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World Cup Versus World History

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I love living in New York City. You can take a trip around the world without ever leaving town. I especially like being here during the World Cup.

Soccer gives me something to talk about with my man from Afghanistan who runs the coffee cart near my office, and to Levy from Equador who runs the service elevator and brings me up with my bike, and Roger from Trinidad who heads the maintenance crew and is a soccer aficionado.

And even though Senegal didn’t make the cut, I relived Senegal’s victory over France in the 2002 World Cup with a cab driver the other morning. (It’s always nice to see a former colonial power defeated by the formerly colonized.

I also stood with a crowd of Koreans (Koreatown is one block from my office) watching through a window as Lee Jung-Soo scored the equalizing goal against Nigeria. I have a soft sport for Koreans that goes back years to San Francisco where I worked in a restaurant called Bilbao’s Basque Café that was owned by the Kim family.

I don’t know who coined the phrase “the Koreans are the Irish of the Orient,” but I found I had a lot in common with the Kims, especially the uncle who sang sad love songs as he worked and pined for his farm back home.

Maybe we Irish are psychologically tuned in to people from nations who also suffered under forced occupations. God knows the Koreans have good reason not to root for Japan. Two and a half million Koreans were used as forced laborers during WWII. They conscripted the men into the Army and used “Comfort Women” as sex-slaves to serve the Japanese soldiers. (Twenty-five percent of those killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were Korean.)

As I look at those beautiful young men battling each other on the playing field today, I cannot help but think of how many young men have died in wars not of their own making. And the many innocent bystanders who got caught in the crossfire.

The Italy/Slovakia game reminded me of the only World Cup game I saw live -- when the U.S. hosted the World Cup and Italy played Ireland at Giants Stadium in New York.

It took place on Saturday, June 18, 1994, and Ireland won the day, with Ray Houghton scoring a memorable goal against the Italian side.

It was an unbelievable victory for Ireland, but even as we cheered on “Jackie’s Army” (the Irish team were so named for their beloved English coach Jackie Charlton) an unbearable tragedy was being played out in Loughlinisland, County Down.

Loyalist gunmen opened fire with assault rifles on a crowd who had gathered to watch the match in a local pub. Six men were killed including Barney Greene, 87, the oldest man to die in the Troubles.

As far as I know, no one was ever charged with the killing.

The 30-year long “Troubles” saw so many atrocities committed by both sides, I'm glad that the people of Northern Ireland can watch this World Cup in relative peace.

And I’m glad I have soccer to talk to with the man from Afghanistan. I can’t ask him if he’s lost any family in the 9-years-long conflict, the longest war the U.S. has ever been involved in.

I can’t ask him if he watched the PBS program Need to Know and heard Col. Andrew Bacavic (ret) say the war in Afghanistan is “a war without end.”

And I certainly cannot talk to him about the so-called “Great Game” the First Anglo/Afghan War (1839-1842), or say, “My grandfather was in Quetta during the Third Anglo/Afghan War of 1919.” (Forty percent of the doctors who served in the British Army in India were Irish and he was one of them).

Medical advances since my grandfather’s time (he was also in The Somme Offensive that began on July 1, 1916, and Gallipoli) mean that more lives are saved but at what cost? I saw one statistic that said one in five will suffer some kind of traumatic brain injury.

Need to Know highlighted the struggle of two young wives as they cared for husbands suffering severe brain injuries who will probably never walk again, never play football or hold their kids, or perhaps even speak.

More than Five hundred and seventy seven soldiers from California have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (two from Landon Donovan’s home town). Two hundred and forty nine soldiers from New York have been killed. In total 5,521 Americans (according to Faces of the Fallen http://projects.washingtonpost.com/fallen/ have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and some estimates place the American injured at over 100,000.

And as I write this 30,000 troops, part of the new American surge, are leaving for a year long deployment to Afghanistan.

And so many innocent bystanders have died. There is no website that lists their numbers or names.

The British writer Robert Fisk wrote a thoughtful piece on the recently released Bloody Sunday Report for the UK Independent that ended thusly:

“But at least the people of Derry care about others who have died unjustly. In 2003, as the Americans occupied Iraq, American paratroopers opened fire on a crowd of protesting Iraqis in the city of Fallujah. They killed 14, claiming they were shot at. Subsequent inquiries suggested this was a lie. A few days later, in Baghdad, I took a call from an old friend in Derry. He wanted to lead a delegation of Bloody Sunday relatives to Fallujah, he said, to show their sorrow for the dead Iraqis. I don't think the Americans cared about the Iraqis. But the Irish of Bloody Sunday cared.”

Let's talk about that.


Note on the Illustration:

WAITING FOR THE WOUNDED

A British advance has just begun, and the surgeons of a Divisional Collecting Station near the Somme are awaiting the arrival of the first laden stretcher-bearers. In a few minutes the three officers will be at work, perhaps for twenty-four hours on end. At one Casualty Clearing Station a distinguished surgeon performed, without resting, nineteen difficult operations, each lasting more than an hour, in cases of severe abdominal wounds, where delay would have meant the loss of life. In almost every case the man was saved. Another surgeon operated for thirty-six hours without relief. Such devotion is not exceptional in the R.A.M.C. – WWI sketched of Muirhead Bone.

Major William Egan (pictured center) is my grandfather.

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