Robert Azzi: Pity the nation that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful

For the Monitor
Published: 11/15/2020 6:10:04 AM

‘Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion,” Lebanese-American Kahlil Gibran wrote in 1933 in The Garden of he Prophet. “Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero / and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.”

On Nov. 9, 1989, I was in Rockport, Maine, where I was teaching a weeklong photography workshop. My then 4-year old daughter was with me and, by chance, as we sat in a local coffee shop, we watched on TV celebratory scenes of the Berlin Wall being breached – of families reuniting after decades of separation.

“What’s happening, Baba?”

“It’s the German people, Habibti, claiming freedom from cruel leaders. They’re tearing down a wall that has imprisoned them,” I answered.

I don’t know how well she understood at the time but today she understands well.

My daughter, now resident in Berlin with her family, last week watched as the American people voted to tear down the walls that President Donald J. Trump – a bully acclaimed as hero by so many – had tried to build across America, build to try to fragment America and sow dissension between families and friends, trying to embolden slaveholders against the enslaved, emboldening oppressors against the weak and vulnerable.

“Pity the nation divided into fragments,” Gibran wrote, “each fragment deeming itself a nation.”

Trump’s wall between fragments has been shattered. Today, we have an opportunity, however fragile – should we choose to seize it – to reunite with our neighbors, to see each other without dark shadows cast across our faces.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed,” James Baldwin told us, “but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” and today we must continue to confront an unfaced history of genocide, exploitation, enslavement, racism, and greed.

To bring about change we must identify what needs confronting.

As hurricanes flood our cities and forest fires wipe out communities and national parks, we must confront the denial of climate science. We must confront the reality of systemic racism and police violence as Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd fall before our eyes.

We must confront a denial of science so vile that nearly 245,000 Americans have died – millions infected – by a novel coronavirus that has been permitted to ravage our nation – ravage disproportionately Indigenous peoples, Black people, Latinos, and peoples living along the margins of our communities.

Most importantly, we must confront the reality of the results of the election, struggle not just with its closeness, not just with the refusal of so many citizens to accept its results, struggle not just with those minorities and people who, seemingly inexplicably, voted to collaborate with the powers that were oppressing their communities.

Most importantly, we must confront the reality that there are Americans willing to deny the truth of the American Promise.

This week Jewish communities around the world – along with all people of conscience – remembered Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass,” the time when Nazi Stormtroopers and ordinary citizens, on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, raged throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland, beating and killing Jews, smashing windows, and burning synagogues, foreshadowing the evil and horrors of the Holocaust.

Today – as I begin my column – it’s Nov. 11, Veterans Day. Today, as America pauses to honor all those who have worn the uniform of America’s military, thanking them for their bravery, service, and sacrifice – it is important to remember the cowards and hypocrites who by their behavior or silence contradict oaths they’ve taken to serve and protect.

We must confront the reality of those who’re willing to commit such treachery, confront those who chose to abandon our Constitution in order to embrace an authoritarian who worships corruption, greed, cruelty – whose regime caged children, who praised tyrants and dictators while calling our heroes “suckers and losers” – who stained the earth with the blood of innocents.

We came close – there is much more to be done.

In 2007, American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti offered his own iteration of Pity the Nation: “Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced, and whose bigots haunt the airwaves. … Pity the nation that raises not its voice, except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.”

Let no one pity our nation. Let no one forget what we are capable of – whether good or evil. Let no one underestimate, too, the present flirtation with authoritarian impulses engaged in by many Americans. It is present, real, and a dangerous threat to democracy.

Let no one pity our nation. Let no one forget that the arc of justice embraces life, equality, democracy, science, and freedom.

There’s no time for pity. It’s time to stand in the sunlight, stand alongside President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and begin the hard work of rebuilding our institutions – begin the hard work of talking again with neighbors across the Public Square.

On Monday, as the world remembered Kristallnacht, my daughter sent me a photograph from Berlin – red roses and a candle lying alongside aStolperstein, a brass plate embedded in the sidewalk and inscribed – Hier wohnte . . . (“Here lived…”) – with the name and dates of victims of Nazi extermination (

These are dark days.

It’s time to publicly affirm that we will not permit Stolperstein inscribed “Here lived the American Promise” to be embedded in our sidewalks.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at His columns are archived at


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Concord Monitor, recently named the best paper of its size in New England.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy