly America's downtrodden subjugates today, oppressed and destroyed, are they?

But in this century, America must do for her friends, like the Philippines, at least what she has done for her enemies in the last, for she owes us, big time. We can make her do that, we must make her do that, because there are already four million Filipino reasons that permanently unite the fates and fortunes of our two nations together. The globalizing force of the Filipino diaspora is the greatest challenge to Filipino nationalism: evolve or perish.

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